Category Archives: Uncategorized

Does my bum look fast in this?

At about this time of year I am normally packing my season away in a box and thinking about what I am going to do over the winter. But this year I have extended my season, or to be more accurate, I have re-opened my season.

After I ran Race to The Stones in July I didn’t have any other events in the diary. Three ultras felt like enough, beside which my feet were in shreds. A rest was on the cards.

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Race to The Stones BBQ – missing a couple of team members

August was taken up with a variety of things. First we had to get Matilda and her friend to Pony Club Camp. Just two-girls, two ponies and a tent for a week, but it felt like a full military deployment. Then we had the all-important Race to The Stones barbecue. And of course we had our family summer holiday. This year we went to the south of Spain.

Although I kept exercising throughout, my mind was focused on other things and there was no structure or purpose to my training. The result was that my weight and my fitness went in opposite direction, both heading the wrong way.

If you allow yourself to put on weight and let your fitness ebb away slowly enough, you don’t notice the change. The realisation starts when you can’t find a T-shirt to run in that doesn’t show your spare tyre.

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One of the positives of running on holiday – I persuaded Matilda to run with me!!

But my “Road to Damasacus” moment came on a run while we were on holiday in Spain. It was hot and I was working quite hard, I would have guessed my pace was about 8.15 minute per mile, but my watch was showing my pace as 9 minutes a mile. In my state of denial I convinced myself that it was because I had an English watch and the GPS didn’t work properly in Spain. But I knew.

The evidence that sealed the case, if any were needed, came when I got on the scales after returning from holiday. If they could talk the scales would have said: “One at a time please” before showing me a number I haven’t seen for a few years. That was it. Enough! Time to take myself in hand.

So on the day after the August Bank Holiday, I declared my season open again and entered The Clarendon Half Marathon in early October. I got my bike out, dusted off my swimming gear and I went to it.

I started training six days a week with the priority being running and in particular speed training and tempo running. I swam and cycled as cross training. I find that my run fitness rockets if I swim and bike on non-running days. At the same time I seriously cleaned up my diet.

It only took a week before I noticed the early signs of improvement. As the end of September got nearer my numbers were improving and I had shed about 10 lbs. I am sure my training was paying dividends, but I am convinced that it was the weight loss that made the real difference.

I have been doing parkrun for about a year but during that time I have never been at peak running fitness. Recently I have been trying to go to parkrun every Saturday as it provides a good benchmark of progress as well as a really enjoyable social run with friends.

Going into September I had a best time of 23.26 mins. One Saturday near the end of September I forgot my watch (which was working again by now!) so just ran to feel. I didn’t think I was hammering it, but nor was I holding back. I took 20 seconds off my best time.

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The Andover Lake Run – a 10k in support of the local Foodbank

The following week I went back with my watch on with the aim of seeing what I could do if I gave it some beans. The answer, I took more than another minute of my parkrun PB which now stands at 22.05 mins. The previous week I had run a fantastic 10k in Andover in aid of the local food bank and come home in 46.30mins. (confession: I think the course was a bit short). Things were on the up.

Last weekend I ran the Clarendon Half – a hilly and muddy 13.1 miles from Broughton to Winchester. I had no real plans to chase a time until my Race to The Stones partner-in-crime, Neville, asked me on the start line what my target was. From nowhere I said:

“Two hours”.

That was based on nothing. No science, no course recce and certainly no thought. Top of the head stuff! The look on Nev’s face told me that I was being a bit ambitious given the profile of the course, but he was polite enough not to say so. And anyway, it was too late, I had said it.

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Enjoying The Clarendon Half

It actually turned out to be the best thing that happened. My pace and progress during the race was always tantalisingly close to a 2 hour run, so when I was tempted to walk the hills I thought better of it. I had to answer to Nev at the finish line!!

The most satisfying part was that moment when I thought I was dropping off the pace and I touched the accelerator and for the first time in eighteen months something actually happened! My training and weight loss had made a real difference.

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The Run-in

Always one to leave things to the last-minute, I sneaked over the finish line with 26 seconds to spare for a 1.59.34mins finish. On that course and given were I was five weeks earlier, I was thrilled.

So that, in a rather large nutshell, is why I am continuing my season. I am enjoying my training and I am especially enjoying being a slightly faster runner again and I am not ready to go into winter hibernation.

