Tag Archives: Andover Triathlon Club

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!

 

 

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Race to the Stones – 16-17 July 2016

It’s 7.00am on race morning. I am at Race HQ in a field near Watlington in Oxfordshire with several thousand others. It is clear from the moment we arrived that Race to The Stones is a big deal and impeccably well organised.

I am feeling OK. I had spent the previous night in a hotel room with Nick a few miles down the road and had been woken by his version of the dawn chorus. More a trumpet chorus. No instruments needed, just an open window! A few rooms down the hall were Nev who was also running and Jacqui who was support crew for the day.

By 7.45am registration formalities are all done and we are standing in the starting funnel contemplating what was to come. The task? To run 100km (62 miles) along the Ridgeway to a finish line several counties away in Avebury near Marlborough and we had until 7.45am on Sunday morning to do it.

13709914_10154393457054337_6177639379069506213_nBy now we had been joined by club mate Paul Venus and I had already bumped into my friend Louise Cross and her partner Mark. Nick had also seen our friends Stu and Jayne Crawford. Knowing so many people racing was to play a huge part in how things unfolded much later that night.

The starter didn’t feel he was doing his job until he had asked us half a dozen times if we were ready. But eventually he fired the starting gun. We were off. It was the start of what was to be a very long day, night and a small part of the next day!

The Party Miles

For the first few minutes no-one went anywhere fast as about a thousand people headed slowly along a small country track. That fitted in perfectly with our pacing plan! Most people just relaxed and had a chat with those alongside them. Everyone was in high spirits, excited to be underway at last and trying not to think of what was to come later.

Together with about ten others, I ducked behind the first hedge we came to for an overdue call of nature. But in leaving the pack I lost touch with Nick, Nev and Paul. I wasn’t too concerned. At this pace I reckoned I could get back to them quite quickly. As things turned out I wasn’t to see Nick for another 30 miles. I didn’t see the others again all day.

No problem. I was happy to run on my own at this point and get some rhythm and there was no shortage of people to talk to. The race was interrupted a few times as we came to gates and stiles as hundreds of people negotiated them one at a time. We seemed to spend a lot of time standing around in the first fifteen miles. It wasn’t till after the second aid station at about 20km that the field really thinned out.

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My strategy so far had been to run the flat and downhills and walk uphill. It had worked well and I was feeling good. The only problem with this is that when you come to a hill that is three or four miles long, as we did coming out of Goring, you spend a long time walking and you feel as though you are letting the race tick away. But the words of advice from Enduroman stuck with me: “Play the long game”.

I got a huge lift halfway up the hill when I saw Jacqui waiting patiently at the road side. There were no fist pumping speeches, just a quiet determination to be of help.

“How are you doing? Have you got everything you need? How can I help?”

If Carslberg did support crews.

The hill eventually gave way to a long flat stretch that got me running again and took us through the marathon mark. A few miles later and I was running into aid station number 5 and the half way point. 30 miles down and although things were beginning to hurt, I felt OK.

I found Jacqui sitting on the grass reading her book, left my bag with her and headed for the big marquee which housed a restaurant. A plate of pasta was on the menu. Here I was reunited with Nick, Stu and Jayne. Nev had already left and sadly Paul had pulled out with a knee injury.

With food done, I took a moment to re-grease my feet, change my socks and shirt before Nick and I left together to tackle the second half of the race.

The Business miles

Despite a second wind after a change of clothes and a meal, leaving base camp was hard and the high spirits of the start line were long gone. Nick and I agreed to stick with the same run walk strategy, but during that leg I started to feel the first signs of wear and tear on my feet. I could feel a blister forming.

13754081_10208367543399738_6909435721558293836_nEvery aid station had a medical tent and I headed straight for it as soon as we hit aid station 6. The medic didn’t seem too concerned and wrapped a length of RockTape round my food to stop the rubbing that had started the blister. A quick feed and some water and we pressed on.

The blisters and increasing sore feet slowed us down and our runs with occasional walks now involved more walking. Morale was beginning to dip a bit. We had been on the go for nearly 12 hours and we still had over 30k ahead of us. What better time for my club mate Rob Savill to be waiting for us at aid station 7. I think he was taken aback by how pleased we were to see him. For a second time I headed straight for the medical tent with my blisters as Rob swung into action bringing me a welcome cup of tea and food. Thank you Rob. You weren’t to know it, but your appearance could not have been better timed.

As we were sorting ourselves out Stu and Jayne arrived and we had a natter with them. We didn’t discuss it but we all left together and ran on as a foursome. As we left the aid station I remember clearly having a chat with myself agreeing that this felt like the start of the race. What had gone before was the build-up, albeit a long one, but the real challenge of Race to the Stones was just starting.

Miles of RockTape

The next aid station was 10km away and although it was fairly flat, the going was getting tough. We were clinging onto our run-walk strategy but the walks were getting longer. On top of the blisters, everyone had very sore feet. Old injuries were beginning to wake up.

