Saturday, 12 April 2014

Race report: Rotterdam Mini-Marathon

My failed attempt to complete the Thames Turbo Triathlon Club organised marathon in Richmond Park last year has weighed on my mind. It's the only race I've had a DNF result (Did Not Finish). I immediately vowed to bounce back so I signed up for a spring marathon and vowed to follow a good training plan and be consistent in the gym.

The time has now come! Mrs and I flew out to Rotterdam last night after work and checked into the Nh Atlanta hotel. I picked this place as it's right next to the start/finish - if I've learned anything from big events it's "select accommodation near the finish".

Leaving on a jet(ish) plane

Hello Rotterdam, this is London calling!

Today was the mini marathon - it certainly was mini, just 4.2km (one tenth of a full marathon, I suppose). We registered this morning and picked up race numbers for today and tomorrow. New Balance are the footwear and sports apparel sponsor, they had some great kit for sale at the expo in the Rotterdam World Trade Centre, so we indulged in a little retail therapy.

Registration and the Expo were in Rotterdam's World Trade Centre

The now compulsory wall of wishes

The only queue was for S and M shirts, the XXL guy was asleep

Come on ladies, you like pink dontcha? Dontcha?

Mrs didn't sign up for the mini marathon, so I lined up by myself. I've found previously that if I take two days before the main race as a rest day, and then take 20-30 minutes of light exercise the day before, then I feel strong and ready on the day. As such yesterday, Friday, was rest (and travel), and today was this short run.

Even the short events had the full pro treatment - this timing car was for the kids' 2.5km!

The field seemed to consist of very inexperienced looking runners. I expected a lot of marathon entrants would run as a pre-race loosener, but that didn't seem to be the case - either that or they were all nearer the front to me.

Catchin' some zees - have to be fresh for the day's event

Ready now - let's go!

Bang on 15:30, and after a lot of Dutch that I didn't understand, we were off. Well, we were shuffling slowly towards the start line at least. I'm not sure how many entrants there were, it felt like a few thousand.

There was a lot of congestion at the start - typical in a mass participation running event. Pacing was about as good as it is at the average parkrun with some runners blowing up and walking within the first km. I didn't mind, I didn't want to run off fast, this was about turning the legs over and relaxing.

Seems my legs were ready to be turned over. First km passed in 6:26, then the amount of sudden side-stepping around people who JUST STOPPED FOR NO REASON started to ease off and the second km went by in 5:19. We ran round a slightly odd housing estate type area during the third km which passed in 4:40.

OK, so probably going a bit fast now, but really not trying - I relaxed into the pace and found I was passing more and more people. The fourth km vanished in 4:28 - OK what's going on, I'm not trying yet we're virtually at 5km race pace now... The final 200m went at an equivalent to 4:15 pace. Oops!

Day one done, just got 10x this far to run tomorrow now

So I polished off the mini marathon in 22:37 on the watch (I assume there's an official time somewhere?) - a few minutes faster than I was thinking, but (and I really hope I'm not making a newbie mistake here) it felt low effort, low stress, and easy going. I'm looking forward to tomorrow now, I certainly feel ready.

All ready for tomorrow - running is awesome, so much less kit than Ironman

The game plan is simple. Set out at 5:30/km and hold it as long as I can. If I'm still on pace at 35km, I'll give the pace a slight lift - and if there's anything at all left in my legs and lungs at 40km, I'll leave it all out there. I'm trying not to get hung up on the final time - a finish is the primary objective, anything under 4 hours will be a win (unfortunately just metaphorically). My dream outcome right now would be sub-3:45.

Let's see what tomorrow brings!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Race report: 2014 Race 1 in the Innovation Sports Clapham Common 15km series

It's Clapham Common 15km race time again, courtesy of the friendly people from Innovation Sports. Yes, marathon training is back on track following the interruption of spring triathlon camp, and today called for a 32km long run.

I've recently reset my target marathon pace and although today called for just an average long run, normally slower at target pace, I wanted to try a segment at pace when already fatigued. I've had a hard week of training, so that combined with a long warmup run should get me tired enough to see if I can still maintain pace when tired. Conveniently, its the first of these events of this year's season, so I decided to incorporate it into my long run.

I took a slow jog up to the common, getting 12km done before race start. Pace was slow, a minute per kilometre under marathon pace, but that's fine. I registered, picked up my number, and took shelter from the cold wind in the café to pin on my race number.

It seemed like the number of competitors was down on previous events, but on a chilly March morning I guess that's no surprise.

The route is no less pointy than last year

The little kids have a short event at around 9:30, then the 5km participants go off at 10:00, the 10km at 10:02, and then me and the rest of the 15km entrants at 10:04.

My aim was to hit on or around 5:30/km for the full distance. I went off very slightly fast at 5:22 for the first kilometre, and then settled in well. I was tired from a hard week with a couple of hard gym sessions at The Athletic Edge and the 12km run, but I didn't find it too hard to maintain pace. I let faster people go off, I reeled in slower ones from the earlier races (and from mine who had gone off too hard), but my priority was holding pace.

I'm pleased with this, it's a very twisty course, and was quite windy, as well as congested at times so that's worth a few seconds per kilometre. There was one kilometre section on each of the three laps which I ran slower as that had a drinks stop (I wasn't carrying any drinks so needed to take advantage of the aid station) followed by a very twisty slippery section through a forested area.