Next up is a step back in time to when I was at school. I have joined the local Athletics Club so that I can race in the Hampshire Cross Country League over the winter. For some people cross-country brings on flashbacks of cold wet torture from their schooldays. I have all kinds of great memories of running cross-country at school. It’s where I discovered my love of running, so I am quite excited to get out there.

Sods Law, the first race is at Farley Mount in Winchester which is the site of the biggest hill in the Clarendon Half. At least I should know the course!

 

 

Man vs Horse vs Morph

So another month gone – another month closer to the Race to The Stones and I am not convinced that I am a month better trained. But looking at my training diary I have certainly done lots this month.

It started on Good Friday morning with a run on Salisbury Plain together with Cate and Matilda on horseback. It was the best way we could think of to all do what we wanted to do without disappearing in opposite directions for the day.

It was great fun. Me plodding at a very steady pace, them cantering off into the distance and then coming back for a chat. It was like a re-enactment of the Tortoise and The Hare.

horses on the plainWe got separated at about five miles. I just kept on plodding in a straight line until I had done seven miles and then I turned around and plodded back again. Apart from a quick phone call to Matilda to give me directions back (a fork in the road foxed me) it was all pretty straight forward. Fourteen miles done in the sun, a two-hour ride for the girls and a picnic at the end. Perfect!

That led me nicely into the Coombe Gibbet to Overton cross country race, a local 16-miler. It’s most notable feature was that it started at the top of the highest hill for miles around and finished several hundred feet lower (but 16 miles away) in Overton. So you would have thought that it would have a downhill feel to it. Strangely we seemed to be going uphill more than down. I am sure a geologist could explain it.

I wanted to treat it as a long slow training run so resisted all temptation to follow the many runners who overtook me. I ran the first 8 miles pretty much alone. I bumped into my friend Peter Holt at the halfway drinks station C Gibb raceand we ran the second half together. We used conversation as our distraction technique. I think we nailed all the big issues in our 80 minutes together; Brexit, Premiere League, Ironman and the Vernon Kaye sexting scandal. Top prize for effort goes to Pete’s girlfriend Louisa who had completed the Windsor Duathlon in the morning (top ten finisher!!), rushed back to support and was there on the hill into the finish cheering us on.

We finished in a leisurely 2.45hrs. One thing we did learn is that two bottles of wine with your next door neighbour the evening before is not a viable nutrition strategy. Thank you Nick Wall for trying that one out for us. We’ll cross it off the list for Race to The Stones eh?

I am sure none of my running mates will be offended that the highlight of the last month for me was the Morph Marathon Tour.

My friend Sid Sidowski is a prolific fund raiser. In ten years, driven by a very personal story, he and his friends have raised over £250,000 for Birmingham Children’s Hospital’s research into kids’ brain tumours. With a bit of time on his hands Sid had a chance to take on a challenge that he had been thinking about for a while – 7 marathons in 7 days in a morph suit!!

When the clarion call went out for helpers to run, cycle, feed or generally support Sid my hand was up straight away. One of the marathons was going to be in Bath, an hour from my front door which made it even easier.

Our run was on Friday and was marathon number 5 of 7. During the week the excitement around the Tour built. It made it into some regional newspapers and was getting great coverage on Facebook and Twitter. By Thursday afternoon I was ready to go!

The day started with a 4.00am alarm. How had that happened? We had organised our own run and still the alarm was going off earlier than on most race days.

13062487_1402678313364048_5985962349759631583_nBy 6.00am I was parked up at The George in Bathampton and at about 6.30am James Hutcheson, John Young, Ewen Lewis, Sid and I all set off down the canal tow path heading towards Bath.

The first half dozen miles were fun. Everyone was fresh (except Sid obviously!), there was lots of banter and the canal was completely peaceful. 13100848_10153340660716486_4027728353868327999_nWe did a quick whistle stop tour of the sights of Bath, stopping for a photo call in front of the Royal Crescent. We had barely started again when Sid had to stop to attend to his media commitments. Radio WM in the West Midlands called and put Sid live on air to explain his challenge and tell everyone how they could sponsor him. Bath’s early commuters couldn’t quite work out the sight of a morph doing a radio interview by mobile phone in front of one of Bath’s premiere landmarks.

It was soon after we set off again that the problems started. Sid’s right leg had become very painful – not a great surprise after 4 marathons in 4 days. The pain got worse quickly until he was only able to walk with a limp. Fortunately we were only a mile or so from the end of a loop which took us back to The George where there was food and drink waiting.

