Tag Archives: Half Ironman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something different planned for 2016. More to follow!!

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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 Outlaw Half – 1 June 2014

Barely able to contain myself, let me start at the end! For the first time in my brief triathlon career I found my way onto a podium! I am super-excited to have placed 3rd in my age group at the Outlaw Half at The National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham – and yes, there were more than three of us competing in my age group; 29 to be exact!

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This was my first outing of the season and I had booked it as a build-up race for Ironman UK in July. With Ironman now less than seven weeks away I wasn’t absolutely sure how to approach this. My thinking was to swim the swim (that may sound obvious but I know what I mean), push it on the bike and see how I felt when I got to T2.

The Swim

The swim was in the rowing lake at Holme Pierrepont and two things struck me as I got into the water to warm up. First, it was a beautiful clear day and the the-viewoutward leg of the swim was directly into the sun which at 6.00am was still low in the sky so sighting would be a real challenge. Second, it stank like a swamp and visibility underwater was zero! I think this was because the bottom had been churned up by the first two waves to set off. Definitely a day to avoid an accidental mouthful of water.

As the countdown reached one minute, I made my way to the back of the bay for those aiming for a sub 40 minute swim – and then we were off!

With sighting virtually impossible I just followed the crowd for the first few hundred metres. I tried a couple of times to jump onto some faster feet but without much success. They were either too fast and disappeared into the distance, or in one case not fast enough. Other than that the swim was pretty steady and uneventful and in no time (37 mins to be accurate) I was out of the water and on my way to T1.

I made a meal of transition. All went well until I picked up my bike and headed for the exit before realising I had not put on the bike shorts I wanted to wear over my tri suit for extra padding. I turned back and took ages to get them on (more about them later!). Four minutes in T1 was too long.

The Bike

I was looking forward to the bike leg. The course was pretty flat with just a few slightly rolling sections and only one proper hill. This has always been my weak leg but I have worked hard over the winter to try and put that right and I was keen to see what improvement, if any, I had made. It was also the first time I was taking my Planet X TT bike into battle.

1926676_10202464212980167_78018485_nI felt good on the bike right from the start. At 56 miles, this was longest ride I had done on my TT bike and I was curious how I would cope for almost three hours in the aggressive position needed to stay on the aero bars. The answer is that I coped OK, although I sat up a few times towards the end. There is only so long a man can tolerate the nose of saddle up his arse.

The bike leg was really enjoyable. We went through lots of local Nottinghamshire villages where people turned out in numbers to cheer us on. Lots of the roads were closed or sectioned off for us and every major junction was marshalled with cyclists getting right of way. Great work by the organisers. The only downer was the last mile back into the Water Sports Centre where we had to endure some awful road surfaces, over a dozen speed bumps and a cattle grid!

As I pulled into T2 I stopped my Garmin at 2.55hrs with an average speed of 19.6mph (31.3kph). Not Bradley Wiggins but fast for me – a 15% improvement on my best race time over a course of this profile and distance. I think the “X” and I have bonded!

I must have still been dreaming about my bike time in T2 because I made a hash of this transition as well – although that wasn’t to become apparent for a while. Time wise I was in and out in just over a minute.

The run

I felt good almost immediately on the run. I was light on my feet and managed to quickly settle into a pace of 8.30mins without too much difficulty.

What didn’t feel fine was how hot I was – I know it was sunny but not that sunny. Then after about five minutes I realised that I forgotten to take my bike shorts off in T2 so I was running with two layers on. Idiot! At the first drinks station I explained to a lady volunteer what I had done and dropped my trousers and handed them over as she looked at me with an open mouth!

The run was two laps of a course which was roughly 3 miles on the tow path of the River Trent and 3 miles round the perimeter path of the rowing lake. This meant that at about 6.5 miles you had to run straight past the finish and the packed grandstand – safe to say that was a low point.

The run had a great atmosphere. Lots of feed stations, which were just as well organised and as cheerful as the ones on the bike course. As I reached about half way on the first lap the bike guiding the leading lady came past me, closely followed by Catherine Faux the eventual overall ladies winner. Great to see someone of that standard up close on the race course. As she passed me I said well done and she said thank you. Me and Catherine new BFFs!!