  • 1 - 5:22
  • 2 - 5:31
  • 3 - 5:49 (drink stop)
  • 4 - 5:36
  • 5 - 5:34
  • 6 - 5:39
  • 7 - 5:36
  • 8 - 5:55 (drink stop)
  • 9 - 5:27
  • 10 - 5:29
  • 11 - 5:33
  • 12 - 5:32
  • 13 - 5:49 (drink stop)
  • 14 - 5:32
  • 15 - 5:13

I finished in 1:22.44, a couple of minutes slower than last time I ran the event, but I had a different objective this time, and a lot more running to do! I had another 5km to reach my 32km target, so switched back into nice slow pace for a trot back towards home.

First bling of the year

I'm starting to believe that my marathon target is achievable now, As long as I keep the next few weeks under control, stay uninjured, and taper well then I should be on track for somewhere around 3 hours and 50 minutes in Rotterdam in just 21 days' time.

And now, I shall snooze whilst pretending to watch James Bond on the TV.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The TriLife spring triathlon camp

Although I went with Mrs to Joe Beer’s Triathlon camp at Club la Santa in Lanzarote last year I was very much an observer - my ITBS was in the early stages of recovery and I couldn’t really do anything. I read a lot on our balcony and drank a little too much wine. I didn’t really enjoy the week - I wanted to be out on my bike (I did take it and went on a couple of solo rides but nothing large). I wanted to be able to run, and I wanted the camaraderie that comes from these shared experiences - friendships forged two-thirds of the way up punishing climbs, battered on all sides by the fierce Lanzarote winds.

As it was, I read a lot of Alastair Reynolds (and went on to read his entire back catalogue in 6 months - there are some benefits to being injured and not training!).

Mrs had a mixed time there, but didn’t feel that it had really ticked the training camp box for her, so she followed it up a few weeks later by going away again (without me this time) to The TriLife’s camp in Andalucia, sunny Southern Spain. Great weather was promised, but without the ferocious winds.

Mrs returned totally re-invigorated - motivated, excited about continuing training, and full of praise for the TriLife team. We decided then that, circumstances permitting, we’d both go next year.

It’s now a year on, and true to our word, we’ve just returned from a week in the sun, swimming cycling and running. Mrs was right, it was excellent! But let’s start at the beginning…

Day 0 - Sunday

With an EasyJet flight out at an ungodly hour, we decided to stay at Gatwick airport the night before. Taking the usual tram/train route, the journey was stress-free. It’s a strange experience travelling to an airport with no concern about arrival time - we even let a train go at East Croydon in order to grab a coffee from Costa. Frequent pit-stops are required when dragging around two giant bike boxes (as usual, on hire from the guys at and assorted baggage.

The Sofitel at Gatwick North was nicer than I expected - featuring a vast atrium with reception, a bar, and a restaurant downstairs. We ate in the posh restaurant (we’re on holiday, right?) and I was pleasantly surprised. A jovial waitress, good swift service, nice wine (may have had some holiday bubbles...), and a good meal. I wouldn’t recommend a trip out to the airport just to eat here, but if you do happen to be staying over, give it a shot.

Day 1 - Monday

Check-in was rapid and uneventful. We saw a few people with bike boxes, but didn’t know who would be with us on the trip. Queueing at the gate we saw Duncan and Liz who run The TriLifeDuncan introduced himself to me as usual, despite us having met on several occasions previously (he did the same at the Virgin London Triathlon last year - I guess I’m just a forgettable kind of guy!).

On the flight I chewed through a few chapters of my latest read, House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (a Christmas present from my parents-in-law and one utterly bonkers story - I’ve never read anything like it!).

We were met at the airport by someone who had a van that was only just large enough to fit us and our luggage all in, and we were off on a 90 minute drive to Desert Springs Golf Resort, our base for the next week. The driver made reference to “The March Winds” which didn’t fill me with joy, but there was no going back now.

Arriving at Desert Springs (which was always in my head as Radiator Springs, from the Disney/Pixar Cars movie), we were met by the other two coaches, Mike and Thom, and assigned our houses. Mrs and I were sharing with Claire Hebblethwaite, who it turns out has raced for Great Britain in the long distance championships! Crap, they aren’t all going to be GB athletes on this trip are they?!

Everyone say, "I love swimming!"

There was one session on this first day, a swim session to wash out the fatigue of travelling and get the training started. We drove down in a couple of minibuses driven by Mike and Thom, also our chauffeurs for the week, and within 15 minutes we were at the pool.

We had three lanes reserved for the dozen or so of us. I was nervous. Often people downplay their fitness and training at times like this, but I honestly hadn’t swum since October! (Apart from a few lengths at Christmas in our hotel pool).

Not been swimming since October!

I swam as best I could. I thought I was slow, my goggles were wonky, I got tired quickly (though it passed as I slowly remembered the lessons I’d had from Jez two years ago). To be honest it was a bit of a blur. New people, new instructions (swim-coaching has its own language it seems), and new experience (I’ve never swum in a lane with other people in a structured session like this).

I got through it without drowning, and lived to fight another day. I looked at the timetable for the rest of the week. Four more swims, and all an hour long - this one was only 45 minutes!

Day 2 - Tuesday

On the bus to the pool we were assigned our swim lanes. I was in lane three, the “faster” lane. I very nearly queried it, I very nearly asked to be in a different lane, I very nearly let out an embarrassing “Whaaaa?…” noise. But no, I was in lane three. Better get on with it.