We sat down at a picnic table outside the pub and tried to regroup. Lots of long faces – we still had 18 miles to go and Sid was in considerable pain. Things didn’t look good. In his head I think Sid came pretty close to bailing out but outwardly he tried to stay positive. He assessed his options:

“I can either jack it in and it’s a very short day, or we can press on and it will be a very long day”

He looked around at us. We were all ready to support whichever option he chose. Uppermost in Sid’s mind is always the fund raising and the kids in hospital. I am sure that is what swayed him. Sid’s verdict?

“You don’t get anywhere in life by being a c***”

And on we went, this time on an 18-mile “out and back” along the canal running away from Bath.

Twenty minutes later Hutch’s phone rang, it was our friend Kelli. By a stroke of luck, Kelli is a nurse and she spent as long as it took to talk Sid through what he could do to help.

Kelli then posted on Facebook that Sid was struggling which triggered more phone calls. Thank you Robert, Maria, Tracey and Jane. Somewhere between the friends’ phone calls, the Facebook messages, the medical advice and a few encouraging words by his side, Team Morph rescued Sid’s marathon on the tow path of the Kennet & Avon Canal that morning.

Things weren’t perfect but Sid was moving forward, his head was back in the Hutchright place and his legs were managing a run. Next stop a pub at 15 miles. A quick Coke each (except Hutch who only runs on Guinness) and then on to a turnaround point at 17 miles where we turned for home.

The last 9 miles weren’t pretty and they weren’t fast but slowly but surely the battered and almost broken Morph ticked off the miles until the watch said 26.2. Cue big celebrations – marathon 5 of 7 of the Morph Marathon Tour done. We celebrated with high fives, hugs and a huge plate of hamburger and chips in the George.

It was a great fun day. An uplifting day. And the best bit? The sponsorship dial moved markedly on Friday. That’s what mattered to Sid. He didn’t care how his broken morph frame was going to get round tomorrow’s marathon, he would cross that bridge when he came to it. For now he was achieving what he set out to achieve. Raising awareness and raising money. What a hero!

13082575_10153664740377615_673875088422156344_nThe postscript to this remarkable story is that sometime late on Sunday afternoon Sid crossed the finish line of marathon 7. He can’t walk up and down stairs at the moment and he doesn’t want to see a morph suit again. But on Friday evening he hit his original fundraising target, increased it and on Sunday he broke through that target too. He has raised almost double what he set out to raise.

If you want to give to Sid’s great cause it’s not too late. You can either text:

MORF77 £10 to 70070

Or you can donate online by clicking here:

 

 

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.

 

Trainer Road – the Power of Power

December must rank as the low point in the triathlon calendar. The racing season is a distant memory, there’s at least five months until my next triathlon event, the evenings are dark and the weather is cold and wet. And as if that isn’t enough, someone has thrown in Christmas with all its temptations.

However the off season is not all bad. It is a good chance to stand back from the relentless pressure of race training and concentrate on fixing a few things. Last year I focused on my cycling as it was by far my weakest discipline, but I wasn’t very scientific about it – I just did lots of it. I went on virtually every club ride going and when there wasn’t a club ride I went out on my own. However there was no structure to it and I had no way of measuring my progress. In fact my first real test of whether I had improved in the off season was in my first race in June. As it turned out I had improved, which is just as well because it would have been a bit late to find out I hadn’t.

This year I am taking a more scientific approach. I have singled out my cycling and swim technique as areas to focus on. I blogged about my swim technique coaching a few months ago and I am glad to say things are still improving. On the bike I have really tried to apply some science. This year I want to be able to measure myself because what you can measure, you can improve.

Power training is all the rage in the world of cycling at the moment. How many untitled (6)Watts of power you are generating is a great real time measure of performance, arguably better than heart rate or training based on perceived effort. The problem with using power to train on a bike is that you won’t see much change from £1,000 for a decent power meter. I can’t justify that kind of expense, but after a lot of looking around I have found a great alternative – TrainerRoad.

TrainerRoad is a turbo based training system that uses other measures to calculate an approximation of power, a measure they call “Virtual Power”. I won’t explain how it all works here as TrainerRoad does a very good job of that on their web site. What I can say is that for £50 or so of components, about 15 minutes of set up, a quick software install and a £6.50 per month subscription I was power training on my turbo.