As I got back to the lake for the second time I was feeling OK – no more aches and pains than you would expect 5 hours into a race. With three miles left I pushed my pace up a little and was really pleased with how I responded. I ran the last mile in 8.05mins – my fastest mile of the run – a glowing advert for Andover Tri Club’s weekly track sufferfests – thanks Dan and Sam! As I approached the finish I turned left onto the red carpet past the grandstand which was still packed and very noisy and crossed the line in 5.32hrs – a new half-iron distance PB. My half marathon run time was 1.53hrs.

The aftermath

The post-race organisation was incredible. A medical check, medals, a great technical T shirt and then into a pop up restaurant for a post-race feed. On the 10407075_667554106647982_2307390918671767197_nmenu was curry, Chinese, Thai, Lasagne, Spag Bol, Chilli as well as list of puddings. Sods Law – I had a stomach full of Powerbar gels and no appetite. All I wanted was a cup of tea! And then to really test my stomach I was offered a 3-litre glass of beer. Great photo but that’s all!

Before I headed back to transition to pack up, I went and had my result printed out but couldn’t read it without my glasses. A friendly volunteer (they were all friendly) read them to me. My times were no surprise as I had measured them all on the way, but then he said: “Position in category third”. At first I thought it was a mistake so I asked him to read it again. “Third”. When I checked the results later I was only one minute behind second place – I am thinking bike shorts!!

So all in all a real confidence booster for me as I head into the last block of training for Ironman UK. There I plan to pace the whole race much more conservatively, but it is good to know that I can push it like I did here and still finish strong.

A final word for the organisers. This was one of the best organised races I have done – some real attention to detail and every decision feels like it was made with the athletes in mind. And the 300 or so volunteers who were cheerful, encouraging and endlessly helpful – thank you to all of you – you were awesome. I would do this race again in a heartbeat.

Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote – 5 October 2013

Lanzarote may just be the perfect place for a long distance triathlon. Year-round sunshine, warm sea and challenging terrain for cycling, the spectacular logovolcanic island off the coast of Africa has it all. No surprise then that the second running of Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote attracted a field of 650 from all over the world. For me it was the climax of the triathlon year, the race that I had geared my entire season around.

I flew out to Lanzarote on the Tuesday before the race. Although the event is run by Club La Santa – basically a holiday resort for fit people – I chose to stay about half an hour away in a much quieter part of the island where I could retreat and relax. I was nervous enough as it was and I don’t think it would have helped to be surrounded 24/7 by over-excited triathletes!!

There was plenty to do to keep me busy in the three days leading up to the race. I spent time doing a recce of the swim course in Le Santa’s Lagoon and I drove round the bike course as well as doing a few light training sessions to stop my body from going to sleep. I was joined on Wednesday by my friends Keith and Laine who were also competing.

Saturday morning came round very quickly. I had tried to get an early night on Friday, but not before  I had swapped texts with Cate to tell her that she could track my progress via the live coverage on the Ironman website. She texted back: “Then we’ll be with you”. I banked that lovely thought – I knew I would need it before Saturday was over.

swim pre start

Nervous before the swim start

As is normal for me on race day I was awake before my alarm went off. I forced down a pre-race breakfast of oats and bananas before gathering my belongings and driving to Club La Santa in the dark. Ninety minutes later I was standing on the beach of the Lagoon with over 600 other nervous competitors watching the sun rise over the horizon, minutes away from the start.

The swim

The swim was a beach start – a nice term for a mad dash to the water followed by a free for all of whirling arms. Kenneth Gasque the flamboyant Race Director was on hand to sound the hooter and Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote 2013 was under way.

swim chaos

The crowded swim!

The 1.9km (1.2 mile) swim was a single lap of the Lagoon and was very crowded from start to finish, which meant there was lots of physical contact. My priority for most of the swim was keeping an eye on what was immediately in front of me to avoid getting a stray foot in the head. The best tactic was to try to stay out of trouble but be ready to defend your space if necessary. I wasn’t completely successful at either and at least once had to barge my way through a gap that wasn’t really there.

Despite the crowd and the constant bumping and bashing I didn’t feel uncomfortable at any point on the swim and was pleased with how I handled it. I got out of the water after about 37 minutes, glad it was behind me but feeling OK.

