Tag Archives: Views from the Third Wave

Big hills, bigger winds and string beans – it must be Winter Racing

It’s spring! I know it’s spring, because we have had the Spring Half Marathon Weekend, a few days when thousands of runners come out of hibernation to run on the streets of Bath, Liverpool, Silverstone and many other towns and cities around the UK in a mass celebration of spring’s arrival.

I have run on spring half marathon weekend for the last few years, but gave it a miss this year. Having taken an enforced month and a half break last summer, I didn’t have the usual off-season. Instead I kept training and competing through the winter. So I wasn’t champing at the bit to get racing come March. Instead I have signed up for a local trail run in a few weeks time.

For my main race of 2016 I have signed up for “Race to The Stones”, a 60-mile ultra-marathon in July run on The Ridgeway starting in Oxfordshire and finishing at the Avebury Ring near Marlborough in Wiltshire. So over the winter I have focused on running and where possible off-road running.

My first race of the winter was The Dorset Coastal Challenge Half Marathon at the start of December which was traumatic. I would have helped myself if I had paid attention to what I was entering. All I saw was “half marathon”. I glossed over the words “Dorset Coastal Challenge”, a clear signal from the organisers that this probably wasn’t a PB course! I also paid little attention to the organisers own rating of the race as “Extreme”. How difficult could a 13.1 mile run on a coastal path be?

The answer was brutally difficult. Firstly, in an effort by the organisers to put their own little twist on it, this half marathon was 16.5 miles long – nice touch! My heart sank when I heard that news at the race briefing (I think I was the only person who didn’t already know) but in the scheme of things it was to be the least of my worries. It was the 4,500 feet of ascent that was to keep my mind from wandering.

The race was just a series of very big hills interspersed with aid stations. As the race went on the hills got

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The hills were steep and long!!

progressively steeper until the final hill which was so long and so steep that the local council had built a set of concrete steps into the side of it – hundreds of them.

You know that the hills were extreme when it has taken me three paragraphs to mention the other major feature of this race – the wind. This was the weekend when we got the tail end of Hurricane Edna from the other side of the Atlantic. With nothing to slow it down the wind carried all the way from the North American Coast gaining energy and strength until it made landfall in the UK on – you guessed it – the Dorset Coast!!

It may be the only time I have been grateful to be running at a few pounds over race weight. Seriously. Every extra pound made it more likely that you were going to remain upright as another gust of wind in excess of 50mph came through. I ran with a German girl for about 20 minutes – a slip of a thing. You don’t like to ask what a lady weighs, besides which she would have told me in kilos and I would have been no better off, but I would guess 8 stone. I lost count of the number of times she was blown clean off her feet. I spent several miles picking her up.

12295360_10206742127645360_5342873566782179982_nSo having taken no more than ten minutes to work out that I was way out of my comfort zone, my sole focus was on reaching the finish line which I eventually did in a little under four hours. I am still debating whether I never want to see this race again or whether I want to go back and see what I could do now I know what to expect.

My next race was in February – The Wilshire 10 – a 10-mile road-race in Melksham. This time I read the organisers description slowly taking particular care to find the word “flat”.

I arrived early to make sure I could park in the town centre near the start. It was a bitterly cold day and so I sat in the car while I waited. I watched the car park fill up with car load after car load of string beans. Long lean athletes with barely an ounce of body fat between them. I wondered if I was in the right place.

I bumped into my friend James on the start line. He is a much faster runner than me and so I got my excuses in early. Just a training run for me I told him – ten nine-minute miles.

It was great event. It had a really friendly local-race feel to it and the course wound out into the Wiltshire countryside and only came back into town to finish.

I was pretty true to my promise of nine-minute miles finishing in 1.28hrs which was nine-minute miles for eight miles and then a two-mile burn up with the guy I ran the second half of the race with. The kind of burn up where you pretend you aren’t racing but neither of you wants to get beaten and you finish within seconds of each other and collapse in a heap having buried yourselves for the previous 15 minutes!

