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!

 

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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.

 

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!

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.

 

The ETU European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships – 18 October 2014

The Build Up

At the start of this season, GB honours hadn’t even entered my thinking. My single goal for the season was to finish Ironman UK. But then in June at the Outlaw Half I had one of those races where everything clicked and I ended up on the podium and I qualified in my age group to race for GB at the European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships in Paguera-Majorca in October.

My friend and club mate Judit Leszkovich also qualified and we travelled to Majorca together on Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s race, neither of us sure what to expect but very excited.

Things kicked off on Thursday with a GB team bike ride to recce the course. The ride was done at a very gentle pace, so lots of conversation and the general consensus was that this was a rolling course with the potential for fast times. Spoiler alert – in my case it wasn’t!

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The swim course on Thursday

The afternoon was a team swim practice. This was less inviting. On Thursday there was a big swell which was driving breaking waves onto the beach. It is never a good sign to see people surfing on the swim course two days before an event! What I thought would be a gentle team swim practice turned out to be a crash course in how to swim in rough water. The only crumb of comfort was the forecast, which said that the sea state would be calm on Saturday, but worryingly it also predicted that the temperature was going to rise sharply.

Friday was a logistics day, but first Judit and I ran one loop of the run course. It seemed pretty straight forward with just one longish hill, but even at 10.00am it was baking hot!!

The rest of the day was taken up with team photos, bike racking, a pasta party and a race briefing. Our excellent team manager, Brent Perkins, kept the GB team behind afterwards the race briefing for a pep talk which finished with: “You are all Team GB triathletes now, you are here because you have earned it, race proud”. I don’t mind admitting that I left the room with a lump in my throat.

Fast forward 24 hours and about a thousand competitors are standing on Playa Tora, the main beach in Paguera, staring out at a flat calm sea waiting for the race to start. The sea state forecast was never in doubt!! The race referee had declared a non-wetsuit swim because of the water temperature. For reasons best known to the organisers, the race start had been set for midday and already the temperature was into the high 20s – Thursday’s wind had died, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was breathless so we were all bracing ourselves for a long and very hot day at the office.

The swim

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Our swim start – we’re in there somewhere!

Everything started spot on time so at 12.15pm exactly the hooter sounded and about 100 of us in my wave (all male age groups over 40) made a 20 yard dash to the sea followed by a free for all. I positioned myself to one side to avoid the inevitable ruck.

Conditions couldn’t have been better for the 1.2 mile (1.9km) swim.  The water was flat and beautifully clear and I could see all of the marine life below me – what’s not to like! I found space early on and quickly settled into a rhythm. Once round the turning buoy at about 950m I had a good second half of the swim getting towed along for a while by a Danish guy.

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One 1.9km swim done – not looking my best

At the swim exit a red carpet led us uphill for the 300m run from the beach to T1, so I arrived at my bike with my heart pounding out of my chest.

The Bike

The 56 mile (90km) bike leg was two laps which started with a ride straight through the middle of Pageura which I used to try and sort myself out with a quick drink and a gel.

Like my swimming, I always take a while to settle into a rhythm on the bike. Unfortunately the first and only hill of note on the bike course arrived before the rhythm did. This hill had seemed easy on the recce ride but my attempt to attack it today only partially succeeded.

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Trying to attack a hill!

Next came a 10k “out and back” section on a narrow road. The outward 5km was pretty much all uphill. Add to that cyclists on the return leg coming back down the hill at speeds of over 40mph passing less than a metre from us (one of which was Judit!) and things got a bit hairy.

Most of the rest of the course was quite fast with plenty of opportunity to settle onto the aero bars and establish some rhythm.

We passed through the holiday resort of Palmanova where, as you would expect, wearing a GB tri suit got you got some passionate patriotic support from spectators who probably hadn’t been up long. Guys you were great and put a smile on my face for the next 10 minutes!

One last hill and a descent took us back to Paguera and the end of lap one. At this point and I was on for a sub-3 hour bike split which would have done fine. But things are never that simple. The hills and the heat took it out of me on the second lap and eventually I pulled into T2 after 3.09hrs.

The run

I headed out on to the run in an optimistic mood. The run is my favourite discipline and it’s the one I usually do best in.