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Swim exit

After a quick dash through the resort to transition I was in the changing tent with all thoughts on the bike leg. By now it was about 8.45am and already the temperature was in the high 70s. I spent a few minutes slapping on the free factor 50 sun cream before heading off on the bike. In my haste to get the lotion on I managed to get it all over my cycling sun glasses – a mistake that was to plague me for the most of the bike leg.

The Bike

The 90km (56 mile) cycle was a big loop around the north of the island. In only a few minutes the built up area of La Santa was replaced by barren countryside and as a taster of what was to come, we were straight into a long hill which took us to the village of Soo. Here we turned north to Caleta de Famara and then across the island via the small towns of Teguise and Tahiche.

Once on the south coast of the island we ground our way through a ten-mile drag from Tahiche on a busy coastal road, cycling into a building 17mph headwind. This was the low-point of the race for me. Progress was slow and my mind wandered. Eventually I had to give myself a bit of a pep talk. I didn’t need reminding that things were just about to get an awful lot harder.

By now the small problem of sun tan lotion on my sunglasses had become a big problem. The addition of a bit of sweat meant I could barely see through them. At the next aid station I stopped to mix an energy drink and ask if they had a cloth. They didn’t but a quick thinking lady volunteer offered me the front of her shirt. I have to confess that I may have spent slightly longer than was strictly necessary cleaning my glasses as we both laughed at the situation!

Glasses clean and drinks replenished I steeled myself for what was likely to be the toughest part of the day and the part which, for many, would define success or failure.

0526_03170

Halfway up the Tabayesco climb

The signature feature of Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote is the Tabayesco Climb – a 6-mile unbroken ascent which took us from sea level to a little under 2,000 feet at the Mirador del Haria. From the bottom it is a daunting sight. You can see the road wind its way up the mountain and somewhere in the distance you can just make out the tourist restaurant which sits at the top. My strategy was simple – no heroics, arse on saddle, low gear, high cadence and take it easy. That approach served me well and I passed lots of people on the way up, pausing to exchange words of encouragement each time. The ascent up Tabayesco, which had worried me more than anything, turned out to be one of the highlights of my race.

The view from the top was breathtaking and gave way to a well earned descent. In contrast to the overcrowded swim, I found myself cycling with just one other person – Piggy (her name was on her race number). I kept about 20 yards behind Piggy and followed her line all the way down. It was an exhilarating 15 minutes as we flew down the mountain at speeds between 30-40 mph back into Teguise.

With the worst of bike leg done, we retraced out steps back to Le Santa finishing off with a couple of miles of downhill where it seemed that for the first time all day, the wind was behind us. I rode back into Club Le Santa and transition after 56 miles of cycling and over 5,000 feet of climbing with 3.56hrs on my bike computer.

It was now about midday and the sun was high in the sky and the temperature into the mid-80s. Not the conditions the average Englishman would choose in which to run a half marathon. Once again I invested a few minutes in transition covering myself in high factor sun cream.

The Run

The 20.1km (13.1 mile) run course was a 4.4 mile lap from the stadium at Club Santa to the nearby village of La Santa and back which we ran three times. It was not an imaginative course, but because everyone was somewhere on a 2.2 mile stretch of road, it made it easy for spectators and so there was lots of fantastic support. Another plus of the layout was that by placing just three aid stations on the run we were able to pass an aid station 18 times in 13 miles, or as my one-track mind saw it, we were able to drink and douse ourselves in cold water about once every three-quarters of a mile.

0526_07301

Starting my final lap on the run

The first lap was fine. I was pleased to be off the bike and into the final stage and my running legs felt good. My strategy was to set a steady pace of about 9-minutes a mile and walk through the aid stations – not to rest but to be certain that I got as much water down me as I could. I had already drunk about 5 litres of fluid on the bike without a single pee stop, so I knew that dehydrating was a real threat.

By the time I started the second lap I had seen Keith and Laine, both still smiling. The first lap through La Santa village had been a bit of a blur, but the second time round I noticed that all the restaurants and bars were full and people were barbecuing at the side of the road – everyone cheering. The atmosphere was fantastic.

The brilliantly organised aid stations became my focal point. The marshals, mainly Spanish, were very animated leaving you in no doubt what they were offering you. I now know the Spanish for water, energy drink, fruit, Red Bull, flat coke and banana!

