Tag Archives: The Outlaw Half

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!!

Advertisements

Ironman Blues, News & Barbecues

The term “Cold Turkey” was invented to describe the feeling I got about seven days after Ironman UK. Seven days was how long the sense of euphoria lasted – the period in which I would well up each time I remembered another moment from that extraordinary day in Bolton. It is also the length of time I could get away with wearing my finishers T-shirt without washing it before people started giving me a wide berth in the street. And by coincidence it is also how long it took me to realise that the looks I was getting when I wore my medal to go shopping in Sainsbury’s were not always looks of admiration. If I had paid closer attention I would probably have noticed that seven days was also the full extent of how long people were polite enough to appear interested whenever I dragged the conversation back to Ironman!

Seven days then……nothing. The twelve hours a week of training, the diet, the conditioning, the planning, the online banter, the laundry and the sleepless nights leading up to the event all gone in a moment to be replaced with a vacuum, or more accurately The Ironman Blues. An empty feeling that the party is over but also a complete lack of motivation to get off my arse and do anything about it.

Having suffered a minor attack of the blues after running the London Marathon in 2012 I came prepared this time taking the precaution of lining up some fun activities to fill the large M Dot shaped hole in my life.

1546349_10153081614004128_2697027505562002367_n

Andover Tri does Ironman L-R Carrie Power (IMUK), Me, Jase Briley (Double Enduroman), Louisa Vere (IM Switzerland), Nick Wall (IM France). Standing Peter Holt (IM France)

First up was the Ironman Barbecue. Seven of us from the mighty Andover Tri Club had completed Ironman races in June and July and that alone was worth a celebration. If you were an Ironman it was about as close to Iron heaven as you will get. We all sat down to dinner in our finishers T-shirt (washed!), wearing our medal, drank beer and talked non-stop about our Ironman exploits, pausing only occasionally to let other people talk about there’s. I am not sure the partners saw it quite like that, but we had a great evening. As the drink flowed the tales of Ironman bravado got taller and the plans for next year got bolder. By midnight we were all going sub-12 next year (which would be a feat in itself as none of us got close this year!) and as we would all be there anyway, we agreed to have the 2015 barbecue in Kona!!

The week after the barbecue our household was consumed by a major logistical trauma also known as Pony Club Camp. It is likely that the Task Force that was mobilised to sail to the Falklands on a flotilla of battleships took less kit with them than two 12 year olds took to spend a week camping and riding ponies ten miles from home in a period of mild weather, winds light to moderate. Anyway mission accomplished – they had a ball.

After the emotional upheaval of Ironman and the organisational stress of camp we were off on holiday without a moment to stop and think about Ironman and the blues.

Regular readers will remember last year that we went to the Mark Warner resort in Lemnos which had the feel of a correctional facility for people obsessed with staying fit – so we didn’t go back there. Instead we went to Mark Warner in Corsica which as far as I could tell was no different. We hadn’t even got off the plane before I had met my first triathlete!

A bit like Lemnos the resort was full of middle-aged men and women who may have been hell raisers in their youth but who now were more concerned with morning runs than Tequila Slammers. No Jack Wills, Super Dry or Hollister here, it was strictly lycra. On a positive note, the daily group bike rides provided a whole new audience of people who wanted to listen and ask questions about my Ironman, at least for the first week. In the second week I was trumped by a new arrival who had just done the Marathon des Sables (seven marathons in six days across the Sahara) and even Ironman couldn’t compete. And even if it could, she had done two of those as well.

1908430_10203488081976252_3630199113199833075_n

King of the Mountains!!!

I managed to get out and do something that would vaguely pass as training on most days. If I had any focus it was on swimming in the sea as the swim in my race in Majorca in October is not only a sea swim but it is likely to be a non-wet suit swim. After swimming 1,500m in the sea every day I now feel at home with that prospect. But even in the sea I was upstaged by my new friend Mark who was training for the Buttermere 10k swim and who was regularly knocking out 5k training sessions. But on the plus side I was awarded the weekly King of The Mountains prize for my cycling antics – mainly because I was the only person the cycling guide recognised at the awards ceremony 

By the time we got home Summer was almost over and Ironman seemed to be a small spec in the rear view mirror and any opportunity to develop a case of the blues had passed. All the focus now seems to be on next year – not because long distance triathletes are an organised bunch, but because the big races are all going on sale now and are selling out quickly. When I say quickly, I mean “Led Zeppelin Reunion Concert” quickly. The new Ironman 70.3 in Staffordshire which doesn’t take place until next June sold all 2,000 places in 15 minutes which was only eclipsed by Challenge Roth selling all 5,000 places in under a minute. It seems the appetite to suffer is alive and well in Britain!

For now I have entered the Outlaw Half again (another one day sell out) which was a feat in itself. Nothing they throw at me on the day of the race will match the stress levels of trying to enter a race online using a Kindle and a dodgy hotel Wi-Fi connection in Corsica while the organisers were regularly posting updates on Facebook of how quickly places were going. Anyway that one is booked and I can forget about it for a while. The priority now is to get my training on with only six and a half weeks left until the European Championships at Challenge Paguera and my first outing in a GB tri suit. More on that another time.

For now enjoy the last few weeks of the season.

 

 

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!

outlaw-half

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.