Trainer Road uses speed and cadence data and the knowledge of which turbo you are using to calculate power stats on the fly and display them on your feature-training-live-feedback-v1.1PC/laptop. You get a live graphical and digital view of the stats and considering all the calculations are happening on remote servers somewhere else on the web, there is no noticeable delay in the speed at which the displayed stats respond to your activity. How accurate are the power readings? Tests show that they are accurate to within about 5% but I don’t think it matters. What it gives you is a performance benchmark and providing you keep your settings (turbo resistance, flywheel tension, tyre pressure etc.) all exactly the same, then all your results can be compared to the benchmark on a like for like basis.

But TrainerRoad is more than just a virtual power meter. It is also a training regime. The software comes equipped with an extensive library of workouts. If you are like me and like structure then you can also chose a full workout program. Wherever you are in your training cycle and whatever you are training for, they have a program to fit with the small exception of one for an Ironman, although they do have a Half Ironman program and when I asked they said a full Ironman program is on the way next Spring.

Like all these things, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – so does it work? I can only speak from experience. I started six weeks ago with a “Sweet Spot” base training program. Every program starts with a test to establish a benchmark and to set the power targets for your workouts. The test is a standard 8-minute test – two reps of eight minutes at full tilt built into a one-hour session– which is used to calculate your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). In English this is the maximum level of power that you could hold for one hour. My test calculated that my FTP was 163 Watts.

The Sweet Spot program was six weeks of three workouts a week, each between 60 and 90 minutes duration. Most workouts were interval based with increasing lengths of intervals in the sweet spot between 85% – 95% of FTP. It was hard work and pushed me much harder than I would ever have pushed myself. Yesterday I finished the program and retested and produced a shiny new FTP of 189 Watts – a 15% improvement in my power in just six weeks. It’s not going to scare Sebastian Kienle, but my verdict? It works all right!

On top of that, interwoven into every workout are lots of technique tips and drills. Not only am I already a more powerful cyclist, I believe I am also more efficient. There is also a social element to it. You can make your results public, to other TrainerRoad users, and even organise teams and collect results. Sharing the experience with my friends Chris Glover (yes the Chris Glover) and Louisa Vere have made me that little bit more accountable and made it more fun.

So with an early Christmas present of an extra 26 Watts, I am going to take a short break – who knows I might even cycle outside – before starting a follow on Sweet Spot base training program in early January. I can’t wait. It is safe to say that I am a huge fan of TrainerRoad.

In other news spare a thought for my friend Nick Wall. During an off season MTB burn up with some friends in the Forest of Dean, Nick took a downhill jump 1384167_10204339264055272_2592443157215635485_na bit too fast. The problem with downhill jumps is that the ground is suddenly a long way below you. Nick estimates that he was twenty feet up when he lost control and the back wheel came over the top of him. Needless to say he hit the ground hard. When the smoke had cleared Nick had broken his shoulder, his elbow, his wrist in three places and four ribs, one of which punctured a lung. After a bit of surgery he is on the mend and still managing to smile. Here’s to a quick recovery. I am still hopeful that he and I can race The Outlaw Half together in late May but time will tell.

That’s all for now! All that remains is to thank you all for reading in 2014 and to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let’s do it all again in 2015!

Ironman UK – 20 July 2014

It had been nearly a year since I entered Ironman UK and during the course of those 12 months it has never been far from my mind. Now finally it was here. From the start of Ironman UK race week this felt very different to anything I had done before. I managed to keep my nerves in check, but was glad when the time came to travel to Bolton on Friday, arriving in time to register and attend a race briefing.

Saturday was busy delivering my bike and transition bags to the right places. It was when I arrived at Pennington Flash to rack my bike that the scale of the event first hit me and the nerves stepped up a notch. Sunday morning couldn’t come fast enough.

On Saturday evening we had dinner with my club mate Carrie Power who was also competing. Carrie had registered a DNF at Ironman Switzerland in 2013 and had lived with the disappointment for a year. Sunday was all about laying that ghost to rest for her. As we waded through a mountain of pasta, I could sense Carrie’s single mindedness. What’s the saying about a woman scorned? Ironman didn’t stand a chance!