As I left the stadium in Club La Santa to start my final 4-mile lap I had been on the go for over 6 hours and I was starting to suffer. I knew the next 40 minutes were going to be tough. My hamstrings were getting tighter, my feet hurt and in my haste to cover my head in water over the previous 90-minutes I had ended up with wet feet – running with wet feet is one of my pet hates.

The race course now resembled a battle ground as the day’s efforts and the baking sun took their toll. Only age-groupers were left on the course and everyone was stuck in their own world trying to get through it. Many were walking, some were sitting on the kerb trying to regroup and sadly some were being taken off the course by the medical team.

So here it was – my Ironman 70.3 had boiled down to a few very tough miles of running. I tried to think positive thoughts to help me through it. I started by unbanking Cate’s lovely text message. I thought about Matilda – my beautiful 11-year old daughter who had spent one too many Sunday breakfasts without her Dad there because he was out on his bike training for this. If there was no other reason to finish I owed it to her.  Between the three of us, slowly but surely, we covered the ground.

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The finish line!!!

And suddenly I was running back into the stadium at Club La Santa – just 200 metres between me and a hard earned Ironman 70.3 medal. As I ran round the stadium I tried to enjoy the moment but all I really wanted to do was finish and get off my feet! The finishing chute was a welcome sight. I crossed the line, my arms in the air, with the clock at 6.59 hrs – job done!

I was immediately scooped up by the post race system. First a medal, then a handshake and photo with Race Director Kenneth Gasque who stayed on the finish line for four and a half hours and shook every finisher’s hand. Then I was free. I grabbed a drink, sat down by the side of the race track and took my running shoes and socks off – bliss!

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Race Director Kenneth Gasgue…and my medal!!

If you ever want a dose of inspiration, spend an hour or so on the finish line of an Ironman event. I did exactly that and watched a procession of people achieve their ambition. Most impressively I watched Hilary Walker from Serpentine Tri in the 60-64 age group finish (she had kicked my arse on the bike!) and I had the privilege of seeing Peter Norman from the 75-79 age group finish. Both were inspirational.

And finally, in what I discovered is an Ironman event tradition, everyone gathered at the finish to welcome in the final competitor. A minute before the cut off time of 8.30 hours, Joanne Dodd appeared in the stadium to a rapturous reception. As she crossed the line bang on 8.30hrs the noise was deafening – looking around, there were definitely a few wobbly bottom lips going on. I can’t imagine the guts it must take to stick at it in these conditions for eight and a half hours. Take a bow Joanne. Whilst some of the elite performances were impressive, these guys are naturally gifted athletes who are paid to train full time, people like Joanne are the real heroes of this race.

Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote was a great way to end to my season – a real high point. Right now I don’t want to think beyond a few weeks of rest. There is plenty of time to plan what happens next season. For now I am going to afford myself a little time to enjoy what I have done!

The Monster Middle – 18 August 2013

I drove the three hours to Ely on Saturday afternoon in time to register at Race HQ and attend the first event of the weekend, the pre race pasta party. It was less a party and more an exercise in staying dry on the restaurant terrace where it was held.

I was in Ely for the weekend with ten fellow members of Andover Triathlon Club to take part in the Monster Middle Triathlon. As the wind and rain threatened to spoil our dinner we should have spotted the clue to the next day’s race conditions. I went to bed early that night in my hotel grateful that I wasn’t camping like many other competitors.

My alarm went on Sunday morning at 4.15am but I was already wide awake. As I pushed some porridge around a pot trying to eat as much as I could, the realisation of what I was about to try and do dawned on me. Before today my short triathlon career consisted of three sprint triathlons. This half iron distance race consisting of a 1.2 mile swim, a 52 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run, was about four times the distance. That’s when the nerves really kicked in.

I arrived at Race HQ at about 5.30am as dawn was breaking. There was a quiet buzz around transition as competitors went about their preparation, but not much conversation. I quickly racked my bike, laid out my equipment and then headed off for a short warm up.

Monster group

Andover Triathlon Club before The Monster Middle

The swim was in the River Ouse and the start was about a kilometre from transition / Race HQ. So half an hour before  the start I put my wet suit on and joined my Andover Tri colleagues and together we made our way down river to the race briefing. Walking down the tow path with a dozen familiar faces, some of whom were old hands at this, helped calm me down a bit.

