Category Archives: Triathlon

The Cone of Shame & Other Tales From a Train Wreck of a Season

I am not sorry to see the end of the 2015 triathlon season. The fact that I haven’t written a blog entry for over six months says it all. If 2014 was a story of unimagined highs, then 2015 was a train wreck!

It all started so positively at the Bath Half Marathon which I ran with a group of friends in February. I made it round in 1.44hrs. Not my fastest, but fine for a pre-season benchmark.

That left me almost exactly 12-weeks to get ready for the Outlaw Half – a half iron distance triathlon which had been one of the high points of my 2014 season. This is where the problems started.

My work circumstances meant I hadn’t had as much time to train as last year and as I headed for Nottingham on a Saturday at the end of May, I knew I was a little short of my form of a year earlier, but confident that I would be OK. But there were clouds on the horizon, literally. Biblical conditions were forecast for Sunday and if I am very honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I awoke on Sunday morning to heavy rain and as I drove the short distance to the race venue at Home Pierrepont at 5.00am, I would have taken very little persuasion to turn south and keep going until I got home.

The conditions for the race were every bit as bad as forecast and then some. As we trod water in the lake waiting for the off, someone commented that you know that conditions are bad when the swim is not going to be the wettest leg of the race. That was probably the last time anyone smiled until the finish line!

The lake was a bracing 13 degrees and once we got going I took a long time to settle my breathing down. As I got out of the water at the end of the 1.2 mile swim I was so cold I found it difficult to speak. I briefly cheered up when I saw my mate Gary Hill exit the water alongside me: “38 minutes mate!” he declared. That was a pleasant surprise given the conditions.

The bike leg was brutal. It rained almost non-stop and we had to contend with untitled (18)standing water on the roads for most of the 56 miles. The worst of the weather was forecast for late morning and for once the forecast was right. We cycled into 30mph winds for the last 10 miles. There were three high points on the bike leg. Two were seeing my friends Jane and Iain marshalling, both gave me huge morale boost. The other was arriving at T2.

To cap it all I was pulled over by a course marshal for cutting a corner at a right hand turn. I ducked inside one of the cones to avoid hitting the cyclist in front of me. As if my bike leg wasn’t going to be slow already, now I had a time penalty to add on.

I pulled into T2 after 3.07hrs. I was soaked and tired but happy to get out onto the run and see what my running legs felt like. The short answer is ruined! The bike conditions had taken their toll and the second part of the half-marathon was a sufferfest. It felt a bit like the Ironman run had felt. And just like my Ironman in Bolton, I found myself running with Sid Sidowski cycling alongside me on a BMX dressed in a morph suit. His encouragement, together with my friends Jason and Mel, was priceless and really helped. Eventually after 5.53hrs I crossed the finish line.

Soaking wet, I packed up, went to the car, changed and headed home. As I drove I picked up my messages. One was a slightly panicked message from a friend concerned that he had seen DSQ (results shorthand for Disqualified) next to my name in the online results. “Bollocks” was all I could think of to say. “Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks”. My cone violation had been immeasurably more costly than I had ever imagined.

By the time I got home I had resigned myself to my fate. A convicted cheat!! I was philosophical about it. I was pleased that I had overcome some hideous conditions to record a top-ten finish in my age-group (DSQ excluded!), but I couldn’t help thinking it was a heavy-handed punishment. The very real punishment came the next day when I learned that my time would have been good enough to qualify for GBR selection in my age group for the European Championships in 2016. That was harder to take. But all of that was to pale into insignificance compared to what came next. Earlier in race week an altogether more sinister sub-plot had started to unfold.

I woke on the Monday before the race with a light cold. Exactly the same thing had happened the previous year and it was gone by the weekend. This year it got better, but it wasn’t altogether gone. To cut a long and unpleasant story short, being cold and wet for the duration of the race and pushing myself as hard as I could for six hours flattened my immune system (perfectly normal in endurance events) and had opened the door and ushered back in the departing virus which now took a firm hold. By the Monday after the race I had a cough that a 60-a-day smoker would have been proud of. By the time I went to the doctor three days later it was an infection of my windpipe and chest with an eye infection thrown in for good measure. The remedy? Rest and no exercise until the symptoms had gone.

