Monday, 21 April 2014

Planning training for the 2014 season

The first objective of the year is completed, yay! I'm still super-happy about my 03:59:19 at the Rotterdam marathon. There's a lot of year left though, and a lot I've signed up for (have you seen the 2014 race calendar panel over there on the right hand side?).

Need to take a rational look. What's practical. I've withdrawn from the Eton 10km swim - I still intend to do one, but i need more than 5 weeks training to prepare (particularly seeing as there's Mallorca 70.3 in the middle!). I also decided not to do today's Thames Turbo Triathlon - there's no need to race a hard sprint when I'm still only a week after the marathon. Instead I went for a ride with Mrs on our "3 Hills" route - first time for a year. Loved it.

Our "3 Hills" ride (Staple Lane, Crocknorth, and Box Hill)

I enjoyed having a training plan for the last few months, even if it was just out of a book. I like not needing to think about what needs to be done. However, I don't feel ready to get a new coach. Maybe next year, maybe never, but not right now. So, what's the plan?

The plan is: write your own plan. Here's the plan.


Brett Sutton wrote a piece on swimming for the Buccaneer Race Team. In essence, the message was: "Want to get better at swimming? Well then swim more."

So, let's just swim some more then. I bought a book called For Swimmers 365 Main Sets a while ago by Ironman swim-master Andrew Starykowicz. It's basically just what it says on the tin. I'm going to start from set one and try to do 2-3 per week. That's easy - I just schedule them in, and do them.


My main races this year are both quite hilly - Ironman 70.3 UK in Wimbleball with its (in)famous "52 hills in 56 miles" or whatever it is (I think the bark is worse than the bite to be frank), and then Ironman Wales in Tenby - where I'm determined to ride better than last time. So I need to ride up hills, and ride them regularly. I'll be racing Wimbleball on my road bike and Tenby on my tri-bike, so I need good miles on both.

I should be able to get mid-week miles just by commuting whenever I can, and then a longer ride at the weekend to/from a parkrun or round in the Surrey hills. I'd like to revisit the Ride London 100 route ahead of this year's event (I was lucky enough to get a ballot spot), the Hell of the Ashdown route, and there's scope to make our 3 Hills route into a lot more than three hills.

When the weather is bad, or the time is unhelpful, I could do well to remember that I have a turbo-trainer, I don't need to be outside to ride. This is important, it takes away the barriers to missing sessions. Additionally on a turbo trainer you can focus on cadence, power, and never getting any respite! No traffic lights in the kitchen...


Running is trickier. The marathon training had me running 4-6 times per week, and my highest weekly mileage ever. I can't sustain that on top of everything else. Running breaks you down. The long run is important - one of the Pfitzinger & Douglas training principles is the value of the mid-week long run. I should therefore work in a run home from work during the week to compliment the weekend long run - or maybe a couple of runs home per week and free myself from the need to run long at the weekend all together.

The main thing is that each session is quality. It needs a purpose. When I'm approaching the shorter races I should be running fast, and when I move towards Wales I should drop the pace a little and work on endurance. I also need to learn to love the hills! Throughout I'd like to get back to running hard and fast parkruns. It's OK running them as recovery runs, but I miss just running as fast as I can, and that's a quality session in itself. I think 3 runs per week should be about right - and, importantly, a sustainable volume.


I've really enjoyed hitting the gym regularly - I feel stronger and more resilient. This makes me better able to accommodate training without getting injured again. The guided strength and conditioning sessions seem to be working so far. Twice weekly visits to Ben and Josh at Athletic Edge will remain. Monday and Thursday mornings seem to work. Swimming in the evening after a gym visit in the morning seems to work well for me - active recovery and hopefully eases the DOMS a bit (and man those guys are the kings of DOMS).

Periodisation and specificity:

This is where it gets harder. It's impossible to peak for every race, particularly if you've signed up for a lot. You need to build and peak for your main race. Training is also normally divided into micro and macro cycles, e.g. 4x 4-week blocks making a 16-week block, with each 4th week reduced in load to allow a little more time for recovery and accommodation (absorbing the training so you actually get faster as a result).

Specificity is ensuring your training is relevant. My training for Rotterdam was all on the road and didn't contain many hills - that's because the race was a fast flat road race. Wimbleball and Tenby are both hilly on the run, so I need to learn to love the hills in training. Likewise for cycling. I'm not worrying too much about swim specificity, other than I'll need to get open water and wetsuit swimming in as often as I can - this has been a failing in the past, and I think partially responsible for my frustrating swim-start freak-outs (see both Ironman Wales in 2012 and Ironman 70.3 Zell am See/Kaprun in 2013).