Radiator Springs, where the grass is trimmed with scissors every day

So, with shoulders and triceps aching from yesterdays “introductory” session (which alone had doubled this year’s swim volume), here I was in a lane with an Aussie guy named Tom who had been competing in triathlon since he was 15, his wife Sue, a South African chap named Justin who looked like an anatomical diagram (does he have any body fat?), and Claire the GB long-distance athlete. Oh crap.

We had Thom as our coach on the end, “Right, 800 swim warm-up”. Hang on what? 32 lengths, to WARM UP? Oh well, better get on with it. The burning in my shoulders and triceps subsided during the warm-up, though I got lapped a couple of times. I tried hard. This was a whole new experience. I think we swam 8x 100m, 16x 50m, and 16x 25m. The timing meant that frequently I’d reach the end of a repetition only for my rest time to have already run out, and I had to turn straight away and push on with the next. When Thom announced we were doing "100s off 1:35" (meaning you have 1 minute and 35 seconds to swim 100m and then any time left over (yeah, right) is rest) I openly laughed at him - I've never swam that fast! This was killing me!

Thom was keeping a close eye on us though, and thankfully gave Sue and me a little more rest - we sat out the middle 100m rep and then every fourth 50m rep. We both pushed on through and finished all the 25m reps though, I’m pleased with that.

Wobbly and a bit light-headed, I put another couple of lengths in to cool down, and finished up. It was only 8:30am, and after breakfast there was a bike ride. There was plenty of breakfast, enough bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, and tomatoes to satisfy my high-fat low-carb requirements.

We assembled on our bikes near reception, I was nervous. Often people downplay their fitness and training at times like this, but I honestly hadn’t cycled regularly for months (check my Garmin Connect history if you don’t believe me!).

Hardly cycled for months either!

My bike, despite living in a tent in the garden for the last 4 months, did not let me down. It performed admirably, good gear-shifting, good braking, and no annoying clicks or rubs. Nothing fell off. We took a circular route round the area, when the wind was with us we flew along, when it was against us we tucked down and pushed forward. Riding closely in a group was another new experience - the bike training I’ve done has been on my own so I’m not used to having to trust the person in front, or have the person behind put their trust in me. The aim is to be very close to the back wheel in front - so close you can’t really see the road so rely on signals and calls to raise awareness of bumps, holes, gravel, etc.

The ride went well, even this first ride of the camp was my longest ride for months, I didn’t get any aches, and felt good. We had a short run scheduled for later in the afternoon when we got back. This was a short route at easy pace. As we've found before, mine and Mrs version of easy pace is quite slow compared to most and so everyone gradually pulled away from us. We were good to run along chatting though. The day was good - first day for a long time I've ticked off a session in all of swim, bike, and run.

Bumping up the fat intake with a tasty strawberry, nut, cream, and yoghurt snack

I slept like a log. 9 hours, and I don't think I even turned over once!

Day 3 - Wednesday

My arms were on fire during this morning’s swim. The lack of swim-fitness was apparent and I fatigued quickly. It turns out lane three wasn't really about speed (though the fastest swimmers were certainly with me) but more about the volume of swimming in the sessions that the coaches thought we could accommodate. Lane 3 had sets that were longer than lane 2, and theirs were longer than lane 1. The volume was certainly challenging. I swam until I had no idea what day it was, what length I was on, or what drill I was supposed to be doing! (OK, slight exaggeration, but only slight!). Next year I will be more swim fit in advance. I also need to bring all the "toys" (pull-buoy, paddles, fins, centre-snorkel - I missed out on some of the technique as a result of not having this kit).

We had another ride today, it was still a bit windy. The group stayed mainly together. We were working well today, starting to get more comfortable with each other and building the trust you need to sit on someone else's wheel with just a few inches between you. It's an essential skill, the energy saving is substantial (well into the tens of percents).

No run today, but a stretching session in the gym rounded off the day. A little down time, and then dinner, and then back to bed for another 9 hour sleep. I don't think I would have got through the week on any less sleep - it's such an important part of a big training week.

Day 4 - Thursday

Thursday featured a lighter swim and drills set for which I was very grateful. I still ended the session drained, but hopefully with enough in the tank for today's big ride. We were due to tackle the demanding Bedar climb, 10km long!

Cycling about an hour to the base of the climb, we were to make our own way up at whatever pace we felt comfortable. I picked a nice low gear early on and started spinning my legs. The foothills went on for a good while, gradually gaining height, and then the switchbacks came. It looked like an Alpine Tour de France stage, amazing flat roads, switchbacks, and climbing on and on and on... The faster cycling group had taken a more circuitous route to the mountain and started behind us. They soon caught up though, I was seriously impressed at the pace Justin, Brendan, and the other speedsters came past us at. To make sure I was under no illusions as to my climbing abilities there was a cycle team out on the hill too - doing repeats of the top 3-4km! They flew down at an astonishing pace, before climbing past me like I was going backwards (which on some of the tight steep turns I thought I was).

The TriLife’s trainee coach, Ashleigh, did a great job moving up and down the group making sure we were all OK, we were getting quite spread out so she must have worked really hard!

I reached the top feeling a great sense of achievement - an amazingly long and hot climb, by far the biggest I've ever tackled. The downhill on the other side didn't deliver as there was another long climb half way (not as long as the main one, but my poor legs were ruined!).