The next part of my season was due to be an appearance at The Cotswold113, another half-iron distance race and then The Outlaw, a full iron distance event. The long and the short of it is that I did neither. In fact I did no exercise for a month and a half. I arrived at the end of July frustrated, less fit and a few pounds heavier. All I had to show for my season’s efforts was a DSQ and two DNSs (Did not Start). I needed to put some numbers on the board.

What I haven’t mentioned is that I had been given the great honour of being selected in my age group to race for Great Britain in the European Long Distance Championships which were being held in Weymouth in September. When I found out back in February I was ecstatic. A home championships in a GBR tri-suit in front of my family. I now had a decision to make, to follow my head or my heart.

My heart said go for it. How many times am I going to get to race in GBR kit. My head said don’t do it. Any other distance and it may be OK to wing it, but I wasn’t fit and a full Iron distance race wasn’t something to take on with 6 weeks of training. I flipped back and forth for about three weeks, head, heart, head, heart. Eventually it was Cate, my wife, who made me see sense and with a very heavy heart I called the team manager and told him I had to withdraw. He was fantastic about it.

But determined not to let my season end with a DSQ in Nottingham I entered the Weymouth Half, a half iron-distance race being run on the same course as the LD Championship on the same day.

Having pretty much recovered from my chest infection, I was amazed how excited I was to be racing at Weymouth and I set about trying to claw back as much fitness as I could – but work was still busy and spare time was tight.

Fast forward to 7.00am on 13 September and I am standing on some rocks looking over Weymouth Beach minutes from the start of the European Long Distance Championships and about 90 minutes from the start of my own race. Sods Law, conditions were bad again and the sea was rough. It only took 3 minutes from the start of the LD race before the safety boat was hauling competitors out of the water and returning them to the beach, their race over before it had started.

At 8.30am 150 of us waited for the sound of the starting gun before running down the beach and into the swell. For me tactics were simple: survive and get to the swim exit. Time was of no concern. It was to be a horrible 46 minutes being thrown up and down by the rolling waves. Twice I came within a nano-heave of feeding my breakfast to the fish of Weymouth Bay, but I stuck at it and eventually returned to terra firma. Mission accomplished.

The bike leg was frustrating. A long climb out of Weymouth (regulars will recall Weymouth runthat climbing is not my forte!) then a technical stop start 20 or so miles with dead turns, roundabouts, hairpins and little time to get into a rhythm. The second half was better and finished with a 4-mile sleigh ride back into Weymouth. Along the way I had lost about 5 minutes when a guy crashed badly right in front of me. He landed on his head with a thud and was hurt. I stayed until medical help arrived.

T2 was slow – poorly organised. But eventually I got out onto the run and was pleasantly surprised at how I picked up a sub 9-minute mile pace comfortably. As I came out of T2 I was greeted by a crowd of friends from my tri-club – one of the benefits of doing as local race!

The half-marathon was three laps of a loop along the Weymouth seafront. Scenic, quite well supported but a constant stink of fish and chips. That breakfast 11988429_10206630830904946_4859279063563653509_nthreatened to appear again! Eventually I went round the turning mark for the last time and headed for home. At this point I was on for a sub 1.50 half marathon. That would be a PB for me but I wasn’t running at that pace – something was wrong. Most people would go with it, but when you already have one DSQ to your name, your immediate assumption is that you have got it wrong. But it turned out I was OK, the course had been wrongly marked and was about a mile short. I finally crossed the line in 6.03 to record the year’s first legitimate result and end my train-wreck of a season on something of a high!

So all’s well that ends well, even if the route was a bit rocky!!

Something different planned for 2016. More to follow!!

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Managing the Shitfight

There are about 2,500 nervous triathletes either in Bolton or heading for Bolton right now as I write this. They are heading there because on Sunday it is the 11th running of Ironman UK. This time 12 months ago I was one of them. I am almost as excited today encouraging friends who are taking part for the first time, as I was driving to Bolton myself last year.

In the last few days I have seen lots of Twitter and Facebook post with long lists of advice. But in truth, if any of Sunday’s racers don’t know what they are going to eat or wear, how fast they are going to ride, where they are going to line up for the swim etc. then it’s too late. So no list of advice from me.

I would pass on just one tip learned from bitter experience. Manage the shitfight!

When you strip it back to its most basic, Ironman boils down to a moment when your body says “no more.” At that moment, your mind has to find a way to keep going.