It normally takes me five minutes to shake off the effects of the bike and to see what state my running legs are in. Today I knew almost immediately that I was in trouble. My legs weren’t the problem, I just had nothing in the tank. Holding a modest 9 minute mile pace was already proving a struggle. As I ran along the beach front I genuinely wondered how I was going to complete a half-marathon.

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The run – hard yards!!

Then the rational side of my brain kicked in. What had gone wrong? I hadn’t hammered it on the bike and my legs felt OK. It had to be a hydration or nutrition problem. I mentally retraced my steps on the bike leg and I couldn’t remember drinking a lot. I needed a plan.

By the first feed station I was labouring. I walked through it and took a salt tablet, a gel and drank as much water as I dared. I did the same at the next two feed stations. By midway through the second lap a little energy returned and things looked up.

The hill that we had thought little of on the recce run proved to be a huge obstacle under race conditions. By the second lap there was a long queue of people walking up it – even pros. It wasn’t just the gradient that was providing such a challenge, it was the heat. The thermometer outside the pharmacy on the run course in the centre of town said 36 degrees C (97 degree F) – the heat was just sucking the energy out of the race.

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The thermometer on the run course – sweltering!

By the third lap things had deteriorated further. I saw several people who had just stepped off the race course and quit. I also saw a girl racing for GB sitting on the kerb by a feed station, she was completely spent. Her race was over. When I saw the results later there were a lot of DNFs and several GB team mates spent the night in hospital with dehydration. By any standards conditions were brutal.

The race for me became a war of attrition. I don’t know if it was the tri suit I was wearing or just a stubborn streak, but I stuck to the task. As I approached the hill on each lap I promised myself that I would not walk, but as a reward I allowed myself ten seconds of walking at the top. Apart from that I only walked through the feed stations but admit I sometimes lingered!

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Still moving forward!

One of the things that I am sure kept a lot of people going was the fantastic support for GB. Holidaymakers, friends, family and all the GB support team lined the streets all afternoon cheering us on. The atmosphere in Paguera was incredible. I have to mention Nick and Simon from Tri Camp who for just two people made a lot of noise. Simon parked himself at the top of the big hill and encouraged tired triathletes up the last 20 metres all afternoon.

By the fourth lap I was feeling all right (everything is relative!!) – I think the psychological effect of knowing I was on the home stretch helped. My last lap turned out to be my fastest and I gained two places in my age group in the final 5k.

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Never been so pleased to see a finish line! (Subtract 15 mins from clock for my wave time!!)

Finally after what seemed like the longest afternoon of my life, I ran into the finish area. Finishing involved a lap around the main square with a grandstand on two sides, both of which were full. The atmosphere was great. I think the crowd understood the ordeal we had been through. I have never been so pleased to cross a finish line. And who was the first face I saw when I finished? The ever present Brent Perkins.

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Judit and me – just pleased to have finished!

My finish time was 6.13hrs and gave me 12th place out of 23 in my age group. I was the 5th Brit home out of 13 in my age group. It wasn’t my fastest 70.3 by some way, but it is one I am proud of. Proud that I was representing my country and I don’t think I let the side down – that was very important to me. But also proud of the way I came back from adversity on the run to finish well. I feel as though I thought clearly under pressure even if the pressure had been caused by my own lack of concentration on the bike. I am also pleased just to have finished. It was without question the hardest 70.3 race I have done.

The Aftermath

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A well earned beer

I caught up with Judit in the athletes area. She had finished in 5.41hrs and had placed well in her age group. We chatted to other GB athletes and the story was the same everywhere – this was the hardest race they had done.

A few hours later, after a shower and a change we returned to the square for the awards ceremony and closing fireworks display. Then the highlight of the evening, the Team GB after party. Brent had arranged that we take over a bar on the beach front.

Take a group of excited triathletes, a large dollop of adrenalin and feel good endorphins, a warm evening, add a plentiful supply of cold beer and you have the recipe for a great party. About 75 of us spent several hours telling each other how brutal the race had been. Doesn’t sound much of a conversation does it – but we enjoyed it!!

After what seemed like 10 minutes I looked at my watch and it was nearly 2.00am. A quick bite to eat and it was time to bring an incredible day and a fantastic triathlon season to a close. Strangely I had no problem getting to sleep!