At the top

Returning to base I was totally drained now, there was a short brick run straight off the bike. In the morning we'd left some trainers in the back of the car, and Duncan and Liz were going to look after our bikes for us. I decided to try the Clif Double Expresso [sic] and Caffeine gel that I'd been keeping in reserve. It tasted lovely, very sweet and quite thick in texture unlike the runny sugar-fluid of some others.

The whole crew at the top of Bedar

Downed the gel in one, and I was off. Tried to take a steady pace around the off road route, oddly the fatigue from the bike left me quickly and I maintained a good pace round the 6km or so. The gel seemed to be doing its thing. I finished strongly (I must have done, there were comments that I looked like I could have just kept on running for miles!).

Taking a pause, half way down

Day 5 - Friday

Today brought a welcome day off from swimming, instead a slight lie in, big breakfast, and off for the longest ride of the week. We cycled down the coast as one group before split into two (after a pause to take in the stunning view). I was really feeling the efforts of the week and was pleased I'd been assigned to go with the shorter ride group.

Now that's what I call a road

We cycled back down to the coast to find somewhere nice for ice cream (high-fat, maybe not so low-carb, but with this level of exercise output it's not the end of the world).

Nutella crêpes - yum

We rode around three hours, and the rest came in after about five. There was an optional run session in the afternoon which I chose to complete. Minimum of 30 minutes, maximum of 60. The session was 1km repeats with 1 minute rest. The aim was to run at the pace of your next race. My next race is the Rotterdam Marathon where I was looking at a target of three hours and thirty minutes. Therefore my repeats needed to be at 4:58/km.

I started slightly too fast, and then found my pace. The repeats got harder and harder. My pace wasn't too bad, I finished strongly too, but it was blindingly clear that there's no way I could run that hard for 42.2 consecutive kilometres! I resolved to set a new target for Rotterdam when I got home, I just don't think I'm ready to knock out a 3:30!

Day 6 - Saturday

Penultimate day, and final swim session. The mission this morning was simple, a 400m time trial. Flat out. Get your race head on. We warmed up and then ready ourselves in our lanes. We'd split into heats, 6 swimming at once, 2 side by side in each lane. I was paired with my housemate, Claire  During the week I'd shown that I could keep up with her to start with, but didn't have the stamina or strength to stay with her over a full session, and I'd fade quickly. I didn't expect to beat her, and I had to be careful not to overstretch myself.

We set off, and I was side by side with Claire for the first 4 lengths. In retrospect this was not a smart move. During the 5th length I started to fill with lactic acid, my lungs and limbs burning with the effort. I'd gone off far too hard and was paying the price for it. During the second quarter I slowed significantly, before recovering into the second half. I'm not sure what time Claire got, but she was well ahead of me by the end!

I clocked 7:09, which on balance is a good time. I haven't swum for months, and now I've just ticked over 10km in a week! My previous best was around 6:30, so there's a way to go yet, but it's a good start, and a great benchmark to work from.

We had a break before "Magic Glutes" (a warmup/strength session with Mike focussing on the biggest muscles in the body, our gluteus maximus), and then a longer run. We had been assigned one, two, or three laps of a slightly longer off-road course, number of laps depending on what we're training for. I had three laps to do. The first was with strides for 30s every 5 minutes, and then the next two were "yo-yo". This meant 4 minutes very very easy, then 4 minutes at over target race pace - repeat until you run out of road! I put a lot of effort into this and it felt good to finish the session strong.

Pushing downhill on my 3rd lap

Time to hit a few glasses of red wine in the bar, feed well, and another 9 hours' sleep!

Day 7 - Sunday

A last bike ride was scheduled for today. After a crisis of confidence at the decision point, I decided to go with the larger group on the reverse of the Bedar climb we’d conquered on Thursday. 20km or so of gradual climbing, a steep up, brief respite, and then even more up right to the top. I’m so glad I did - it was certainly the right decision. As Andrea said, “I’d hate to get on the plane thinking ‘if only I’d have just put that extra effort in’”.

My legs were tired, but spinning well. We chewed through the foothills at a good pace. When we started on the main climb I fell off the back quite quickly. Thom got the other Claire, Andrea, and me working together - focusing on the back wheel of the person in front. “Let them do the work, let them pick the gear, let them pick the line - all you need to do is follow the wheel”. He was right, taking some of the decision-making pressure off and just following the wheel in front really helped. We took turns pulling the rest up as we felt strong, and being pulled up as we felt tired. It was a long climb. I learned a lot.

The very last kilometre was particularly hard - I really didn’t have a lot left in my legs. With 200m to go Thom (or was it Mike who was with us by now? It’s all a bit of a blur) got us to sprint for the summit. I was out of the saddle, thighs burning with every ounce of effort I had left. Andrea made 25m on me, and I finally reached the top bright red, dripping in sweat, and totally spent. Bloody brilliant!

A quick Clif bar, and we were on the descent. The 10km climb of Thursday went by much faster in the other direction. I’m not used to descending like this, so I took the corners cautiously.

Regrouping at the bottom to head off in search of ice-cream and home it was clear I’d used a lot up on the climb. We were clipping along at a fair pace and it was becoming progressively harder to stop gaps opening up in front of me - and as soon as there’s a gap, there’s wind, and you’ll fall further back. Approaching one rise before we got to the coast we were getting faster and faster, when the hill came I almost stopped - come on legs, you can do it! The thought of ice-cream (screw low-carb when you’re putting out this much effort, I want an ice-cream) pulled me up, and we soon rolled down to the coast and found a cafe.