Up to Wimbleball I'll work on faster mid-distance training, and then build up the duration afterwards ready for the big fella in Tenby.

Putting it together:

What are my A-races? For A-races I want to be peaking and tapered (fresh, from a de-loaded week). I should be champing at the bit, raring to go! I've done both these races before and I certainly have much more to give.

What are my B-races? For B-races I want to treat race day absolutely as if it were an A-race, however I won't worry so much about a full taper before hand. It's more about real race experience and sorting my technique, and less about pulling about a top (for me) performance.

What are my training races? Training races are just to get experience, try out my race day strategies, and have fun. I won't taper for them and won't pay too much attention to the results. These are the "everything else" category. The only one of these that needs care is the long course weekend. This is an Ironman on the Ironman Wales course (near enough) but split across three days. This will be hard effort, and the marathon will take time to recover from even if I run it at Ironman pace (i.e. very easy).

And then there are the wild-cards... These races are on the "would like to" list. Not confirmed or entered. I'd really like to run an ultra with my Mrs at some point! These don't really feature in my thinking right now.

  • RRR, 18th October
  • Thames Turbo marathon, Richmond Park, November

...and there's so many other things!

The plan:

As it happens, the timing works out perfectly - it's almost as if I'd planned it (I hadn't).

I'm going to go for two macro cycles - one for Ironman 70.3 UK, and one for Ironman Wales. There are two four-week blocks from now until Wimbleball, then after a recovery week there are three four-week blocks leading up to Ironman Wales. The B-races come at the end of build periods, and have de-load weeks afterwards. This is ideal.

Build up to Ironman 70.3 UK, started today!

Build up to Ironman Wales, starts with a recovery week after Ironman 70.3 UK

I like the idea of doing a race simulation two to four weeks out. A popular technique is to complete the number of miles, but in kilometres. Simulate the race entirely, including fast transitions and fuelling, but don't suffer the fatigue of going full distance.

For the 70.3 that's 1200m swim, 56km bike, and 13km run - those distances are short enough to go pretty hard and really enjoy it. May 31st looks like a good time for that - the weekend before we'll be at Wimbleball Lake checking out the bike course - unfortunately you can't normally swim in it, otherwise that would have been ideal.

For the full distance it's 2.4km swim, 112km ride, and 26km run - a bit more of an undertaking, but training should mean the distances are achievable with some good effort. It's an ideal kit and nutrition test. The more you treat it like the real thing, the more it will help. I could get a really big weekend in right at the start of my final block - I'll be relatively fresh after a de-load week. Pencilled in for 17th August.

There's more work to do to plan each block. I'll do that at each at the start of each, based on the experience, progress, and real-life (damn you, real-life!). Given block one starts tomorrow I guess I'd better plan that now...

Block one, 2014 weeks 17 to 20:

Block one, week one: Need to take it easy, this is about getting the right sessions done and building good habits. Set the plan and stick to it. I need to remember I'm only one week post-marathon - I'm feeling fine now, but I will probably find hard efforts, well, hard. I'd like to get started on the 365 main sets too. Real life is difficult this week, very busy at work and my 5th wedding anniversary on Thursday.

Week one - Monday done!

Block one, week two: I'm on a training course all week this week so as long as I can stick to mornings and evenings I should be OK, however bike commuting is off the cards (remember you have a turbo trainer and a lot of The Wire to watch...). I enjoy a little training during these times, it helps clear my head and be able to focus in the classroom. The end of the week will be hard, Mrs and I are crewing for Louise at the Thames Path 100 (boy, can that girl run!).

Week two

Block one, week three: In Mallorca from Monday. Looking forward to riding the 70.3 course a few times ahead of the race. This week will be about cycling and swimming, I'm not so concerned about running. The race is on the Saturday, so Sunday will be a lovely day off in the sun.

Week three - rocking it in Mallorca, can't wait to see/ride the bike course

Block one, week four: A de-load week at the end of my first block. The aim here is to keep the number of sessions up, but the intensity down - not stopping completely but taking the opportunity to recover well.

Week four, de-loading ready for the next block

And then...

There's loads of other stuff to consider - kit, nutrition, race plan, etc. I could plan for hours. Let's see how this first block goes.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Race report: ABN Amro Rotterdam Marathon

Before the race:

Alarm went off at 7am disturbing me from some very bizarre dream where I needed someone to sign a permission form for me to use a rowing machine in a bike shop (no, I don't know either). We hopped (sort of) out of bed and went down for breakfast.