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My Iron support crew – Cate & Matilda

Even by triathlon standards the alarm call on Sunday was early. My alarm was set for 3.00am so I could catch the shuttle bus to Pennington Flash at 4.00am. As usual, I was awake well before that. I had managed about 4 ½ hours of fitful sleep – hardly the perfect preparation for the long day ahead.

Cate and Matilda, my Iron support crew, dutifully got up at 3.30am and drove me to the Reebok Stadium and waved me off.

Three hours later I was standing in a queue of 2,000 very nervous wet suited competitors waiting to be allowed into the water. With over half of the field doing their first Ironman the atmosphere was incredible.

As we waited, standing next to me was none other than Andy Holgate, the triathlon author, whose book about his journey to Ironman had given me real encouragement to do this. I asked him if he would zip up my wet suit. I told him that it was partly his fault that I was there, so it was an appropriate last act before we started. He laughed and did me up before shaking hands and wishing me luck. What a nice guy!

As 2,000 of us trooped into the water my nerves turned to excitement. I soaked every moment of it in, it was exhilarating. I swam about 250 yards out towards the start line and picked a spot in some space. I looked behind me to see a huge crowd of people treading water. I was somewhere in mid pack – about 1,000 in front and 1,000 behind. This was going to be interesting!

They played the national anthem – very American. Then I heard the PA system announce 10 seconds to go and the huge crowd on the shore cheer. No turning back now! Then a loud hooter. Ironman UK was underway, the start of a very long day.

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The crowded swim

The noise was incredible as 2,000 people burst into action – the world’s biggest washing machine! For the first few hundred metres there was no room at all. I got clattered a few times, but nothing too bad. By about 600 metres I had found some room and some rhythm.

The next challenge was the first turning buoy at about 900 metres – having spread out a bit, hundreds of people swimming around me were now all heading for the same 20 feet of water. I decided to go round as close as I could to the buoy. I wasn’t the only one – at one point you could have walked over the raft of bodies, but we all got round in one piece without any dramas.

In what seemed like no time I was at the exit at the end of lap one – 1.2 miles (1.9k) done. As I ran the small stretch on land I saw the race clock – 37 minutes – about what I would have expected.

The second lap was much less congested and I hit a really steady rhythm and certainly didn’t feel as though my pace dropped. As I approached the exit for the last time, I heard the announcer over the PA and the cheering crowd from about 200 metres out. I kept swimming right to the exit ramp before I stood up unsteadily. A volunteer reached his hand out and I grabbed it gratefully. He pulled me up the ramp and seconds later my feet were on terra firma. One Ironman swim done!

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One Ironman swim done!

As I ran to T1 grappling with the zip on my wet suit I passed the race clock again – 1.21 hrs. I was surprised that my second lap had been slower – but 1.21hrs would do. Much more exciting was seeing Cate and Matilda for the first time cheering madly holding up their “Go Dad” banner. It was a real boost. Then it was time to think about the bike.

Ironman style transition with kit bags and changing tents make fast transition difficult. I was in and out of the tent and onto my bike in 6 minutes which was fine.

The bike course was a 14-mile point to point section which joined what everyone referred to as “The Loop” – a circuit of just under 50 miles that we had to do twice. It was crowded to begin with as hundreds of competitors poured out of the swim venue and in the shake down of slow swimmers who were fast cyclists racing through the field, I saw several crashes.

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The “Mankini Men” on Sheephouse lane

 We reached the The Loop in a bit less than an hour and were straight into the first of two climbs – Sheephouse Lane. It wasn’t a steep climb, just long and relentless. As I approached the top I was distracted from the pain by 4 men at the side of the road dressed only in mankinis and coloured wigs, dancing to thumping music coming from their camper van. Was I hallucinating or had the world briefly gone mad!

At about the 30-mile mark I caught Carrie and rode with her for a quick chat. She’d had a stellar swim finishing in 1.09hrs and was feeling good on the bike and seemed in good spirits. That was all I needed to know. We wished each other luck and I pressed on.

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Sheephouse Lane

By the time I started the second lap it was late morning and large crowds had gathered at the best spectating points. By far the highlight of the bike course was Babylon Lane or “Colt Alley” as it has become known on Ironman race day. The hill out of Adlington had been taken over by Colt tri club and friends – several thousand of them lined the route pressing right into the road leaving only a few metres for competitors to cycle through. The noise was deafening, this was the closest thing I will ever experience to riding a climb on the Tour de France. It was awesome – a real goose bumps moment.