It might not happen in a single moment. It might take hold over a period of time, probably on the run. But is comes down to a moment. A decision.

People cope with it differently. Some people love the pain and embrace it and run straight through it. But for most people, like me, it is the start of a shitfight. A long negotiation between your mind and body.

For some people the negotiation is: “Let’s walk and bit and then run”. For others it’s: “Let’s stop at the next feed station and take a minute.” Or “Let’s walk up this hill and a have a chat with a fellow runner”. It could be something as human as “Let’s follow that nice ass in front” – works for boys and girls!! Everyone will be different.

What is for sure is that it will happen, so whatever else you do, be ready for it and have a plan. Also be ready to ditch the plan and try a new one. I had a plan when I ran the London Marathon for the last five miles. It didn’t work – it made no difference. In the end, after trying a few things, it took my daughter’s voice in my head to push me forward.

Ironman is about a lot of things. A long and arduous winter of training, several weeks of nerves and mind games, a tough swim, a rolling 112-mile bike. But when you finally get into the battle, when you stand in the arena, in my view what will determine your success as an Ironman is how you cope with the shitfight. And when you look back on Monday with your shiny medal round your neck, the part of the race you will remember with most pride and satisfaction is that moment when you reached your limit, stared over the edge and found you had what it takes.

Good luck everyone. The wait is over and it’s time to be awesome. You’ve got a shitfight to win!

 

Winter Training by Numbers

The low point of the triathlon calendar occurs at about this time in February. Last season is a distant memory and my first race is still a long way off, yet I am still having to get out of bed at ungodly times to train. Add to that the fact that any training before 7.00am or after 4.30pm has to be done in the dark and probably in freezing temperatures and you get the picture – it is a slog.

But winter training doesn’t have to be a chore. 2015 will be my third season in triathlon, so this is my third time round the winter training routine. My first winter was just about training and staying fit – what I lacked in structure I made up for in enthusiasm. My second winter was all about the bike. It identified itself very quickly as my weak spot and so I set about changing that. My chosen training regime was all volume and no science. If there was a club ride I was on it. If there wasn’t I was out on my own or with a friend come hell or high water – well we didn’t have hell that winter but I learned to cycle on flooded roads.

The only drawback with this approach was that I didn’t measure anything, so I had no accurate way of knowing if I had improved apart from how it felt. It certainly felt better, but it wasn’t until my first race in early June that I was able to prove it – a bit late if it turned out I hadn’t improved.

So this winter I am taking a completely different approach. Less volume and more science.

The less volume is a deliberate effort to rid myself of the junk miles I did last winter. The science is all about measuring myself on the basis that what you can measure you can improve. It’s the introduction of the numbers that has made winter training such fun this year and it’s the reason I can say with confidence, even at this early stage, that I am improving.

On the bike my measure of choice is power. How many Watts am I producing? images (5)And the way I am measuring that is through a cheap, but brilliant, system called TrainerRoad which works with any popular turbo trainer. I blogged about it a month or so ago. The structured workouts have already produced an increase in my power of 15% since November and there is definitely more to come. I have added a vital ingredient to my training, a virtual training buddy in the form of Chris Glover. We have been through exactly the same program together, mostly working out on the same day and the moaning, celebrating and general banter over Facebook Messenger has become an integral part of the process.

In the pool is where I need most help to train. My approach to date has been to pound up and down the pool hoping things get better – they haven’t. This year I am using a geeky sounding measure called “Critical Swim Speed”. It is what a runner would refer to as “Threshold”. It is measured using a simple swimming test that requires no specialist equipment, except obviously a swimming pool. Once you have established it then you train by doing intervals of varying lengths at your CSS and then retest every 4-6 weeks. I am hoping that a combination of CSS training and the technique lessons I had in the Autumn will see my swim times budge from the place where they have been stubbornly stuck for two years.

Which just leaves running. This is the area where I feel most confident and yet where I am making the biggest change to my training. In the past I have relied on speed work combined with a weekly long slow run to get me run fit for long-distance triathlon. My approach probably looks unchanged to any observer but on the long run I am trying a training technique pioneered by a guy called Phil Maffetone and introduced to me by Chris Glover.