We knocked off the 10km to the next stop slowly but without fuss, but there was a notable deterioration in everyone’s physical state. As we went about our feeding and watering business at the aid station it was clear we were starting to struggle. My blisters were becoming an issue, Stu’s old knee injury was troubling him. Jayne had fallen earlier and bruised her knee, the cure for which would normally be rest, not finishing a 60-mile run. She was in pain and Nick’s feet were ablaze. We discussed our options matter of factly and concluded that, if needs be, we would walk. At no point was the option of stopping ever mentioned.

As we left the aid station with 20km remaining it was starting to get dark, so it was head torches on to avoid fumbling round with those after dark. As we were doing this, we met Claire. I say that like it was a significant moment. That is because it was.

Claire had been running the race with her twin brother who had dropped out with blisters. Claire didn’t want to run alone in the dark and asked if she could run with us.

We didn’t even have to think about it. Claire became the final member of our team. The team that was going to take on the hardest 20km of the race in the dark. She fitted in seamlessly and instantly.

And on we went into the night trying not to think that we still had a half marathon to cover.

By now it was almost all walking. Nick was at the front with Claire and the pace was brisk. Walking fast is not my strong point and I regularly found myself dropping back, usually with Stu or Jayne for company. As we entered the last kilometre to aid station 9 the route pointed uphill. By now it was pitch black and not only was I behind the others but the curse of the blisters was back with a vengeance. A new one right on the ball of my right foot made every step like walking on glass. That slowed me further and I lost sight of the group in the dark. I wasn’t too worried as we were about to hit an aid station but I felt myself going downhill. I hadn’t eaten much on this leg and now I couldn’t be bothered to take my pack off and get food out. My lack of motivation was not a good sign. As I approached the aid station I found it hard to walk in a straight line. With my feet and blisters screaming at me, this was the lowest point of my race.

I got to the aid station a few minutes behind the others and headed straight for the 13781719_10208374663737742_556132655178553146_nmedical tent for the third time that day. The medic said nothing but I could tell from the look on his face that it wasn’t pretty (or maybe it was the smell). More RockTape. I think Nick spotted that I was struggling and brought me over a cup of hot porridge laced with maple syrup. At that moment, in that state, it was better than sex!

I took a few minutes to let the porridge do its work. I took two Nurofen and grabbed two chocolate bars which I kept in my hands so they were always available. No repeat of the nutrition fail on this leg.

We did a quick check that everyone was OK and had all they needed and then we set off on the final leg. We were 11km from the finish. One last push.

I think as we left the aid station I knew we would all finish. In fact through all my tribulations during the day, I never thought that I wouldn’t finish. With each new blister I just resigned myself to the fact that it was going to be a little bit harder. As we headed back on to the Ridgeway I took up the conversation with myself again and was unsympathetic. Something along the lines of: “You wanted a challenge, well here it is”

I think we were all thinking the same. Everyone was near their limits, but there was a resolve about our team. Stu’s mantra of “No-one gets left behind” (expect me at the last aid station obvs!) reflected perfectly how this individual challenge had become a shared team challenge for us.

Take a group of people who joined up by chance, some of who were strangers, each of whom added an energy that made the group better and what you get is a team that is stronger than the sum of its parts.

Something magic happened on the Ridgeway in the final 20k in the early hours of Sunday morning. Left to soldier on into the night alone, I expect some of us may not have finished, but together we were never going to fail.

It took an hour or so before the lights of the finish became visible in the distance. And then in the first sign that we were heading for the finish, the route took us down off the Ridgeway. But agonisingly it took us past the finish and on into Avebury to the Stones. In their wisdom the organisers thought this was a great photo opportunity and so we went through the bizarre process of posing for photos in front of the stones of the Avebury Ring at about 1.45 in the morning.

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All that was left then was to make our way back to the finish line. Claire had a deadline. Her shuttle bus back to the start left at 2.00am. At a walking pace it would be tight, so after a quick round of goodbyes, she did what any Englishman would do, she ran for her bus. We all stood their open mouthed as she picked up a respectable pace without a single groan.

We followed at a walk retracing our steps out of Avebury, along a farm track, then a sharp left and there it was. We were 300 metres from the finish. Inspired by Claire’s example we spontaneously broke into a run all the way to the line. Even at 1.55am there was a crowd of well-wishers and several endlessly enthusiastic volunteers handing out medals.

For our part, there was no punching the air or extravagant celebrations. Just hugs and handshakes all round. As much as anything else, we were just pleased it was all over.

It is hard to generate any atmosphere at 2 in the morning when runners are arriving sporadically. Behind the finish line was a farmyard with buildings full of inert bodies curled up in sleeping bags waiting for morning. After retrieving bags and a quick cup of tea, Nick and I packed up and headed home.

I pored over the results the next day. I had assumed our official finish time of 17.56 hrs would be at the slow end of the field. So I was pleasantly surprised to see I had finished 566th of 1164. Just in the top half of the field! My team mates occupied the four places above me. But the most striking statistic was that of the 1164 competitors 208 had failed to finish for some reason – nearly 1 in 5 people. That may be due to the heat which hadn’t been in the forecast. But I think a lot of it will be because this is a big challenge.