The Swim

mayor

The Mayor of Ely on starting duty

It was an in-water start and as we bobbed around waiting we were treated to a bizarre spectacle. A boat that looked like a canal barge was heading towards us. Standing on the rear deck was the Lady Mayor of Ely in her scarlet robes of office together with her mayoral chains. It was like something out of a Tom Sharp novel. It turned out she was the official starter. Without too much delay we received a countdown and then the hooter. We were off!

The swim course was back up the river past Race HQ to a buoy at about the 1500m mark where we turned back on ourselves and swam the 400m or so to the exit.

swim action

The swim underway

Despite some argy-bargy early on I pretty quickly found my rhythm. The narrow river meant the swim was crowded throughout so swimming in a straight line was important. The Lady Mayor came in handy here! As the royal barge led the swimmers up river, her scarlet robes were easy to spot and perfect for sighting. Soon things settled down as everyone found some space.

At about half way the swim course came into the built up area of the Ely riverside district. Here people lined the banks and looked down on us from the overhead bridges cheering us on which made for a great atmosphere. The noise grew louder as we swam past the exit and Race HQ.

Monster river swim

Swimming into Ely

As we approached the turning buoy about half a dozen of us converged on it at the same time – cue some more push and shove. Once round the buoy we were funnelled into a narrow channel that took us to the exit and everything got crowded again. I spent most of last couple of hundred metres trying to avoid flying feet and arms. As I stood up unsteadily on the exit ramp a marshal reached out and pulled me until my feet were on solid ground. One 1.9km swim done!

As I ran towards transition I heard Sam Pratt, one of the founders of our club, cheering me on. Sam had driven three hours to Ely to be at the start for 7.00am to support us. I saw Sam later out on the bike course and again on every lap of the run. Monster effort Sam!

swim exit MM

Swim exit

My main aim of the day was to get round successfully, but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about the time. If finishing was my main goal, a sub 6.30 hrs time would be nice and a sub 6-hour finish would be the cherry on the icing on the cake. A 40-minute swim, a 3-hour bike and a sub 2-hour run would do it and were all within my reach but being a first-timer I had no idea what the cumulative effect of all three would be. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had finished the swim in 33.53 mins so I was off to a good start.

I didn’t rush through transition choosing to take time to get some nutrition on board before setting off on the bike. In retrospect maybe four and a quarter minutes was a bit too leisurely – more of a picnic!

The Bike

The bike course was a short “out” leg and then twice round a 25 mile circuit. The loop started on the Ely ring road which was fast. Determined to pace myself, I watched quite a lot bikes pass me at this stage. It was hard seeing them all head off up the road but I knew the important thing right now was to concentrate on my own race.

I was just settling down into a nice rhythm when I heard a cry of  “Oy Oy!” behind me. There was only one person that voice belonged to. My team mate Jason Briley came zipping past me on his new tri bike. Cycling is his strong suit and with his new bike he was a man on a mission. He was here today to break his PB and he was en route to taking an astonishing 1:30 hrs off his previous best time for a half iron distance triathlon.

Once we left the ring road, the quality of roads deteriorated. In fact the further we got from Ely the worse the roads became. The wind was also picking up and it seemed that we hit the worst of the head winds when we were on the worst of the roads. The wind was even stronger and more uncomfortable on the second lap. Despite that I felt good for nearly all of the bike leg and in the last ten miles even started overtaking some of those people who had overtaken me 40 miles earlier. The tortoise and the hare and all that!

As I rode back through town and into T2 I wasn’t sorry to see the end of the bike leg and being buffeted by the wind. My bike computer showed my average speed was over 17mph so I figured I must be roughly on track for sub-6 hours. That of course was dependant on whether my running legs turned up. My time for the bike leg was 2:56:34 hrs

The Run

I got through T2 in just over 2 minutes. As I was going through my routine I heard a voice behind shout: “Come on slacker!”

It was Dan Mason and Jase Lewis standing watching me. Jase, another club member, is injured but had driven from Portsmouth with his wife to support us and to marshal for the day. Triathlon needs more people like Jase! Dan has a qualifying race for the European Champs coming up in about three-weeks and so he had taken the cautious option and pulled out of the race when an old  ankle injury starting hurting on the run.