Maffetone uses a formula to calculate your ideal endurance training heart rate which will be different depending on your age and current fitness. The magic number for me is 130. On my long runs I am not allowed to let my heart rate go over 130. At first it seemed impossible. I had to keep to about a 10-minute mile which is at least a minute a mile slower than I would normally train on a long slow run.

But that is the crux of Maffetone’s theory. Bashing out lots of modestly brisk miles is neither speed training nor endurance training. It’s training in that no-man’s-land that we know as “junk miles”.

By training at a heart rate of 130 bpm, Maffetone believes that I am conditioning my body to fuel itself with the oxygen I breathe and not eat into my glycogen energy stores that are scarce and quickly burned. As it becomes more efficient it can do more for less which in practical terms means I can run faster for longer. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Just a few weeks in and I have seen my pace improve by 15 seconds per mile at the same heart rate. It seems Mr Maffetone might be onto something.

Whether all the science and numbers produces a better triathlete come next Spring we will have to wait and see. But what they have produced is a really interesting back drop to my training. I feel as motivated as I have at any point in any of the last few winters and that has to be worth something

Hello, my name is Peter and I am a KFC addict

Today is New Year’s Eve – the last day of excess before the slate is wiped clean. It’s the day when everyone leaves the past behind and tries to change their lives for good, or at least until they try again next New Year’s Eve!!

I think I have a better claim than most people that New Year’s Eve changed my life. It was on this day 18 years ago that I met Cate in an Italian restaurant in London. Although I didn’t know it at the time, we would be engaged less than a year later and married within 18 months. Events don’t get much more life-changing than that!

Then four years ago, on New Year’s Eve 2010, I made a resolution to get off the sofa, shed the increasing amount of weight I was carrying and get myself fit. I had no idea as I made that New Year’s resolution, of the incredible journey I was about to embark on.

I had reached New Year’s Eve 2010 with my weight at an all-time high of 14st 10lbs. That doesn’t sound much if you are six feet tall, but I am not, I’m five feet seven. According to the NHS height weight chart I had strayed in obese territory. I had never thought of myself as obese, porky yes, but obese, really? But let’s not worry about the terminology – it was in danger of becoming a health issue.

Before

14st 10lbs – during the KFC years!

It was especially frustrating for me because for a large part of my life I had been very fit. I ran county level cross country and was in the county rugby squad at school. I spent five years in the Army where being fit was kind of what you did!After the Army I continued playing rugby and running into my early thirties.

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12 stone – KFC a distant memory

It is easy to fall back on convenient excuses for why I let myself get fat and unfit. I could blame a business career, I could blame being married to an excellent cook or even fatherhood. They would all be untrue. The fact is that I just got complacent and stopped bothering. Alongside that, I had a bad relationship with food and the two made for a toxic combination.

As a bachelor living in London, takeaways were my downfall. If I tell you that I lived near an Indian Restaurant that would bring a takeaway to your house and I was on first name terms with the delivery boy, then you get some idea of the scale of the problem.

I also like fast food. For some reason I particularly liked KFC. I liked it so much I would go out of my way to find it – I even had a KFC map in the car which untitled (8)showed every outlet in the UK, so I was never far from the Colonel’s Recipe. Where I worked, it was a Friday lunchtime ritual to send the junior person in the office off to the KFC Drive Thru to bring us back a bucket of the stuff.

In my mind, KFC is still a symbol of all that was wrong with the way I ate in the bad old days.

Then on 31 December 2010 that all changed. I threw the take away menus in the bin and took hold. My aim was to drop two stones by Easter. At the same time I tried to get myself fit. I still remember the first two-mile run. Slow and painful with several walk breaks – I found it hard to believe how far away I was from being the cross-country runner and rugby player of my younger days.

Gradually the weight came off and the runs got less painful and the walk breaks less frequent. Then the distances became longer and the rest, if not exactly history, is documented in the pages of this blog. In 2014 I even managed to race at a weight that started with the words “eleven stone”!

I haven’t been back into a KFC since that day – four years clean! I don’t think I am in quite the same position as a reformed alcoholic or smoker who doesn’t dare have one drink or cigarette for fear of opening the floodgates again. KFC feels like something I used to do then and that I don’t do now and so for the time being at least, it will stay that way. More symbolic than anything.