It wasn’t until the end that I learned that this race I was treating as a day’s training was doubling up as the South West of England Road Running Championships. That would explain the string bean convention in the car park.

Training for Race to The Stones has now started in earnest. It was all going well until this week when I had one of those “busy” weeks that seem to push any of idea of training to one side. I managed to get out for a 6-mile trot today. I will be back on it this coming week. Although I have a training plan of sorts, I am still trying to work out how to train for an event like this in a way that suits me. At the moment I am experimenting. I would be very grateful for any tips or ideas.

Next up for me is another local race, this time a 16-mile trail race from Coombe Gibbet to Overton in two weeks. In a complete reverse of fortune this is a race which starts at the top of a hill and for the first two-thirds is gently downhill. I think I can say with a clear conscience that I have earned a downhill race!

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Hello, my name is Peter and I am a KFC addict

Today is New Year’s Eve – the last day of excess before the slate is wiped clean. It’s the day when everyone leaves the past behind and tries to change their lives for good, or at least until they try again next New Year’s Eve!!

I think I have a better claim than most people that New Year’s Eve changed my life. It was on this day 18 years ago that I met Cate in an Italian restaurant in London. Although I didn’t know it at the time, we would be engaged less than a year later and married within 18 months. Events don’t get much more life-changing than that!

Then four years ago, on New Year’s Eve 2010, I made a resolution to get off the sofa, shed the increasing amount of weight I was carrying and get myself fit. I had no idea as I made that New Year’s resolution, of the incredible journey I was about to embark on.

I had reached New Year’s Eve 2010 with my weight at an all-time high of 14st 10lbs. That doesn’t sound much if you are six feet tall, but I am not, I’m five feet seven. According to the NHS height weight chart I had strayed in obese territory. I had never thought of myself as obese, porky yes, but obese, really? But let’s not worry about the terminology – it was in danger of becoming a health issue.

Before

14st 10lbs – during the KFC years!

It was especially frustrating for me because for a large part of my life I had been very fit. I ran county level cross country and was in the county rugby squad at school. I spent five years in the Army where being fit was kind of what you did!After the Army I continued playing rugby and running into my early thirties.

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12 stone – KFC a distant memory

It is easy to fall back on convenient excuses for why I let myself get fat and unfit. I could blame a business career, I could blame being married to an excellent cook or even fatherhood. They would all be untrue. The fact is that I just got complacent and stopped bothering. Alongside that, I had a bad relationship with food and the two made for a toxic combination.

As a bachelor living in London, takeaways were my downfall. If I tell you that I lived near an Indian Restaurant that would bring a takeaway to your house and I was on first name terms with the delivery boy, then you get some idea of the scale of the problem.

I also like fast food. For some reason I particularly liked KFC. I liked it so much I would go out of my way to find it – I even had a KFC map in the car which untitled (8)showed every outlet in the UK, so I was never far from the Colonel’s Recipe. Where I worked, it was a Friday lunchtime ritual to send the junior person in the office off to the KFC Drive Thru to bring us back a bucket of the stuff.

In my mind, KFC is still a symbol of all that was wrong with the way I ate in the bad old days.

Then on 31 December 2010 that all changed. I threw the take away menus in the bin and took hold. My aim was to drop two stones by Easter. At the same time I tried to get myself fit. I still remember the first two-mile run. Slow and painful with several walk breaks – I found it hard to believe how far away I was from being the cross-country runner and rugby player of my younger days.

Gradually the weight came off and the runs got less painful and the walk breaks less frequent. Then the distances became longer and the rest, if not exactly history, is documented in the pages of this blog. In 2014 I even managed to race at a weight that started with the words “eleven stone”!

I haven’t been back into a KFC since that day – four years clean! I don’t think I am in quite the same position as a reformed alcoholic or smoker who doesn’t dare have one drink or cigarette for fear of opening the floodgates again. KFC feels like something I used to do then and that I don’t do now and so for the time being at least, it will stay that way. More symbolic than anything.