Mrs on the front

The other group passed us when we were eating, so we hailed them and all rolled back to Desert Springs as one (all be it a little fragmented as those with any energy left enjoyed themselves riding off the front and having fun). It was all I could do to sit in the group and get pulled along! Mrs had plenty in the tank and played in the front group for a while.

I hardly ever drink lager these days - believe me, this pint was divine!

The very last session of the camp was a Yoga/stretch-down session. My poor battered muscles just about got me through, and we were done! Nothing to do now but clean up, relax in the sun, pack up our stuff, and hit the bar for the celebration dinner.

Mrs and I were so shattered we couldn't party for long (understatement) and ended up turning in really early. Party-poopers!

Day 8 - Monday

No training today, just up early and back to the airport in the bus. Sometimes I find a little internal sigh of relief when heading home. Maybe I miss London, or something about the trip hasn’t really lived up to my hopes and expectations. This time was different, I really could have stayed another week, though with a rest day before diving into the volume again! The coaches were all great, patient, attentive, instructive, and each in their own way appropriately firm when the situation required it. The other athletes were good fun - friendly, laid back, and with a range of experiences and stories. There wasn’t anyone I disliked or wouldn’t happily spend another week training with - remarkable!

My objective for the week was to rediscover my thirst and enjoyment for swimming and cycling - that was certainly achieved. Mrs and I have already decided, circumstances permitting, that we’ll be back next year.

Now that's what I call a good week of training

Stats from Training Peaks for the week

The cycling was wonderful, I’ve never flown down descents like that, or creaked (me, not my bike) up such long climbs. I’ve never ridden in such close formation, or followed a wheel up a hill as it’s all I can focus on. I need to love the hills - my A-races this year (Ironman 70.3 UK Wimbleball, and Ironman Wales) are both very hilly. I’m excited about getting out on my bike and chewing up some Kent and Surrey hills.

The swim sets were hard, I’ve never swum that far in the pool, I’ve never followed such a structured set, and I’ve certainly never swum over 10km in a week. And you know what? I loved it. I am really genuinely looking forward to getting in the pool at home. Thing is, I don’t know what to do when I get into it. Maybe I should give The TriLife a call and see about getting some coaching?

Bye bye Murcia airport, see you next year?

Excellent week, truly excellent. Thank you so much to the coaches DuncanLizMikeThom, and Ashleigh. Bring on next year!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Off to Spain to find out how fit I'm not

Training has taken a setback over the last fortnight as a combination of Real Life and an annoying cold (first time ill since going #LCHF 16 months ago). It’s better to be well than forcing yourself to run weak or ill, so I dropped the volume and recovered.

Good news - I’m now recovered! And not a second too soon - because I’m currently sat in the foyer of the Sofitel in Gatwick Airport North. Tomorrow morning at some ungodly hour Mrs and me are checking in for a flight to Murcia, Spain, to spend a week swimming, cycling, and running with the The TriLife (@TheTriLife on Twitter) crew on spring triathlon camp.

There’s a small issue in that I haven’t been in a swimming pool or on my bike for about three months (no exaggeration). I’ve been good at following my run training plan (courtesy of Pfitzinger and Douglas), and I’ve been hitting the gym twice per week (thank you Athletic Edge), every week, for a few months. I should be fairly strong, I’m quite resilient (from running), but I’m not cycle or swim fit. I’m looking forward to finding out if “you never forget how to ride a bike” is actually true…

But then, that’s the point of Spring tri-camps; to get you back into your training and remind you how much fun it can be. There seems to be some free time (which is good, this is holiday after all) and there are options to choose depending on how you feel and what your objectives are.

The tri-life guys we first met at the Ironman UK 70.3 Wimbleball training camp in 2012. Mrs has them as a coach, and we’ve bumped into each other at various races and events over the last year or two. The camp seems to be small and relatively relaxed. Mrs went last year and really enjoyed it, I’m really happy that we can share it this year.

Looking forward to remembering the joy of cycling, plus a week off work in the Spanish sun - perfect! Y viva Espagñe!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Scunthorpe parkrun

I haven’t seen my Dad for a while, so I popped up to Scunthorpe (town known most famously for steel and being a bit rude) after work on Friday – cheap advance train tickets for the win. And seeing as I’m here, what better opportunity to take in Scunthorpe parkrun?

A beautiful parkrunday in the North

Scunthorpe parkrun started last year while I was complaining about being injured (though admittedly, that doesn’t pin it down much).  I was annoyed I couldn’t come and enjoy it at the time, so it’s been up near the top of my to-do list for a while.

Dad drove me up to ThePods (sorry about the terrible page) – a newish leisure complex so called because each unit looks a bit like a futuristic pop-up habitation module. Just add distant mountains, desert, and twin suns.

The Pods - leisure complex (photo from here)

The course is two laps, all on smooth fast paved path with the exception of a 50m trail section through some trees and a short segment on footpath by a road. It’s fairly flat with some gentle ups and downs but nothing I’d count as a hill. A few dead turns mean it won’t be a full PB course, but the top quality surface helps keep the pace up.

