Tag Archives: sea swimming

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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Running, swimming, beach & beer. It’s Camp Corfu!

As hard as I looked at the schedule for week 7 of my training for the Blenheim Triathlon, I couldn’t see any mention of drinking cold beer, lying by a swimming pool and over eating. But that seemed to be what was heading my way.

This week was the half-term break in English schools and we had arranged to go away with our great friends Miles and Nikki to the Greek island of Corfu. With three kids between us ranging in age from 5-11, a week in the sun next to a swimming pool was just what the doctor ordered….if you were ten. But it wasn’t quite what I had in mind two weeks out from my first triathlon of the season. By the time we departed from Gatwick Airport I had reconciled myself to just the odd run with a hangover. Things couldn’t have been more different and our Greek odyssey turned out to be a mini triathlon camp without any coercion from me. 

Miles had been my running partner 20 years ago when both lived in London. We were part of a loose collective of running enthusiasts that went by the grand and slightly misleading name of “The Fulham Flyers” (the Fulham part was true!). Unfortunately a gruesome knee injury had brought Miles to a halt. Since then he has tried other ways of keeping fit, but like me his first love is running. Little did I know that he had been trying out his leg on a running machine recently and so the chance to get the running shoes on in the sun was exactly what he wanted.

Miles’s wife Nikki is a lifelong swimmer. When I first suggested an open water swim in the sea, I could tell by the look on her face that it wasn’t on her bucket list. The word that she had intended to come out of her mouth was “no”, but in a curious vocal mix up, the word that actually came out was “yes”! So with my exercise partners roped in, it was game on.

Miles & me and that hill

Our first outing was on the very first day and was a road run. Miles and I had no idea where we were going when we set off – we were just going for a run. We were working our way through a warm up routine, part of which is 30 seconds of skipping, when we passed an old matriarch, dressed all in black, sitting in front of her house watching the world go by. The look on her face was priceless as we skipped past. We laughed imagining her telling her family about these two mad Englishman who wait until the hottest part of the day and then go out for a skip!

We eventually found a loop that brought us back to our villa – almost exactly 5 miles from start to finish. However we discovered the only drawback of having a villa high on a hillside with great views – the hill. Our run had taken us right down to sea level which was fine but it meant the run finished with a solid 1-mile climb up a 10% incline. Pace went out of the window – the challenge became doing it without stopping.

The open water swimming team

Striking while the iron was hot, we all went to the beach later in the day to a quiet little bay where the sea was flat and calm. Cate can’t run on her knee after an operation last year, the result of a horse riding accident, but even she got the bug and decided to walk to the beach rather than come in the car.  While the kids splashed about Nikki and I designed a swim course. It wasn’t complicated – it was to the far jetty and back! Before I had a chance to say ready, steady….Nikki was off. Swimming with a partner is fantastic. No room for being complacent. Afterwards we both claimed that we weren’t racing – both our noses grew longer.

According to my watch our swim course was about 600 metres. Before we had a chance to say we couldn’t possibly do that again, we were off for another lap. By the time we had finished our second lap the kids wanted to be part of it too – so we spent some time all swimming out to a nearby buoy.

1.2km of sea-swim on top of a 5-mile run and everybody bitten by the exercise bug – not a bad first day. If Carlsberg did holidays….!

Cooling down

Miles and I ran the same route together three more times during the week, getting a little faster each time and Miles confirmed his comeback by venturing out once alone. The hardest of our runs was the last one which we did on Saturday in the full glare of the midday sun – probably not our smartest decision. We had to stop half way round and beg a local shopkeeper to give us two bottles of water if we promised to come back later and pay him.

Open water swim recovery – the ice cream method!

Nikki and I swam every day except the last day averaging about 1.25km a day. The highlight of our swimming was on the last Friday when we rented a small speed boat and all went bay-hopping down the Corfu coast. We ended up swimming between two bays round the rocky headland that separated them. The water was crystal-clear and we were treated to spectacular underwater rock formations and schools of fish darting around beneath us as we swam. A serious swim called for a serious recovery which we did by all having an ice-cream sitting on the wall of the beachside taverna!

The holiday was a real success in every respect. Miles is back into running, Nikki rekindled her love of swimming, Cate gave her leg some serious rehab, the kids all got loads of exercise and for me it was a great week of training; nine sessions in six days. The only confession is that the nutrition program may have deviated slightly from the coaching manual. But a holiday in Corfu isn’t the same without that delicious thirst-quenching cold beer at 6 o’clock and the yummy freshly caught seafood wouldn’t taste the same without a glass of chilled local wine to help it down. We could have done without the free liqueur shot that seemed to appear at the end of each meal in a restaurant – but we didn’t.

Our week away was one of the most unconventional but enjoyable weeks of training I have done. Sadly it is followed by a very conventional light-training week back at home before the Blenheim Tri on Sunday. Is it too much to expect beautiful rock formations and schools of fish in the lake at Blenheim Palace?