The breakfast area filled up with lithe sporty looking people while we were in. I filled up on bacon and eggs, some cucumber and tomato, and a few bits of cheese. We got slightly odd looks for not stuffing our faces with carbs. Sorry athletes, that's just how I roll. A coffee to kick-start my brain, and I'm fuelled.

Breakfast, LCHF style (if anything, a bit low on fat)

This will be an interesting experiment - I completed Ironman 70.3 Zell am See/Kaprun on water with 2 gels in the run and that was around 6 hours, but I've never run this far on LCHF (low carb, high fat). I've decided to take 3 gels with me "just in case". I'm prepared to eat them at 2 hours, 2:30, and 3 hours in - but only if I feel I need them. One has caffeine in case I really need a boost. I'm also prepared to throw them all in the bin in the first 5km if they jiggle around too annoyingly in my bum pocket. I'm not planning on drinking any sports drinks from the aid stations, just water as and when I feel I need it.

It all depends how far up my effort level I am. The harder I work, the more carb I'll burn - even though I'm well fat-adapted I will still burn some carb, just less than my fellow runners. I can go further (much further) without fuel, but there's a limit. If I go really hard, then I'm expecting to need something. I don't know, it's uncharted territory - we'll see what happens. When I get back to London I should get a gas analysis test - that'll tell me precisely my fat/carb fuel mix at different intensities - then I'll know for sure how much I should need to eat, and roughly when.

Mrs had this done quite a while ago and the results were really interesting - I didn't see the point at the time as I wasn't very well adapted for fat as a primary fuel.

The marathon organisers have just tweeted that there are pacers! I don't know why this surprises me - it's a big marathon, of course there will be pacers. My target pace of 5:30 per km would get me in 3:52:04 if I ran it absolutely evenly. There's a 3:45 pacer who will be running at 5:20 per km if he holds even pace. He'll be starting behind me (I'm in the 3-3:30 start pen, I was originally gunning for a 3:30 finish but thought better of it as my training progressed!).

Pacers and their start pens

So I should set off at 5:30 per km (as per plan, even if it feels slow, it's correct - and if I'm faster, SLOW DOWN!), after a few km the 3:45 guy should catch me up, do I go with him? He'll have a big "bus" of runners with him, 3:45 will be a popular goal I'm sure. He'll only be 10s per km faster than me, 10 seconds in 5:30 is 3%. Sounds like nothing, but would be a big difference over that time and distance.

What's the worst thing to do? Change your plan on race day. You don't think straight, you don't correctly evaluate risk, you're excited and full of hormones and adrenaline. Don't change your plan on race day. 3:45 is my dream outcome but not at the cost of exploding and coming in over 4 hours. So the plan is this:

Set off at 5:30 per km. Hold 5:30 per km. Let the 3:45 guy pass me (he should only drift by slowly - 3% faster in fact. I hold him in sight for a long time, it should take many minutes for him to pull away. When I hit 35km I see how I feel. If I think I have more, and can hold it to the end, I'll give it a nudge. If at 40km I think I have a little bit more, I'll give it a little bit more. I won't get distracted by the 3:45 guy, but if he happens to stay in sight and it looks like I can catch him in the final 10km (not having been dragged round by him - I made that error with the 1:40 guy at the Royal Parks Half two years ago) then I'll wind it up. I know I have a strong finish, I know I can dig deep and find more than I think I have. The challenge here is not physical, it's mental - stay on plan.

Stay on plan.

During the race:

I took to my start pen about 25 minutes before the off. Everyone seemed relaxed, a few people were warming up (well, I think that's what they were doing). I sat for a while, taking it all in. Finally here. A marathon that I've trained for and really hope to complete. I was feeling confident on a finish, but very unsure of what time I could pull off.

With ten minutes to go I stretched out a bit, did some activation exercises to get my glutes firing properly (thanks to Mike from The Tri-Life for those), and did a bit of bouncing and squats/lunging. Not as good a warm up as a jog with some strides would have been, but there was no room for that and I figured I was going to be doing enough running as it is...

Then, after a rousing chorus of "You'll never walk alone" (no, I don't understand why either but the Europeans seemed to enjoy it) the canon sounded and we were off! Sort of! As I was in start pen D there was a fair amount of shuffling to be done first. Thankfully when we crossed the timing mat and our clocks were officially ticking there was room to run. I'm not sure the time difference between the gun and me crossing the mat - it'll be clear later why I wish I'd paid more attention.