Course map shows a podless Scunthorpe (from here)

Dad gave me a lift and got me there nice and early. I decided to warm up for once – a few repetitions of high-knees/bum-kicks/sideways running/spin-ups. It was pretty cold, 3 degrees according to the car, but very clear and bright. Perfect conditions for a run.

There were three pacers announced on the start line – 22, 26, and 30 minutes. Each had a large label on their back. I fancied a bit of effort so planned set off behind the 22-minute pacer and to let him slowly drift away.

We have ignition - Scunthorpe parkrun is GO! (photo by my Dad)

With the fastest countdown ever (10 down to GO! in about 4 seconds) we were off! I felt good having warmed up well, and kept the 22-minute guy in sight. He had a little cluster around him but I wasn’t feeling 22-minute brave. He drifted away over the first couple of km and I found some new people to play with. First a kid who was boinging along like he was on springs. His biggest problem was dealing with weighing so little – every time he pushed off he sprang into the air! If he could use that energy to go forwards he’d whip the lot of us.

I left him behind during the third kilometre and found a new target, an older chap in a blue top who I had been slowly reeling in. I set my sights on him and put a bit of effort in. I eventually caught him with 500m to go and pushed past – I couldn’t make a gap though so he took me back with 250m left. I let him stay ahead by a couple of metres and vowed to take him in a sprint finish. I pushed hard and took him about 1m from the line!

Most glorious sprint finish, the battle for 62nd place has never been so tough (photo by my Dad)

I thought at first I’d run a “comeback PB” (Personal Best time since coming back from injury) – but further examination shows I hadn’t, it was my 4th fastest time. I’m still pleased with 23:38 – it felt good and controlled, and I had plenty left for an effort at the end. Most importantly, I didn’t feel a single twinge from either my left knee or my Achilles tendons – both of which have been a little bit niggly of late.

Unfortunately, adjusted for age group he beat me by a country mile...

All in all a good parkrunday, and made even better with my Dad spectating. In fact, it was a good parkrunday everywhere – the global attendance record was smashed to bits!

Back at my Dad's he made me a MASSIVE high-fat low-carb breakfast - thanks Dad!

Regarding general running of late – it’s coming along well. I’m following a self-made 6-week plan to gradually build up distance, and then towards the end of January I’m starting my 12-week plan from Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas. I’m very motivated right now, I just hope I can move through the plan without injury. Strength and conditioning work is going well, I’m really enjoying working with the Ben, Josh, and Dan at Athletic Edge. Their style is really working for me.

It takes this many tickets to get to Scunthorpe and back (when you cock it up the booking)

I’ve been staying in a flat for the last couple of months while some work is done on my house, so it’s been very hard to get into any kind of routine. We’re moving back in tomorrow (hurray! Finally!) so it’ll be easier to cycle and swim too – I’ve done virtually none of either since October. Increased variation in training should help me stay resilient to injury and accelerate improvements.

Of course, Mrs is putting me to shame by running the 45-mile Country to Capital ultra-marathon today.

My wife (white hat) at the 25-mile point - clearly bonkers

Anyway, I’m very excited about the Rotterdam Marathon, particularly now Mrs has entered too.

Game on!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I welcomed the New Year form an unusual place - the bar of a Toby Carvery in Middlesborough. Why was I in Middlesborough? parkrun, of course (did you really have to ask?).

The Christmas holiday period is always fun in parkrunland. The wonderful Event Directors, ably assisted by their armies of volunteers, not content with giving up their time for free on Saturday mornings for fifty-two weeks per year like to put on extra events for us lucky parkrunners on both Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

A couple of years ago in the parkrun wild-west there weren't any rules as to how many extra events could be put on, it was up to the individual events to decide. All parkruns start at 9am (in England and Wales at least), but on these special days some events started later. This opened up new opportunities, and the plucky parkrunner could find two events near each other at convenient starting times and run them both.

New Year's Day 2012 was the peak of this opportunity, with a couple of "triples" possible. I ran Bushy Park with a 9am start, Nonsuch Park with a 10am start, and Riddlesdown Park at 11am, franticly cycling between. Riddlesdown was a bit further from Nonsuch than I'd bargained for - thankfully they knew a lot of runners were driving coming over so delayed the start for 15 minutes. Cycling, I was even later - I started at gone 11:20, running with the last of my energy down the start trying to catch sight of the tail runners. For a while the 31:12 was my personal worst time - still not bad considering the clock started five or six minutes before I'd even got there. It was a fantastic New Year's Day, and the experience was more than a little responsible for my now deeply rooted love of parkrun.

Now, with the global phenomenon of parkrun and new runs starting up almost every week it's been necessary to have a few more rules and regulations. This includes when extra events are permitted (now just Christmas Day and New Year's Day at this time of year), and how many events "count" - a maximum of two per day. If you can find a triple to do, the third won't count towards your totals (you can still log it as a "freedom run" though, should you wish to).

My first trip to the North East zone since Darlington South inaugural on 15th Dec 2012

So this is why I was in Middlesborough - to take advantage of a New Year's Day double on two courses I haven't visited before. This is the kind of behaviour that brought "über-tourist" into the parkrun lexicon. There are people more parkrun-bonkers than me, of course, and I had the pleasure of the company of some of the bonkersest (that's a word, OK?) in Middlesborough.

On New Year's Eve Mrs and I met up with Louise (@abradypus and 8th on the UK Most Events table), Vanessa (@neferpuss and 10th), Ian (16th, on 80 events the same as me, but I rank higher as I've attended more inaugural events), and Nicola (@RoundshawOnTour and 32nd) on the train to the North East. Fizzy wine was consumed, as were BabyBel. Two of my favourite things.