So on New Year’s Eve I will raise a glass to many things; a happy New Year to everyone, eighteen years with my lovely wife and four years since I took control and unknowingly started the most extraordinary journey. A journey that has taken me to places I never imagined I would go and one on which I have met, actually and virtually, lots of fantastic people many of whom I now think of as friends. That’s worth more than any medal or personal best I have gained along the way. But the best part is that it is a journey that continues with lots of new challenges and it will continue without KFC!

I wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. I hope 2015 brings you everything you wish for.

 

The Olympic swim coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adam sharing the recipe!

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

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

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

10 things we know about Ironman now that we wish we’d known a year ago

If you have just signed up for your first Ironman or iron distance race and you are wondering what you have let yourself in for, don’t worry, help is at hand in the shape of the Ironman Journey group on Facebook.

IMUK2012_newMany of the 850-odd members of the group have now done at least one Iron distance race. While it is still fresh in everyone’s minds, we have drawn on the Group’s collective wisdom and assembled some tips for todays would be Ironmen. Things we wish we had known a year ago.

This is not about training or coaching; in fact it is the very opposite. It is the kind of real life advice that you won’t find in any coaching manual. So here goes:

1. Have the conversation
Ironman is a selfish game. As you approach the action end of your training you will be out of the house for long periods of time – mostly at weekends and in the evening. This is time that your partner and kids refer to as “family time”. Temporarily it has to become “Ironman time”. There is nothing worse than coming back from a long ride to an atmosphere because you haven’t got the family on your side.

More than one person has said that they could never repay the debt to their wife / husband for all their support (although only Iain Edgar’s wife has said she will see that he manages to repay it!). Ironman is an infinitely better experience if you do it as a team and take the family on the journey with you. That needs a proper conversation right at the start.

2. Join the Ironman Journey Facebook Group
Everyone thought it, Cath Hartwell suggested it. At home and at work you will quickly run out of people willing to listen to Ironman talk. The Facebook Group is full of likeminded people. It is the only place where people will think it is normal that you want to cycle 112 miles before running a marathon.

The group is full of reassurance, advice, banter, and top tips. But most important is has a handful of Ironman veterans who are able to reassure you that the menopausal mood swings, high anxiety, sleepless nights and motivational troughs are all perfectly normal. That’s OK then!

I met several people on race day that I had met virtually through the group and there are many more who I am sure I will meet at future events – people who I hope will become friends. Isn’t that one of the reason we all do this?

3. Perspective: Part 1
During the long winter months of training it will get tough. The sheer scale of the challenge can also get under your skin and will sometime appear near impossible. Try to keep things in perspective. You are not being asked to stop the polar ice caps from melting or to solve the national debt problem. You are training for a race that you want to do and have volunteered for. Most important, remember that you are doing this for fun. This is a hobby. If it all gets on top of you see paragraph 2!

4. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition
All the coaching manuals will tell you how important it is to get your nutrition right on the day. It can make the difference between finishing or not. But here are some tips born out of bitter experience:

Man cannot live on gels alone! Make sure you build some solid food into your race. The bike is the most obvious place to do it. If you are doing Ironman UK you will pass the special needs feed station twice. Pack a picnic and make the bike leg more social like Ines Carr did. But Jason Anderton offers a word of caution – if you fill your tri suit pockets with food, don’t forget to empty them before you disrobe to go to the loo or the last you will hear of your bananas and Powerbars is a splash.

On a serious note, start experimenting with nutrition now. Not everyone gets on with all nutrition as many in the group will testify. Combine a “gel tummy” with race day nerves and the results can be explosive – literally!! A few things to watch out for. Adrian O’Brien advises never to trust a fart on the run. For Chris Glover that was too late, his trust was betrayed in T2, so his advice is simple; carry some loo paper! It’s not all bad news for Chris. His mishap has already entered Ironman UK folklore and will be known forever as “Doing a Glover”.

Niamh Lewis has the last word on this topic and brings a ladies fashion eye to the problem. If you are doing Ironman, don’t ever wear a white tri suit!