So on New Year’s Eve I will raise a glass to many things; a happy New Year to everyone, eighteen years with my lovely wife and four years since I took control and unknowingly started the most extraordinary journey. A journey that has taken me to places I never imagined I would go and one on which I have met, actually and virtually, lots of fantastic people many of whom I now think of as friends. That’s worth more than any medal or personal best I have gained along the way. But the best part is that it is a journey that continues with lots of new challenges and it will continue without KFC!

I wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. I hope 2015 brings you everything you wish for.

 

The 2014 Season – My five favourite photographs

I don’t need to look at the calendar to work out that my 2014 triathlon season is over – a quick look in the fridge is enough. Just four weeks ago I was in that two week “purdah” that I subject myself to before a big race; eating clean, no alcohol and lots of water. Now the fridge has a very “post-season” feel to it. Beer, ice cream, chocolate cake and more.

As I drink my beer and reflect on the season, I do so with a real sense of satisfaction. More important than anything I achieved, I have a lot of really great memories from 2014. I think most of those memories are captured somewhere in photographs. So rather than add another season’s review to the dozens you will see on the Blogoshpere, I have chosen my five favourite photographs from the season. With them comes all of my best memories of the year.

I can’t apologise for them having a very Ironman theme – it was the dominant theme of the year. However I have tried not to make them all pictures of me 🙂

Here they are in reverse order:

5. Ironman UK swim start

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 The date was 20th July. After a year of thinking about it, six months of training for it and a few weeks of proper nerves worrying about it, Ironman UK was here. As I got into the water at 5.45 in the morning all the nerves turned to excitement. Fifteen minutes later the hooter went and we were racing. It was incredible – noisy, frenetic, physical but most of all exhilarating. I love this picture of the start taken from a drone. It brings all those memories flooding back.

4. The Ironman finish line

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No not my Ironman finish line! Completing an Ironman is an incredible feeling. Of all the pictures I have seen, none of them captures the joy of crossing that line more than these. My friend Nick Wall is crossing the line in Nice at Ironman France and the look on his face is one of relief and unbridled joy at getting there. Carrie Power’s picture is a great piece of photography that captures a moment of jubilant celebration – Carrie describes it as: “…getting some air at the finish of IM Mallorca”!

3. Volunteers

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I am glad this photo is one of my favourites because it enables me to give a shout out to all the volunteers who have helped make racing such fun this year. At every event I have been to they have been brilliant. This one was taken at The European Middle Distance Championships in Majorca where the temperature soared into the mid-30s on the run. This picture captures it all. Instructed to hand out sponges to runners, the volunteers took it upon themselves to offer a makeshift shower to cool us down using anything they could lay their hands on. The girl on the right is so intent on keeping athletes cool that she is soaked to the skin herself. She probably didn’t mind as it was so hot, but like all the volunteers I saw this year, she was prepared to go the extra mile to give competitors a great race.

2. WAGS and HABS

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I don’t subject Cate and Matilda to spectating at triathlon events too often, but they were there in a big way in Bolton. They gave up three days to come with me and on race morning they got up at 3.30am to take me to the shuttle bus to the start. They then found their own way to the swim start for 5.30am and spent the next 14 or so hours standing on the side of various roads around Lancashire supporting me. Passing them was a 15-minute boost every time. Here they are at Pennington Flash at 6.00am smiling, like they smiled all day.

1. The Hardest Race

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My favourite photograph of the season was taken at my last race which, because of the extreme heat on the bike and the run, was also the hardest race I have done – not just this season, any season!  It was taken with my friend Judit Leszkovich in the athletes area behind the finish straight after the race. Photographically there are better shots of this moment, but none of them captures the emotions like this one. It shows a combination of the shellshock we were feeling after a brutal race, the relief and joy of reaching the finish (many didn’t) as well as the pride of doing it in GB tri suit. A great end to a great season.

 

Ironman Blues, News & Barbecues

The term “Cold Turkey” was invented to describe the feeling I got about seven days after Ironman UK. Seven days was how long the sense of euphoria lasted – the period in which I would well up each time I remembered another moment from that extraordinary day in Bolton. It is also the length of time I could get away with wearing my finishers T-shirt without washing it before people started giving me a wide berth in the street. And by coincidence it is also how long it took me to realise that the looks I was getting when I wore my medal to go shopping in Sainsbury’s were not always looks of admiration. If I had paid closer attention I would probably have noticed that seven days was also the full extent of how long people were polite enough to appear interested whenever I dragged the conversation back to Ironman!