We got to the Premier Inn, Middlesborough Central South, about 10pm. Über-tourist Rosemary joined us in the Toby Carvary next door. Convenience was the name of the game, so after a few more drinks and some "3, 2, 1, Happy New Year"-ing it was time for bed.

The delight that is Stewart Park parkrun

Slight headache pushed to one side by Premier Inn fry-up and coffee the temperature of the centre of the Sun and we set off to parkrun #1, Stewart Park. It was pretty damn cold out, but the park was beautiful. I ran round with Mrs in 28:46. A nice even pace as we had a lot further to go today.

A quick mince pie at the finish and a group of five of us set off to jog the 4km to Albert Park. I'm not sure if anyone else ran across, but I didn't see anyone. A few who were making the journey by car gave us friendly pip-pip and a wave.

For Albert Park I decided to see how much I had left, I wanted to get under 25 minutes. I huffed and puffed my way round to come in at 24:28 - I'll take that, thank you very much. A final jog back to the hotel for a shower, and it was off on the 12:50 back to London.

Albert Park, watch out for the icy wind by the Lower Lake!

This 6-week period is about building mileage and being in a good place to kick off a 12-week marathon training plan ahead of Rotterdam in April. It's going pretty well, I think. Happy New Year all round.

Oh, and if you haven't tried parkrun, give it a go - it's great.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Trying another marathon

My previous marathon attempt was aborted after completing three of the four-lap course. I was “doing OK” until the point about half way round lap three when I was no longer “doing OK”. It was quite demoralising, my first DNF (Did Not Finish). It showed me that I should have a little more respect for these events. I may have been able to take it in my pre-injured stride when I was in Ironman shape (probably the best shape I’ve ever been in), but you can’t just knock out a marathon willy-nilly – not without a more established fitness base at least.

So, I’m going to try again. I entered the Rotterdam Marathon a while back. There are 18 weeks to race day (actually two days short of 18 weeks). On the recommendation of Martin Harris I got hold of Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas. They present a number of different training plans for varying levels of ability. The plans are are divided by the number of miles you want to run each week. Each plan has an 18-week version, and a 12-week version. Additionally they also present a lot of material on the theory of running - nutrition, training, life balance, etc.

Training so seriously that I even bought a book

I’m going to go in at the lowest level – and even that is 55 miles (88km) per week! I was initially considering getting stuck in to the 18-week plan, but as I’m currently averaging 10-20km per week I suspect that would be too much of a jump. Instead I’m going to follow the 12-week plan, and use the next 6 weeks to build up my weekly volume so I'm in a position to start it confidently and without risk of injury.

So, this week I'm running 30km. Next week, 35km. Then 40, 45, 45, and finally a down week to recover of just 25km. Combined with a renewed focus on eating well, and twice-weekly trips to the great blokes at Athletic Edge I should be more run-fit come April than I’ve ever been before.

This email also helps focus the mind!

Besides, I made a silly bet with Mrs that I could break 3:30 in Rotterdam – I don’t know how practical that is yet, but I know I haven't a hope in hell without structured training! She’s running it too, and so is my friend Chris so it should be a good laugh, and give some focus to cold dark winter training.

The race entry is paid. The flights are booked. The hotel is reserved. All I have to do is get there. Let’s go!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Race report: Thames Turbo Marathon

A small group of hardy individuals assembled in Richmond Park for the 8am marathon start. There’s a half marathon event too, but those guys get a lie in and don’t start until 10am.

After a good ten minutes clearing the clods of mud off my trainers from yesterday’s parkrun, I was ready.

It was cold, but not unbearably so. Numbers were handed out and pinned (hard to do with cold fingers – worry being you’ll pin it to your fingers or your own stomach). The start was a couple of km from registration, so we jogged down slowly. Mrs came too and grabbed a pre-start snap.

The marathon start list L-R: Sam Blanshard from Blackline London (who went on to win - can you spot why? :), (unsure), Liz Pinches, (unsure), (unsure), Chris King, me, Tarsh Wendt

With a good old fashioned “Three, two, one, go!” we were off. I let the fast bunnies all disappear into the distance, and started off at a sedate pace with my good friend Chris. Aiming for 6:00/km I was there or there-abouts. A little slower on the hills, a little faster on the flat, all good. I lost Chris about 5km in as he went for a pit-stop, and I pushed on.

First of the four laps was the short one, and I dispatched that well – feeling good, pacing well, walked up the steepest hill (as planned) but jogged up the others. Mrs met me at the first turn point with a bottle, I took a swig and went off for lap two.

Hydration action shot - turn-point is the yellow cone by the cyclist

The second lap passed without incident apart from a pit stop of my own where Chris overtook me back while I was indisposed. Finishing lap two Chris had just set off down the sharp finishing hill as I was at the top, so we were still much-for-muchness pace-wise.

I was on target for the first 24km!

It started to feel a bit harder as lap three opened up, and then as I turned left to cut across the long road in the park to Sawyer’s Hill, the wind hit. It was a real blower, not so gusty but consistent and strong. A km further on and my knee started complaining. Where it’s done that before I’ve pushed on through and it’s cleared, but this felt different. Shortly after my right knee started making itself known.