The route - spoiler: I got to the end

What a completely different experience to yesterday - everyone was running, most people were going in straight lines, and no one was dying horribly (well I would hope not, in the first 5% of the race). I was determined to hold my 5:30 per km, as planned.

As predicted the 3:45 pacer arrived before too long, between 5km and 6km. I was suddenly enveloped in a jostling crowd. I briefly considered staying with him, but decided not to - I had a plan, you don't change it on the day, and you certainly don't change it randomly in the race!

The kilometres were ticking along nicely, all between 5:20 and 5:30 - perfect. No reason for heroics. I let a lot of people overtake (I was in the wrong starting pen, after all) and didn't let it get me down. I focused on keeping good cadence (90-92 steps per minute) and clocking up the kilometres on pace.

I was loving it. Absolutely loving it. Pacing was easy and the kilometres were flying by. I saw my first walking person at 18km, looking a bit broken. I remembered thinking at 7km that I was a sixth of the way, then at 14km a third - only another sixth to get to the half-marathon point. That came up in no time.

Making good time, bang on pace

Half way passed with a few more walking people, the tide was coming in a bit and I was moving up the field. No additional effort required, I was just faster - but still on my pace. The next mental targets were at 28km which is two-thirds distance, and then from 32km it was a single-digit count-down to success!

I ran over the race-logo landmark bridge for the second time, marking the first and larger of the route's loops completed. Following a few more km winding round the city centre we were out for the second loop.

As 30km went by I was full of happy. I had slowed for water at 10km, and 20km, missing out every other station. The weather was lovely, sunny, warm, with a gentle cooling breeze. I was thinking I would run the whole race on water - what an outcome that would be!

How quickly things can change. It got harder to hold pace, and my thoughts got more negative. The kilometres still seemed to be passing well but were taking a lot more effort. I passed my first "dead" person - he was sat in the bushes (where people (and people here equals "men") were ducking in to pee). He was sat with his back leaning on a tree sobbing. A spectator was trying to talk to him, but he didn't seem to want any of it. Or maybe they didn't have a common language, it was hard to tell.

Walkers were more plentiful now and they took a fair bit of avoiding. I thought about the gels in my pocket. If you get random negative thoughts then fuelling may be required. I decided to go on water for a bit longer. By 34km I was finding the going hard. My pace had really dropped and my legs were hurting - primarily my hamstrings and calves and Achilles tendons. I could still put the effort in from my mind, but I didn't seem to get any faster.

Just before 35km I had a gel - it was bloody lovely. At the 35km point I had another one, and a couple of cups of water. I quickly felt better mentally, but still couldn't make my legs work any more. I vowed to have my final gel, the caffeinated one, at 40km.

Fairly even, but you can see where it gets hard

I saw a few more dead people. At 38km or so there was someone receiving what I can' only describe as "emergency medical attention", there were people in uniforms and beeping boxes. Not good.

I told myself that I was trained for this, that I could do it. There was need to walk. I refused to walk. I didn't walk. In any training run I'd have stopped by now, or worked out a "walk 60s, run the rest of the km" tactic. I kept in my head that this wasn't a training run, this was the real thing - I declared to myself (out loud) that I refused to walk unless I literally couldn't run. And that point never came.

40km came though, and I walked through the aid station to take my gel and drink a couple of water cups (that bit of walking was allowed). For the first time in the race I looked at my total elapsed time - it read 3:47 (no seconds displayed when you're over an hour). 3 hours and 47 minutes and 40km done, 2.2km to go and 12 minutes and an undeclared number of seconds to go if I'm to get in under 4 hours.

Oh God I'm going to have to run harder.

This is what "running harder" looks like when you've got 41km in your legs - ouchy!

The clocks on display showed gun time, of course, so I had no idea what I was aiming for by those clocks - and my watch display was set to show me cadence and heart rate only (kilometre splits would pop up for 10 seconds each kilometre). I had no choice but to run hard. Running hard after this long was a mission. I missed the 41km marker - was it even there? Before i knew it there was a huge "1000m" on the ground - just a kilometre to go. Got to run harder.

We were back in the town centre now, at 500m to go there was a sharp right turn and I could see it - the green finish banner in the distance. I had no idea how long I had, I just had to try and run harder. It was, admittedly, a bit pathetic - by no means a sprint finish, but it was at least faster than I'd managed the last 5km.