5. Be organised
If you are like me (and it seems a few are), once you get to the race venue your mind turns to mush and even the simplest decisions become difficult. So try and get as many decisions as possible made before you arrive.

Jason Walkley offered a top tip for those doing 140.6 races that use transition bags. Work out what needs to go in your bike and run bags in the week before the race – then simply take it to the race venue in separate bags and decant it into your transition bags when you get them at registration. One less piece of thinking to do on the day. But make sure you do a final check and avoid Adrian O’Brien’s experience of cycling 112 miles with no socks and brand new bike shoes.

Kaine Pritchett advises against arriving at the venue on the Saturday before a Sunday race. Registering, checking in transition bags, bike racking and attending a briefing is a lot to pack into one day and adds a lot of stress at a time when you want to be de-stressing. Get there on Friday.

On a more practical note Hannah Elliot advises that you make a note of your race number so that you don’t forget it and end up in tears looking in the wrong row in the T1 changing tent!

6. Take your time and don’t panic
Onto the race itself now. Several people offered advice about the swim. 10514594_705906046111239_6860745791808719757_nParticularly be careful at what point you enter the water – with thousands of others around you it is difficult to re-position yourself once you are in. I just joined the queue and once we were in I found myself mid-pack – not somewhere I would have chosen.

Maria Greaves took this to a whole different level and ended up right at the front of the swim and endured what she describes as an aquatic pub brawl!

Wherever you end up in the swim, Emma Hampson offers the comforting assurance that you won’t die so advises against her approach which was to burst into tears as she got into the water.

Lots of first time Ironmen offer advice on not rushing things – 17 hours is a long time. Rob Jude says don’t be afraid to spend the necessary time in T1 and T2 to get comfortable – you are a long time biking and running. Clive Onions is one of many who recommends you invest some of that time in applying Udderley Smooth Chamois Cream around the undercarriage in T1 – Jason Clarke prefers Vaseline!

Vicki Gale recommends you change socks in T2 – having done it myself, I can safely say that Vicki’s tip is one the most important changes I made all day. Starting the run in dry fresh socks was bliss.

A word of caution here from Andrew Rudda. He agrees you shouldn’t rush things, but also suggest you keep a bit of time in the bank to absorb a mishap. Andrew had an episode with a puncture that he couldn’t fix and by the time the mechanic got to him he had missed the bike cut off

7. It’s not a Marathon, it’s an Ironman run
Tim Lebon takes the credit for this one. Anyone who has done an Ironman will know exactly what this means. Normal Marathon rules don’t apply. I read a great article recently which said that an Ironman Marathon is not like a normal Marathon that turns ugly at 20 miles – it starts ugly. Forget your normal thinking about pace and splits – think survival. You have one aim and that is to get to the finish.

Walking is not an admission of defeat – virtually everyone walks at some point during the Ironman run. I had breakfast the morning after Ironman UK with Becky Hoare who clocked a 3.50hrs marathon to finish in 11.10hrs, won her age group and is going to Kona. Becky walked through every feed station.

So take the walking moments to meet your fellow competitors and help each other through it. Most of my best memories of the day are from the run for exactly that reason.

8. Leave your watch at home and enjoy yourself
This was multiple Ironman Jason Briley’s advice to the Group before Ironman UK. You only cross the finish line of your first Ironman once – so make the most of it.

Nobody doing Ironman for the first time really knows what their finish time will be, so why heap all the pressure on yourself of chasing a time that you have pretty much guessed. There will be plenty of future Ironman races for chasing times – just enjoy the first one and aim to finish.

From my own experience I didn’t completely follow Jase’s advice. I had a watch on during the run but the battery died at the start of the last lap. I felt liberated and enjoyed that last lap as much as any part of the race. I could hear Briley in my ear saying: “I told you so”!!

Iain Edgar agrees with this – his single piece of advice is to enjoy yourself. Carrie Power adds a commercial twist recommending that if you enjoy it for no other reason remember you have paid a lot to be there!!