Seven days then……nothing. The twelve hours a week of training, the diet, the conditioning, the planning, the online banter, the laundry and the sleepless nights leading up to the event all gone in a moment to be replaced with a vacuum, or more accurately The Ironman Blues. An empty feeling that the party is over but also a complete lack of motivation to get off my arse and do anything about it.

Having suffered a minor attack of the blues after running the London Marathon in 2012 I came prepared this time taking the precaution of lining up some fun activities to fill the large M Dot shaped hole in my life.

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Andover Tri does Ironman L-R Carrie Power (IMUK), Me, Jase Briley (Double Enduroman), Louisa Vere (IM Switzerland), Nick Wall (IM France). Standing Peter Holt (IM France)

First up was the Ironman Barbecue. Seven of us from the mighty Andover Tri Club had completed Ironman races in June and July and that alone was worth a celebration. If you were an Ironman it was about as close to Iron heaven as you will get. We all sat down to dinner in our finishers T-shirt (washed!), wearing our medal, drank beer and talked non-stop about our Ironman exploits, pausing only occasionally to let other people talk about there’s. I am not sure the partners saw it quite like that, but we had a great evening. As the drink flowed the tales of Ironman bravado got taller and the plans for next year got bolder. By midnight we were all going sub-12 next year (which would be a feat in itself as none of us got close this year!) and as we would all be there anyway, we agreed to have the 2015 barbecue in Kona!!

The week after the barbecue our household was consumed by a major logistical trauma also known as Pony Club Camp. It is likely that the Task Force that was mobilised to sail to the Falklands on a flotilla of battleships took less kit with them than two 12 year olds took to spend a week camping and riding ponies ten miles from home in a period of mild weather, winds light to moderate. Anyway mission accomplished – they had a ball.

After the emotional upheaval of Ironman and the organisational stress of camp we were off on holiday without a moment to stop and think about Ironman and the blues.

Regular readers will remember last year that we went to the Mark Warner resort in Lemnos which had the feel of a correctional facility for people obsessed with staying fit – so we didn’t go back there. Instead we went to Mark Warner in Corsica which as far as I could tell was no different. We hadn’t even got off the plane before I had met my first triathlete!

A bit like Lemnos the resort was full of middle-aged men and women who may have been hell raisers in their youth but who now were more concerned with morning runs than Tequila Slammers. No Jack Wills, Super Dry or Hollister here, it was strictly lycra. On a positive note, the daily group bike rides provided a whole new audience of people who wanted to listen and ask questions about my Ironman, at least for the first week. In the second week I was trumped by a new arrival who had just done the Marathon des Sables (seven marathons in six days across the Sahara) and even Ironman couldn’t compete. And even if it could, she had done two of those as well.

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King of the Mountains!!!

I managed to get out and do something that would vaguely pass as training on most days. If I had any focus it was on swimming in the sea as the swim in my race in Majorca in October is not only a sea swim but it is likely to be a non-wet suit swim. After swimming 1,500m in the sea every day I now feel at home with that prospect. But even in the sea I was upstaged by my new friend Mark who was training for the Buttermere 10k swim and who was regularly knocking out 5k training sessions. But on the plus side I was awarded the weekly King of The Mountains prize for my cycling antics – mainly because I was the only person the cycling guide recognised at the awards ceremony 

By the time we got home Summer was almost over and Ironman seemed to be a small spec in the rear view mirror and any opportunity to develop a case of the blues had passed. All the focus now seems to be on next year – not because long distance triathletes are an organised bunch, but because the big races are all going on sale now and are selling out quickly. When I say quickly, I mean “Led Zeppelin Reunion Concert” quickly. The new Ironman 70.3 in Staffordshire which doesn’t take place until next June sold all 2,000 places in 15 minutes which was only eclipsed by Challenge Roth selling all 5,000 places in under a minute. It seems the appetite to suffer is alive and well in Britain!

For now I have entered the Outlaw Half again (another one day sell out) which was a feat in itself. Nothing they throw at me on the day of the race will match the stress levels of trying to enter a race online using a Kindle and a dodgy hotel Wi-Fi connection in Corsica while the organisers were regularly posting updates on Facebook of how quickly places were going. Anyway that one is booked and I can forget about it for a while. The priority now is to get my training on with only six and a half weeks left until the European Championships at Challenge Paguera and my first outing in a GB tri suit. More on that another time.