The run course was a 2.5 mile out leg and then four circuits of a little over 2.5 miles each which took us through the middle of Ely and round the cathedral. It was very scenic and very atmospheric but also had two pretty noticeable hills in it – so much for a flat course! My legs were soon over the bike but it took me a good twenty minutes to get into a steady rhythm. But once I did I felt pretty good and just focused on keeping a steady comfortable pace.

The City Centre part of the course was great fun. The population of Ely seem to have really taken this event their hearts and a lot of them had turned out to cheer. Having spent almost four hours alone it was good to see some Andover Club tri suits as I ran. I saw Pete Dennet, Pete Holt and John Simmonds all heading for good finishes. Shaun Green, our eventual club champion, passed me as he started his fourth lap having already finished once! Even with a pause at Race HQ between his third and fourth laps he was still our fastest finisher by nearly ten minutes.

Each lap got a little harder. No sooner were you boosted by the support as you ran past race HQ and collected another of the four wristbands required to finish, than you were straight into one of the long hills at the start of the next lap. As I started the last lap there were lots of signs of the race taking its toll. Queues of people were walking up the hills or stopping altogether. I am pleased to say that with the exception of a couple of drinks stations were I walked as I drank, I ran the whole thing.

The marshals were working overtime encouraging everyone. One marshal in particular on the High Street was continuously cajoling and motivating people. On my last lap I stopped to thank him – he was one of the highlights of the run. The other highlight was running past the finish area each time where the ubiquitous Sam Pratt was standing and encouraging us. I needed all of that encouragement for the last few miles where I had to dig in a bit to keep my pace up. I had been on the go for somewhere around 5-6 hours and I could feel it. As I reached the top of the last hill I finally started to celebrate – less than a mile left part of which was downhill.

As the last lap drew to a close I turned off the road and past transition and headed for the finish line. The first person I saw was Jason Briley with a big grin on his face. Jason and his powers of persuasion are single-handedly responsible for me doing this race. As I approached he yelled at me:

“I told you you could do it!” He seemed genuinely pleased for me.

MOnster finish

After 5.35 hours – the finish at last!

He was the first person I high fived as I ran down the finishing chute. As I crossed the line the race’s sound system was booming out: “What’s that coming over the hill, it is monster, is it a monster?”

The Aftermath.

Once I had my medal and some water, I wandered over to the timing tent to get a print out of times and splits. I felt as though I may have crept in under 6 hours so could hardly believe my eyes when I read it. I had finished in 5:35:32 hrs, twenty five minutes inside my most ambitious target – helped by A 1.58 hr half-marathon. That’s either an advert for not wearing a watch or for a flat course.

When I rejoined the rest of the Andover Tri crew everyone was very excited as we waited and cheered all of our club members over the finish line. There were lots of PBs and an age group podium place. Andover Tri had given a very good account of itself. What a club!

Congratulations to Shaun Green who was first from our club to finish in 4.44 hrs but would have finished a lot faster but for some confusion over the lap count. Congratulations also to Louisa Vere who was our Ladies Champion and who finished third overall in her age group.

So that is The Monster Middle behind me. It was a really enjoyable race and a great day out for Andover Triathlon Club. I think a middle distance club championship may become an annual fixture.

Next up for me is a light week of rest and recovery exercise and then six weeks of training before Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote where the bike leg, like Ely will be windy, but unlike Ely will most definitely not be flat! I think some hill training is on the menu for me.

Those Andover Tri Club results in full:

Name Age Group Swim Bike Run Total
Shaun Green 45 – 49

00:27:07

02:15:44

01:59:08

04:44:09

Jason Briley 40 – 44

00:40:42

02:20:41

01:47:48

04:51:59

Peter Dennett 45 – 49

00:32:36

02:31:11

01:49:03

04:56:28

David Hall 35 – 39

00:31:24

02:35:01

01:54:05

05:02:56

Matthew Streets 30 – 34

00:33:07

02:39:00

01:59:15

05:16:29

Chris Thompson 40 – 44

00:28:59

02:27:21

02:22:52

05:21:44

Louisa Vere 25 – 29

00:35:09

02:51:03

02:02:04

05:32:15

Peter Whent 50 – 54

00:33:53

02:56:34

01:58:25

05:35:32

Peter Holt 40 – 44

00:42:02

03:00:27

02:22:57

06:09:46

Jon Simmonds 40 – 44

00:41:40

03:24:56

02:34:42

06:47:08

Dan Mason 35 – 39       DNF