Finally at about 2.30pm and after just over 7 hours on the bike, 112 miles and 6,751 feet (2,058 metres) of ascent, I pulled into T2 at the Reebok Stadium. I love my TT bike but I wasn’t sorry to hand it to a bike catcher and head into the changing tent. I was tired but ecstatic to have the bike leg behind me. I got an extra little boost when I looked around and saw that the bike racking in T2 was still less than half full. Two down and one to go – even if that one was a marathon!

Once again transition took 6 minutes – nothing if not consistent!

The run course of Ironman UK was brutal – there is no better word to describe it. When I think run, I think flat, but not in Bolton! The run started with a quick taste of things to come – straight into a hill. But despite the ascent it didn’t take long for my legs to feel something like my own.

The run course was an 8-mile stretch into the centre of Bolton to join a run loop around the town centre which was about 5 miles long and which we did 3 ¾ times. I saw Cate and Matilda again about 2 miles into the run – the timing was perfect and gave me a huge lift. They were next to a feed station so I was able to stop very briefly and give them a high five. A moment of light relief during an increasingly difficult afternoon

The run into Bolton is partially along the tow path of the canal where I took a 0759_032105short break and walked with two guys from Team True Spirit, the club that gives recovering injured servicemen the chance to take part in events like this. We chatted as we walked and despite their obvious injuries, all these guys wanted to know was how I was doing. Two humble but deeply inspirational human beings – suddenly my aching legs seemed unimportant. After a while we all wished each other luck and I ran on with tears in my eyes. What a moment! It cost me a minute on my race time, but a minute that will inspire me through challenges for as long as I continue to take them on.

Once I reached the loop in Bolton town centre the whole mood changed. I felt as though I had arrived at the party! The first lap was fun. The entire run loop was lined with supporters cheering and encouraging and the closer you got to the centre of town and the finish, the bigger the crowds became. Coming out of town was a different story. It started with a sharp hill followed by a short flat section to get your breath back then a steady incline for most of the rest of the outward part of the loop. The 26-mile run had a total of 1,000 feet of ascent.

As more and more runners joined the loop the atmosphere built. I have many great memories of the run – the crowds of young spectators outside the pub halfway along who got drunker and more encouraging with each lap – meeting numerous people who I had been virtual friends with on Facebook until now, but who became real friends in Bolton bonded by our common struggle – my old friend Taff Davies who I haven’t seen for over 20 years introducing himself to the race booming out “Come on Whenty” across the run course.

When I was about half way through my first full lap I finally saw Carrie on the run coming the other way and stopped for a chat. She had made it through the bike leg which had been her nemesis in Switzerland – I couldn’t have been more pleased. But seeing Carrie had only briefly distracted me from how hard things were becoming. 15 miles into the marathon, I had been on the go for over 10 hours and my body was beginning to object violently.

Whoever you are, an Ironman ultimately boils down to a moment when your body says no and you have to find a way to say yes. It happened to me about 18 miles into the run, on my second lap. From then on it was one long negotiation. I seemed happy if I knew when the next walk would be. I set landmarks: “Run to those traffic lights half a mile away and then walk for 20 seconds, then run to the next feed station half a mile further on and walk through it” and so it went on. I don’t think I let myself off lightly, but I definitely slowed on the last third of the run.

My legs were close to shot, they had been propelling me forwards for about 11 hours. My feet felt like a bomb site – I shuddered to think what I would find when I eventually peeled my running shoes off later. But somehow I kept myself moving forward – I can’t explain how, it’s just the way you’ve wired yourself for this day.

Eventually I found myself running to the turning point at the far end of town for the last time. I passed through the penultimate aid station and fuelled up for one last effort. Then I ran the 100 metres to the turnaround, ran over the timing mat and turned for home – 2 ½ miles.

I chatted to another runner as we both headed for the finish. We agreed that running downhill back into town should have been a pleasure but it wasn’t – it hurt. Past the supporters at the pub who by now were feeling no pain – 2 miles.

I saw Carrie coming back out of down on the other side of the road, still looking happy – 1 ½ miles

Down the steep hill into town and into the final feed station – just a cup of water this time – ½ mile.

0759_049531As I left the feed station I could hear the announcer at the finish line. For the first time I started to celebrate, I was going to do it. I ran round the corner, into Victoria Square and there was the finish – 200 metres of Bolton’s dusty cobbles were all that stood between me and my Ironman dream.