With 300m to go I had to avoid a man carrying his tiny child down the finishing chute. I'd like to take a second to ask why, WHY, do people do this? It's crazy, I'm running as hard as I can (let's ignore how fast that actually is for a moment) to get in under 4 hours, I can hardly see any more, I certainly can't run straight, and I definitely couldn't take anything that would pass for "evasive action". I can't guarantee I'm not going to bump into anyone - and if I did and they fell over and the kid got hurt, then what? It's rank stupidity and should be banned.

As it was I crossed under the line in about 4:01:30 or so according to the clock on the banner and stopped my watch. Was it good enough? No idea! I stumbled around a bit and eventually had to lean on the crowd control barrier. I was absolutely buggered. My legs were on fire, I could only just stand. It took me a while to operate my watch - you need to "save" the exercise before you can review it. Did I make 4 hours?

Did I make it? Did I do enough? I had no idea at this point

Yes, yes I bloody well did. According to my watch I'd completed the Rotterdam Marathon in three glorious hours, fifty-nine painful minutes, and nineteen bloke-with-a-child avoiding seconds. 41 seconds to spare, and even if I was a few seconds off at each end with my watch-button pressing I should still be under 4 hours. I pumped the air in celebration a few times - every little bit of "don't walk" and "come on, push harder" was worth it. Every single good choice had contributed to achieving my goal. By just forty-one seconds!

Kilometre pacing benchmarked against the 5:30 target pace

So happy with the first six 5km sections, spot on target pace

Need to work on what happens from 32km to 42km!

Now, give me my medal and point me at the bar.

After the race:

Safe in the knowledge now that I'd hit my goal and didn't have to run anymore, the pain started to come. My hamstrings, quads, calves, and flutes were all tightening up and starting to feel cramps. I could hardly walk for the first few minutes. I staggered through the other finishers, they were coming thick and fast, and past the stalls of bananas and iso-drinks. I found a space to sit on the floor and spent 5 or 10 minutes stretching out. Others around me were doing the same, there was much grunting from representatives of many different nations. It turns out "argh" is a word in every language that means "I've just run hard for four hours and sat down, and now I can't get up again".

It's all about the bling

I got up in the end, took a few more waters from the stalls, and tried to get out. There was a big queue to get out so I had to stand/shuffle for 5 or 10 minutes - it felt like forever. Why was there such a queue to leave the finish area? It was because all the friends and family that came to meet the runners clearly had to stand right at the exit, as close as they could possibly get. The result was that runners had to file past, in single file, for about 20 metres to get through them. Thanks guys, thanks a lot - can we have some room? We're knackered, can hardly stand, and really need a bit of space.

A new Personal Best category for me on Garmin Connect

I walked very slowly back to the hotel room - my legs were completely ruined. Mrs arrived about 20 minutes after me, similarly broken. She had gone off too fast and had a tough second half. She came in with a great time though of around 4:23 - she was aiming for under 4:30. Objectives achieved.

First thing is first - pub for my second lager of the year!

We were both hurting far more than we thought we would. I swear I wasn't this broken after Wales Ironman in 2012, and Mrs has felt better after ultra-marathons! We think there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it's fast, flat, and all on smooth concrete. This means every step is exactly the same - very little variation. Exactly the same movement over and over again, this is bound to break you down. Secondly, marathons are hard! You have to get your pace right from the start - and if you don't there can be a really long way left to run.

Grant was absolutely right!

I've heard so many times that the marathon really starts at 20 miles, or even 22. I now understand why. When it falls apart it happens so quickly, there's no gradual decline here! So what happened? Was my pacing wrong? Was it food? Did I get dehydrated? Was I not strong enough?

My heart rate plot tells a story - it looks like there are step changes upwards at about 40 minutes, and 80 minutes. I then stay roughly at the same level until around 2 hours and 50 minutes - when it started getting hard.

Heart rate plot - pleased my final 2km effort actually registered!

This corresponds to changing temperature - it was certainly getting warmer. It may also be nutrition or hydration - I wouldn't expect those to have any effect for a few hours though, so maybe contributory factors in my drop off? Maybe I should have eaten and drunk more right from the start. On the same day MPHinLondon, who is also on a high-fat and low-carb diet, ran the London Marathon and took a gel every 5 miles starting from mile 5 (and he ran 2:58!) - though he did experiment with carb loading ahead of the race too.

There's clearly lots of experimentation to follow, but this is only my first after all.

In the last 5 days my mind has already gone form "never again, I've done one now, nothing to prove" to "hmm, I wonder which one to do next spring - or maybe in the autumn". Seems just like triathlon, this sport could get addictive!

Now, about that original target of three hours and thirty minutes...

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!