Thank you Brent Perkins and your support team as well as all my team mates on Team GB. You were all awesome, the camaraderie was incredible and I had the time of my life – an experience I will never forget!!

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Team GB – ETU European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships 2014 – Paguera – Majorca

The Olympic swim coach

I have just over three weeks until my triathlon season draws to a close in Majorca. Ideally I would like to have finished the season before now, but the 149320_199150930284226_1887449749_nopportunity to race in the European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships representing Great Britain is such an honour that I am not about to pass it up.

Already I am looking back on the 2014 season with a sense of satisfaction. The thing that pleases me most isn’t any one individual achievement from the season, but just the fact that I have improved.

On the bike, although I don’t have any hard stats, on a like for like long distance course I am 10% – 15% quicker and on the run I have taken 12 minutes off my half marathon PB in a year. It now stands at 1.41hrs.

But one thing that has stayed stubbornly consistent or stubbornly unimproved, depending on how you look at it, is my swimming. I am not a bad swimmer but I am not a good swimmer either – I am a fully paid up member of the “mid-pack” club. But despite lots of training my swim times refuse to budge. My last three half iron distance (1.9k) competitive swims have been reliably 37-38 minutes. My swim training is pretty unscientific and I think all I am achieving is to make my 37 minute swim easier but not faster. So I am clearly doing something wrong.

It’s time to change that. One of my commitments to myself is that during this winter I am going to get some proper help to breakdown my swim and reconstruct it in such a way that more training will result in faster times and not just in an easier swim. If I am going to spend the winter on this mission, then I need to start that process right now.

My first decision was that I wanted a swim coach to help me and not a triathlon coach – someone who knew the minute detail of swim stroke mechanics. Secondly I wanted to find someone who has a real swim pedigree – who has been there and done it, ideally in an endurance swim event and so knows what is what. That person is not easy to find!

It took a while, but eventually my search led me to Adam Faulkner – the owner of The UK Swim Academy. Adam’s credentials? Well pretty spot on really. He swam for Great Britain in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and in an endurance event. He was one of only a few Brits to swim 1,500m in less than 15 minutes. On top of that he is instantly likeable and approachable. We had numerous phone calls trying to work out what I wanted to achieve and how, where and when he could start coaching me to make it happen.

Eventually after a few weeks he put together three of us, all triathletes who were all trying to achieve the same thing, and we met for our first session. We met at Marlborough College’s pool, an eight lane, state of the art pool, which we had pretty much to ourselves for an hour.

We had a quick chat about the process and Adam covered a bit of theory. Instantly I felt a sense of confidence. Not only was this guy a world class swimmer, he was very good at imparting that knowledge and most important he made it fun. Then as if I needed any more convincing he got in the pool and swam four lengths to show us what it should look like. It was one of those OMG moments!! Like anyone who is very good at their craft he made it look ridiculously easy, covering each 25 metre length in about 14 seconds and 10-11 strokes (me – 25 seconds and 22 strokes). You can see it in the video above. It just made want to get on with the lesson and start learning. A friend of mine who saw the video of those four lengths said it inspired him to want to train until he was even “a shit version of that”.

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Adam sharing the recipe!

Then we started the process of breaking the stroke down element by element and putting it back together properly. We only worked on one thing at a time and covered probably no more than three elements in the hour. But just in that hour I managed to cover 25 metres in 3 less strokes.

I have never been excited by swimming, until now. We have some training sets to work on for the next two weeks before we meet Adam again in a fortnight for more coaching. I did the first of those training sets yesterday and for the first time ever, I looked forward to going to the pool and really enjoyed every minute of the session. I was swimming alongside a guy in the next lane and I counted his strokes (I am now obsessed with stroke count!!!) over 25m – it was 40, to my 18 and that translated into being faster than him – less strokes equals more speed. Who’d have thought it? I felt very knowing!! I feel a bit as though I have been told the first part of recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In other news, training for Majorca is going well. I have been contending with a few late-season aches and pains which has meant that I haven’t done some of the more intense sessions that I would like to have done, but I feel that I am on course to get to the 18 October is pretty good race shape. I am really looking forward to it, almost as much as I am looking forward to my next swim coaching session!