I ran into the top of the long winding finishing chute and looked around for Cate and Matilda. I had to see them before I crossed the line. Apart from living this whole thing with me, they had both been up since 3.30am standing on the side of roads around Bolton cheering me on – Iron support – this was as much their moment as it was mine. They weren’t hard to spot – Matilda was doing a passable impression of Animal from the Muppets trying to attract my attention. I ran across to them for a big sweaty family hug. Cate was more concerned that I hadn’t finished yet but for these few seconds the clock could tick – I was where I wanted to be.

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In the finishing chute

And then came the moment. I ran slowly down the red carpet urging the crowd on, round the corner and there was Paul Kaye, the Ironman announcer. As I ran past him to the finish line he gave me a high five and I heard him say over the PA system; “Enjoy your finish Peter, YOU – ARE – AN – IRONMAN.” I had done it. 13 hours and 33 minutes after I had started in Pennington Flash I had finished. I was an Ironman! My marathon had taken 4.48hrs.

A volunteer hung a medal around my neck. There was no outpouring of emotion, just a real sense of achievement. In the athletes tent after the finish line there were about 20 other finishers, most of whom were sitting down staring a thousand miles into the distance. Their bodies had done their jobs and had now shut down.

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After 13.33hrs I am an Ironman!

On offer was all the Dominoes pizza you could eat. In my case that amounted to precisely none! After 20 Powerbar gels and heaven knows how much energy drink my stomach was closed for business. Just a bottle of water to celebrate!! I was soon reunited with Cate and Matilda and then the celebrations could really start! I also caught up with my old mate Taff.

I wanted to stay and watch Carrie finish, but I had a 12-year old on my hands who had been awake since 3.00am and was dropping. Reluctantly we headed back to the hotel, but I followed avidly online and celebrated as she crossed the finish line about an hour and a half later. One ghost laid to rest! We all had a great celebration breakfast in our hotel the next day.

0759_046454The next morning I was wide awake at 5.00am. As I lay in bed reliving the events of the day before, I felt a real sense of satisfaction and pride. I hadn’t come to Bolton to qualify for Kona, or to win a prize or even for a fast time. I came looking for the answer to a question: When I push myself to my limits and I am staring into the abyss, have I got what it takes? The answer came at about 7.30pm on Sunday evening when I heard those four words.

I have no time for Ironman

In the last twelve months I have done three half Ironman races, but it wasn’t until the third of them that I delivered the performance that I felt I was capable of. I am sure that this is because with each attempt I have learned something which makes me better prepared for next time. Everyone is the same – the more we do something, the more experience we get and the better we are able to do it.

I am trying very hard to carry this sane logic over to my Ironman preparation. The question I am asked most often by friends is “How long do you think it will you take you to finish your Ironman?”

My answer is that I don’t know and I don’t want to set a target time. At this point, if you watch closely you can see my nose get just a little bit longer!

This reluctance isn’t because I am not keen to do my best or because I am not competitive – I am. The reason is simple – I have never done an Ironman, I have no experience and I have nothing to base a target time on, so it would be complete guesswork. We can all add together our likely swim, bike and run times over the distance, but surely no first-timer can begin to accurately appreciate what the cumulative effect of the extreme distances will be.

I think it would be a real shame to experience the elation of reaching the finish line of an Ironman for the first time – a huge achievement in its own right – only to feel you have failed because you didn’t hit some arbitrary target time which you had pretty much guessed.

If I reach the finish line I will be thrilled; if I cross the line at a proud cruise I will be delighted and if I am smiling at the same time then that will be the icing on the cake, but no target time.

In other news, with Ironman UK just four weeks away, I am now at the action end of my training program and my training volume will reach a peak over the next few weeks. This means some really long sessions.

Combe Gibbet

Me and Nick at the top of Combe Gibbet – one of Britain’s top 100 climbs apparently!

My friend Nick Wall is doing Ironman France in Nice next weekend and a couple of weekends ago he was bringing his training to a climax with a long bike ride which he kindly let me tag along on. The Nice Ironman bike course is basically uphill for 70km and downhill for 110, so we were in search of hills and boy did we find some. We climbed the six biggest hills in North Hampshire, two of them twice and used the ride between each one to recover. It was five hours in the saddle covering between 70-80 miles and climbing over 6,000 feet. Did I mention the 20 minutes in the pub at halfway! Great fun but absolutely exhausting.