For now enjoy the last few weeks of the season.

 

 

10 things we know about Ironman now that we wish we’d known a year ago

If you have just signed up for your first Ironman or iron distance race and you are wondering what you have let yourself in for, don’t worry, help is at hand in the shape of the Ironman Journey group on Facebook.

IMUK2012_newMany of the 850-odd members of the group have now done at least one Iron distance race. While it is still fresh in everyone’s minds, we have drawn on the Group’s collective wisdom and assembled some tips for todays would be Ironmen. Things we wish we had known a year ago.

This is not about training or coaching; in fact it is the very opposite. It is the kind of real life advice that you won’t find in any coaching manual. So here goes:

1. Have the conversation
Ironman is a selfish game. As you approach the action end of your training you will be out of the house for long periods of time – mostly at weekends and in the evening. This is time that your partner and kids refer to as “family time”. Temporarily it has to become “Ironman time”. There is nothing worse than coming back from a long ride to an atmosphere because you haven’t got the family on your side.

More than one person has said that they could never repay the debt to their wife / husband for all their support (although only Iain Edgar’s wife has said she will see that he manages to repay it!). Ironman is an infinitely better experience if you do it as a team and take the family on the journey with you. That needs a proper conversation right at the start.

2. Join the Ironman Journey Facebook Group
Everyone thought it, Cath Hartwell suggested it. At home and at work you will quickly run out of people willing to listen to Ironman talk. The Facebook Group is full of likeminded people. It is the only place where people will think it is normal that you want to cycle 112 miles before running a marathon.

The group is full of reassurance, advice, banter, and top tips. But most important is has a handful of Ironman veterans who are able to reassure you that the menopausal mood swings, high anxiety, sleepless nights and motivational troughs are all perfectly normal. That’s OK then!

I met several people on race day that I had met virtually through the group and there are many more who I am sure I will meet at future events – people who I hope will become friends. Isn’t that one of the reason we all do this?

3. Perspective: Part 1
During the long winter months of training it will get tough. The sheer scale of the challenge can also get under your skin and will sometime appear near impossible. Try to keep things in perspective. You are not being asked to stop the polar ice caps from melting or to solve the national debt problem. You are training for a race that you want to do and have volunteered for. Most important, remember that you are doing this for fun. This is a hobby. If it all gets on top of you see paragraph 2!

4. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition
All the coaching manuals will tell you how important it is to get your nutrition right on the day. It can make the difference between finishing or not. But here are some tips born out of bitter experience:

Man cannot live on gels alone! Make sure you build some solid food into your race. The bike is the most obvious place to do it. If you are doing Ironman UK you will pass the special needs feed station twice. Pack a picnic and make the bike leg more social like Ines Carr did. But Jason Anderton offers a word of caution – if you fill your tri suit pockets with food, don’t forget to empty them before you disrobe to go to the loo or the last you will hear of your bananas and Powerbars is a splash.

On a serious note, start experimenting with nutrition now. Not everyone gets on with all nutrition as many in the group will testify. Combine a “gel tummy” with race day nerves and the results can be explosive – literally!! A few things to watch out for. Adrian O’Brien advises never to trust a fart on the run. For Chris Glover that was too late, his trust was betrayed in T2, so his advice is simple; carry some loo paper! It’s not all bad news for Chris. His mishap has already entered Ironman UK folklore and will be known forever as “Doing a Glover”.

Niamh Lewis has the last word on this topic and brings a ladies fashion eye to the problem. If you are doing Ironman, don’t ever wear a white tri suit!

5. Be organised
If you are like me (and it seems a few are), once you get to the race venue your mind turns to mush and even the simplest decisions become difficult. So try and get as many decisions as possible made before you arrive.

Jason Walkley offered a top tip for those doing 140.6 races that use transition bags. Work out what needs to go in your bike and run bags in the week before the race – then simply take it to the race venue in separate bags and decant it into your transition bags when you get them at registration. One less piece of thinking to do on the day. But make sure you do a final check and avoid Adrian O’Brien’s experience of cycling 112 miles with no socks and brand new bike shoes.

Kaine Pritchett advises against arriving at the venue on the Saturday before a Sunday race. Registering, checking in transition bags, bike racking and attending a briefing is a lot to pack into one day and adds a lot of stress at a time when you want to be de-stressing. Get there on Friday.