9. Keep some perspective part 2
One thing you can be certain of is that things won’t go to plan. That may be a minor inconvenience, it may be worse. One in five of those who entered Ironman UK this year didn’t finish (some didn’t start). Hopefully that won’t be you, but if it is try and keep some perspective like Cath Hartwell who had to pull out after a bike crash. Cath’s philosophy is simple: “Knock me down 7 times. I’ll get up 8”. She’s already entered Ironman UK 2015 and already has 850 supporters!

I’ll leave the last word on this to Andy Holgate – after all it is his fault that many of us were there at all. Sadly Andy’s race at Ironman UK this year ended in an ambulance. He says:

“Sometimes things happen that are out of your control that can end your race. Don’t dwell on it, stay positive, refocus and make a promise to yourself to come back stronger. Perspective, an Ironman DNF is not the end of the world :-)”

10. So if you have your partner on side, got your nutrition sorted, joined the group, ditched your watch and you’re organised and ready to roll, there is only one tip left to give – an Ironman Journey Group favourite: Don’t be shit!!

My body is eating itself

Two weeks and three days to go and the nerves are beginning to jangle.

Everything became a bit more real this week as three of my friends completed 10491098_10152549189272288_4681211261765486426_nIronman France in Nice. Up until now I have to confess that I have been hiding behind my friends. In my mind Ironman UK was after France and so if Ironman France hadn’t happened then Ironman UK wasn’t here yet. Well it just did and it is. On Sunday evening on La Promenade des Anglais, Nick Wall, Liz Mayon-White and Pete Holt became Ironmen. Heroes!

Meanwhile back in the UK my training was reaching a crescendo with one last push. The last two weeks have been full on – 32 hours of training, two one hundred-mile bike rides, long runs, full Iron distance open water swims and more. I have emptied the tank and now it is time to let it recharge.

I hesitate to use the word taper because to me that word has connotations of putting your feet up and declaring training over. Nothing could be further from the truth. My training continues but the really long sessions are done. I plan to keep some volume and intensity for the next week and then ease off for the last ten days to allow my body to fully recover before race day. But I will continue to train lightly even during race week.

One of the side effects of the huge volume of training has been on my body weight. I reckon that in each of the last two weeks I have burned about 12,000 calories over and above the 2,500 a normal man burns just by existing. Surprisingly that amount of calories is quite hard to replace, especially if you try and do it sensibly. It is equivalent to 140 slices of granary bread (20 a day!!) or 80 cream eggs!! Without a stream of cream eggs to keep the calorie count up, my body has turned to its own fat stores for help. It is literally feasting on itself.

Even though I am constantly hungry and eating ad lib, my weight has gone down. For the first time in maybe 20 years my weight recently started with the words “11 stone”. Maybe I have stumbled upon an effective fool proof weight loss regime – on second thoughts it probably has a limited appeal!

In other news I had the most pleasant surprise this week. On the strength of my result at the Outlaw Half, I received an email from British Triathlon telling me that I have been given a place to race for Great Britain in my age group at the European Middle Distance Championship in Majorca in October.

It is impossible to put into words what that means to me. At first I just felt Zerod-Tri-Suit-500x500excited as I rushed around booking flights and hotels. It wasn’t until a little later when I went online to order my GBR triathlon suit that it suddenly sank in. I am going to race for Great Britain! I am going to race in a GB tri suit with my name on it and everything! What an honour.

My 82 year old Mother came to dinner on Monday to celebrate her birthday. She was naturally thrilled by my news – a proud Mum. But the spice went out of it for her when she learned that we weren’t going to Majorca on a chartered British Airways Team GB plane. Well she has a point!

But having done what I need to do to get organised for October, I now have to put all that to the back of my mind. Ironman is not something you can go into preoccupied, it needs to have my full attention for the next 18 days. My GB selection will be a lovely distraction to return to after that and will hopefully go some way to relieving the post Ironman blues that everyone talks about.

To everyone doing Ironman UK, happy tapering. We are almost there!!