And what of Nev, my club mate who I ran about 3 minutes of the race with? He showed us all a clean pair of heals and finished in 14.51hrs and placed 276th. Impressive.

Ultra!

There are now nine weeks to go until Race to The Stones and suddenly training has a very long feel to it. The weekend after Sid’s Morph Marathon was “only” a 20 miler! But then it was time to take a big step up in mileage.

Nick and I had entered The Marlborough Downs Challenge, a local trail race. There was a choice of a 20-mile or 33-mile route. Being cautious I wanted to enter the 20-miler. Nick doesn’t do caution, he just wanted to kick its back doors in and show it who was boss. That is how I came to be standing nervously on the start line of a 33-mile ultra-marathon. The longest race either of us had ever done!

We got our first taste of the ultra-running community at registration. No fancy runners’ goody bag or rucksack here. Just a complimentary slab of Kendal Mint Cake and a knowing look.

Ultra runners are an earnest crowd, but very friendly. As we walked from registration at Marlborough Leisure Centre to the start line in the grounds of Marlborough College they regaled us with stories of how far they could run without water or their latest 100-mile run, without a hint of triumphalism. We suddenly felt a long way out of our depth.

13237683_1144968082190799_3290903591637468250_n (2)We didn’t help ourselves. Rather than keep a low profile and blend in, we attracted lots of strange looks as we posed for a start line selfie to post on Facebook. I think these two ageing triathletes were something of an enigma to the ultra-runners.

Bang on 9.00am we were off. Somehow I never doubted that the start would be punctual.

It started with a long steady climb and within 15 minutes we were looking down on Marlborough and heading out onto the downs. We were blessed with almost perfect running conditions – blue sky, 150C and a light breeze. It was a lovely clear morning and the views out across Wiltshire were breath-taking.

13226748_1145226588831615_5609537799561219284_nOne thing you get lots of on an ultra-run is time. Nick is a countryman and so to fill the time, I was treated to a running commentary on the birds, the wild flower meadows and the state of the local crops (Nick’s speciality). It passed the time perfectly. After a long drag along the tow path of the Kennet and Avon Canal heading into Devizes, we were suddenly at half way where we celebrated with a Waitrose pork-pie. Apart from slightly aching feet, it was so far so good. But that wasn’t to last!

There was a check point roughly every four miles whose first job was to confirm you were still alive and then feed and water you. Up to Check Point 4 we had always had other runners in sight and so had paid no attention to the route. Suddenly the field had spread out and there was no-one as far as the eye could see, but we just kept running. We first discovered we had gone wrong when we came to a dead-end in some woods. For the first time all day the detailed route instructions came out – all 8 pages of them! We retraced our steps and eventually saw some other runners and were able to re-join the route having only run about an extra half mile.

The next big task was the long climb up Cherhill Down, the site of the White Cherhill_white_horseHorse. Next to the white horse is The Lansdowne Monument, a stone obelisk that you can see from miles around. All the way up Nick was grumbling that the organisers had failed to use the obelisk as a navigation feature in the directions. At no point did the alarm bells in my head ring to warn me that there was a good reason why they weren’t mentioned. Lost again!

We recovered from that small deviation and from the top of Cherhill Down we hit a big chalk path that took us down to the main A4 on the floor of the valley. We could see the A4 in the distance and so assumed we just ran until we got there and so put the directions away for a while. Bad move. We sailed past a crucial turn and got horribly lost, our best yet!

When we hit the A4 and the directions didn’t match what we were seeing, we decided to just run along the road until they did. That would have been a great 13255951_1145226638831610_40641402288940644_nplan if we had turned the right way along the main road. Instead, unbeknownst to us, we were running the wrong way and away from the race. It was only an eagle-eyed marshal spotting us as he drove past that saved our bacon. To cut a long story short we had run about a mile the wrong way which we had to retrace before we could start making progress towards the finish. After 23 miles of running, that was a heart breaker. From that point on we kept the directions in our hands and read them carefully at every turn. Motivated by sore feet, we didn’t get lost again!

We ran most of the rest of race on our own. Inevitably in 33 miles of running (or 35 in our case!) we each had a low point, but not at the same time and so we managed to keep the show on the road.

As we left the last check point we had 3 miles remaining. By now the biggest challenge was two sets of very sore feet and it became a game of picking the softest surface to run on, usually the grass verge.

13062321_10207907974830811_790650953534816030_nSlowly but surely we ticked of the last 3 miles and found our way to the finish line. By the time we got there it was literally one man – not even his dog. We had to rope a few bystanders in to give our finish line photo a bit of atmosphere. You could hear them muttering under their breath: “triathletes”.

And to round off our day in the world of the ultra-runners the final peculiarity. No finishers medal here, just a mug. But not any old mug. It is a mug which says we are now ultra-runners.

 

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!!

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 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!