In general my training is pretty much where I want it to be. I have gradually increased volume and distances over the last 16 weeks and feel ready for one last push. I had a few days off running a week ago with a mild strain that I could probably have run through – but I have come too far to take that risk this close to race day. Fingers crossed that is now behind me.

The week ahead is where I bring it all to the boil – in volume terms it will be my biggest week at 16 hours. The last four days of the week go: 3.75k open water swim, 14-mile run, rest, 100 mile cycle with one mile run off the bike. After that I am going to be as prepared as I can be which means I will then switch into Ironman first-timer mode and start telling everyone how under prepared I feel!

And finally…….. congratulations to my club mate Jason Briley who completed his Double Ironman in 36 hours and 39 minutes – nutter! And good luck to teammates Nick Wall, Pete Holt and Liz Mayon-White who line up for Ironman France in a week.

How many people does it take to fix a puncture?

To have one puncture may be considered a misfortune, to have two is very bad luck, but three in a month is enough to test a man’s resolve. Welcome to my world in the last four weeks.

If you cycle long enough you are going to have a puncture. If you are lucky, you will have them on your own where you can sort them at a leisurely pace and get on with your ride. But eventually you are going to have one on a group ride. Then the fun begins.

Having been an observer of someone else’s misfortune many times on group rides, it was my turn on Saturday – just ten minutes into our Club ride. The fifteen minutes or so that it took to fix the situation and be on our way, just confirmed to me what I already knew. The group dynamics when someone punctures would have David Attenborough scratching his head. But there are definitely unwritten rules and obvious behaviour patterns when someone in the bunch suffers this misfortune.

  1. Rule #1 – Come tooled up. It is a chastening experience to have to beg, steal and borrow tubes and levers from fellow riders and will only increase the level of commentary from the sidelines (See Rule #2). Two spare tubes, a set of tyre levers and a pump is the minimum.
  2. Rule #2 – Expect an audience and lots of advice when you puncture, but don’t expect much help (see Rule #3). You will come to realise that the level of each individual’s expertise is inversely proportional to the level of noise they make.
  3. Rule #3 – The amount of help you will get from your fellow riders is directly determined by which sex you are. The formula is simple; if you are male you will get bugger all help. If you are female you will get loads. In fact if a lady plays her cards right she can be ready to ride again in as little as 5 minutes without so much as taking her gloves off. I am looking at you Judit Leszkovich!
  4. Rule #4 – The number of different opinions on how to get the tyre off and find the puncture is at least equal to the number of riders in the group.
  5. Rule #5 – The only acceptable way to sort a puncture is to fit a new inner tube (which you have with you – see Rule #1). Under no circumstances may you get out a puncture repair outfit. If you do, expect to see your ride disappear up the road.
  6. Rule #6 – The Velominati says: “You are not, under any circumstances, to employ the use of the washer-nut and valve-stem cap that come with your inner-tubes . They are only supplied to meet shipping regulations.” I say bollocks! I was told this last year during a puncture stop by a hard-core cyclist who explained that it was to do with rotational aerodynamics. This from a man with mud guards!
  7. Rule #7 – A pump is cool, CO2 is cooler. Cyclists go on a bike ride. Triathletes do a bike leg where the sole aim is to get to T2 in the shortest possible time so that they can start a run leg. CO2 gets you there quicker.
  8. Rule #8 – If you only have a pump, ensure you always know where the CO2 is to be found amongst your fellow riders. In this instance you can briefly ignore Rule #1. I am looking gratefully at you Nick Wall – enough said!
  9. Rule #9 – If you go on a training ride with tubular tyres and have a puncture, expect your fellow riders to wish you luck and leave you to it. (I thank my local cycling club, the Andover Wheelers, for this one – it was virtually the only piece of advice I was given when I asked them to explain the difference between tubular and clincher tyres!)

In other news, I have had a good week of training. With the Reading Half Marathon just a week away I have reduced the volume but tried to maintain the intensity of my sessions. Despite the weather I have managed to get out and train on six of the last seven days.

In less good news, I woke up this morning with man flu! Not what I want seven days before a half marathon. I am madly dosing myself up with Echinacea, vitamin C and Lemsip. Last night I even took Night Nurse and had the best night’ sleep in ages, but still feel rough.

I am keeping my fingers crossed!!