I ran/walked across to Richmond Gate, and was grateful to get out of the wind, but it had become clear that I wasn’t going to finish. I gave Mrs a call to let her know I was run/walking my way round lap three and was going to pull up at the turn-around.

It's quite clear where it fell apart - note the ever decreasing pace, no way I could have done lap four

The remainder of the third lap got harder and harder, I could only run for a minute or two before needing to walk again, regardless of terrain. Stopping was the right thing to do, I can’t take another injury and the resulting recuperation – not when I need to spend winter focusing on my running.

Major decline as I dropped to walk/run

I completed a shade under 32km (20 miles), in around 3:20 (not sure of exact time, forgot to stop my watch!).

Chris did really well - he was feeling physically fine but lacked energy when I saw him just before I pulled out. I joked we should have combined my energy with his legs and we'd be OK. He went on to finish the fourth and final lap, and come in at around 4:08 (for last place - seriously, what the hell kind of marathon gets you last place in 4:08?! :)

Well done, Chris - great run!

All in all it was very frustrating. I was feeling strong mentally, I had no loss of energy, I was breathing easily – by rights I should have been able to hold that pace for the whole event – but my knees had other ideas.

My mother-in-law got it right on twitter afterwards with some wise words: “He who runs and stops half-way, is fit to race another day”. As true as that might be, this is the first event I’ve ever DNF’d (Did Not Finish) in my life – and that’s not the day I was looking for.

Thanks to my wife for cheering me on, it means so much to me to share things like this with you (the events, that is, not when I fail :), and thanks to Thames Turbo Triathlon club, and in particular Tarsh, club social secretary and general all-round source of fun and energy, for organising the day.

No races for a while, time to buckle down, run, keep in the gym, and come out stronger and faster and ready to go the full distance in Rotterdam - and maybe then I'll finally get a marathon time on the board!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

12 hours until my first stand-alone marathon - eeeep!

So, tomorrow I’m running my first stand-alone marathon (no, the marathons at the end of Ironman races don't count) - the Thames Turbo Triathlon Club Richmond Park Marathon for Turbos and friends. It’s a significant event for me, it was the first race I pulled out of after picking up some ITBS at the 2012 Royal Parks Half Marathon (where I smashed my PB to pieces as well as my iliotibial band).

The general advice is that you should always to write down your race plan, so here we go.

The plan is set:

Last year I was hoping to burn round at the peak of post-Ironman fitness and smash out a sub-3:30. No chance of hauling my arse round in that time at the moment – I have a bucket less fitness, and around a bucket more weight. I would dearly love to hit 4 hours, but love is not enough – need to run a bit too.

So, I’m going to go for a solid consistent 6 minutes per km, from start to finish. If I have any beans left then I’ll see if I can just nudge a negative split, that would be the icing for my inaugural marathon cake. 6min/km works out to 4:13.12, so with a few seconds for stopping at the drinks table the big target is 4:15.

Mrs will be on hand to yell encouragement, check her twitter feed (@totkat) for updates (maybe). She ran an incredible 50 mile (80km) off-road ultra-marathon in Rotherham recently. The bar has been set, and I'm not going to get anywhere near it!

The route is set:

Well, it's just around the park right? How can you go wrong...

One lap of about 9km followed by 3 of about 11km.

Start at the green marker, run anti-clockwise to the red marker (that's the 9km lap), turn around and run clockwise round one full 11km lap back to the red marker, turn again and run 11km anti-clockwise, then one more turn and an 11km clockwise circuit, all the way round to the red marker to finish.

Though it is a bit lumpy

Clothing is set:

  • My trusty Brooks T7 Racers (though with some of the 2kg of mud I picked up at Orpington parkrun this morning knocked off)
  • Long 2XU compression socks to keep my calves under control in the later stages
  • Super-comfy Nike long sleeved base layer
  • Valencia triathlon t-shirt on the top (bringing the spirit of the sun, even if there isn’t any actual sun)
  • Sailfish peaked cap, thin gloves, and two small squares of surgical tape to protect my pec-nuts

Food plan is set:

Despite a little more cake lately than an LCHF food plan might advise, I still seem to be well adapted to fat burning – a few weeks ago I ran a come-back PB parkrun and followed it with a 90km bike ride and all on a cup of coffee. That was a fun experiment - I was hungry by the time I’d finished but that’s because I didn’t have any food in my stomach – I certainly wasn’t bonking or feeling drained of energy. So, with that in mind I shouldn’t need to fill myself with sugar every 5 minutes to get round. 

  • Breakfast: Salmon, avocado, cream cheese, and scrambled egg for breakfast (no carbs before exercise, you’ll immediately break fat burning) and a nice large mug of coffee
  • During the run: Mainly nothing but water – if I do get hungry I’ll nibble on a Clif bar. Like a good boy scout though I’ll be prepared Just In Case, so I’ll keep a couple of ultra-power Double Espresso Clif shots in my pocket…
  • After the run: Pies, beer, and whatever the hell else I fancy :)

Weather is set:

Temperature fine, might be a bit breezy

Alarm is set:

Ouchy... It wouldn't be race day without a crazy early alarm

Plan B is set:

Ah yes, you’re supposed to have a plan B. Plan B is “adjust pace if required, but try and keep consistent, take as long as you need to finish – but do try to finish”.

I’ve entered the Rotterdam Marathon which is on 13th April 2014, and I’m going to train for that properly – until then, this will be my PB.

See you on the other side!