On a more practical note Hannah Elliot advises that you make a note of your race number so that you don’t forget it and end up in tears looking in the wrong row in the T1 changing tent!

6. Take your time and don’t panic
Onto the race itself now. Several people offered advice about the swim. 10514594_705906046111239_6860745791808719757_nParticularly be careful at what point you enter the water – with thousands of others around you it is difficult to re-position yourself once you are in. I just joined the queue and once we were in I found myself mid-pack – not somewhere I would have chosen.

Maria Greaves took this to a whole different level and ended up right at the front of the swim and endured what she describes as an aquatic pub brawl!

Wherever you end up in the swim, Emma Hampson offers the comforting assurance that you won’t die so advises against her approach which was to burst into tears as she got into the water.

Lots of first time Ironmen offer advice on not rushing things – 17 hours is a long time. Rob Jude says don’t be afraid to spend the necessary time in T1 and T2 to get comfortable – you are a long time biking and running. Clive Onions is one of many who recommends you invest some of that time in applying Udderley Smooth Chamois Cream around the undercarriage in T1 – Jason Clarke prefers Vaseline!

Vicki Gale recommends you change socks in T2 – having done it myself, I can safely say that Vicki’s tip is one the most important changes I made all day. Starting the run in dry fresh socks was bliss.

A word of caution here from Andrew Rudda. He agrees you shouldn’t rush things, but also suggest you keep a bit of time in the bank to absorb a mishap. Andrew had an episode with a puncture that he couldn’t fix and by the time the mechanic got to him he had missed the bike cut off

7. It’s not a Marathon, it’s an Ironman run
Tim Lebon takes the credit for this one. Anyone who has done an Ironman will know exactly what this means. Normal Marathon rules don’t apply. I read a great article recently which said that an Ironman Marathon is not like a normal Marathon that turns ugly at 20 miles – it starts ugly. Forget your normal thinking about pace and splits – think survival. You have one aim and that is to get to the finish.

Walking is not an admission of defeat – virtually everyone walks at some point during the Ironman run. I had breakfast the morning after Ironman UK with Becky Hoare who clocked a 3.50hrs marathon to finish in 11.10hrs, won her age group and is going to Kona. Becky walked through every feed station.

So take the walking moments to meet your fellow competitors and help each other through it. Most of my best memories of the day are from the run for exactly that reason.

8. Leave your watch at home and enjoy yourself
This was multiple Ironman Jason Briley’s advice to the Group before Ironman UK. You only cross the finish line of your first Ironman once – so make the most of it.

Nobody doing Ironman for the first time really knows what their finish time will be, so why heap all the pressure on yourself of chasing a time that you have pretty much guessed. There will be plenty of future Ironman races for chasing times – just enjoy the first one and aim to finish.

From my own experience I didn’t completely follow Jase’s advice. I had a watch on during the run but the battery died at the start of the last lap. I felt liberated and enjoyed that last lap as much as any part of the race. I could hear Briley in my ear saying: “I told you so”!!

Iain Edgar agrees with this – his single piece of advice is to enjoy yourself. Carrie Power adds a commercial twist recommending that if you enjoy it for no other reason remember you have paid a lot to be there!!

9. Keep some perspective part 2
One thing you can be certain of is that things won’t go to plan. That may be a minor inconvenience, it may be worse. One in five of those who entered Ironman UK this year didn’t finish (some didn’t start). Hopefully that won’t be you, but if it is try and keep some perspective like Cath Hartwell who had to pull out after a bike crash. Cath’s philosophy is simple: “Knock me down 7 times. I’ll get up 8”. She’s already entered Ironman UK 2015 and already has 850 supporters!

I’ll leave the last word on this to Andy Holgate – after all it is his fault that many of us were there at all. Sadly Andy’s race at Ironman UK this year ended in an ambulance. He says:

“Sometimes things happen that are out of your control that can end your race. Don’t dwell on it, stay positive, refocus and make a promise to yourself to come back stronger. Perspective, an Ironman DNF is not the end of the world :-)”

10. So if you have your partner on side, got your nutrition sorted, joined the group, ditched your watch and you’re organised and ready to roll, there is only one tip left to give – an Ironman Journey Group favourite: Don’t be shit!!