Sunday, 5 October 2014

Race report: Round Ripon Ultra 35

We were due to make a tactical strike on The North this weekend, with a trip up to Yorkshire for the Go Beyond Ultra Round Ripon Ultra 35 mile trail marathon. This is my first attempt beyond marathon distance, my first trail race, and my first race with any kind of navigating - what could possibly go wrong?

I’ve been very busy at work lately, so haven’t had much time to go through the process of working out what I needed to take and wear - therefore, like a good triathlete, I took everything.

What I wore

What I carried

In the bag for putting on at the end

We stayed on a working farm called Mallard Grange, delightful but impossible for taxi drivers to find. There was a selection of semi-wild farm cats and kittens roaming around. Wherever you were, there were little reflective eyes keeping tabs on you form some dark corner.

Peahens from the farm next door

Busyness has also meant training hasn’t been the best lately - I have been running relatively regularly, but not the long runs I needed to build up for this race, so I was a bit nervous - but excited nonetheless. I’ve supported Mrs in a few trail races and they look like fun, I was keen to be trying it first hand.

Let me correct that for you: "Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, parkrun founder"

Saturday 4th October was also the 10th anniversary of the first parkrun event. I was pleased to catch a segment on BBC Breakfast that had been recorded at Bedfont Lakes parkrun a few weeks previously. 

Little kittens like these are scattered all over the place

Maggie, the lady of the farm who managed the B&B, kindly gave us a lift the mile and a half or so down to the village hall in sniggeringly named Studley Roger where start and finish was. The route is a loop but does not, as the name implies, circumnavigate Ripon but passes through Ripon in the first few miles before taking a wide circuit around the local area.

Ready for the off

It was very low key, no fanfare. A starting inflatable was erected a few minutes before the off. We had a race briefing in the hall. The main message was that although it was due to rain all day (the weather forecast we’d caught in the morning was ominous) it shouldn’t get muddy as it has been fair weather for so long in the area. The fresh rain will just sit on the hard ground. Good news - running through mud is very tiring!

There were around 80 entrants, with 20 DNS (did not start) - so numbers were down on the 100 or so of last year. We set off on the dot of 9am, just as parkruns all over the country were starting.

Milling about waiting for the race briefing

We set off at a fair clip, but not too fast. My Achilles tendons were a bit achy - seems to take them a while to warm up these days - I’d forgotten to do any mobilisation exercises before starting. Never mind, plenty of time to warmup whilst running. The rain was falling very lightly, nothing yet like the downpour we were fearing.

A few minutes until race start

Mrs had elected to run with me, which I greatly appreciated, though she was clearly having difficulty holding her pace back to stay with me - she’s got so fast these days! We got through Ripon quickly and headed out into the countryside.

My view for most of the day - she's so fast these days!

I really enjoyed running on trails - much more interesting than roads, and the time flew past. We quickly got to CP1 (checkpoint 1) and as neither of us were hungry or needed to refill our water, we ran through - making about 5 places in the process. Mrs learned at Rowbotham's Round Rotherham Ultra last year it’s too easy to lose time at checkpoints, and that time adds up really quickly. We weren’t out for a target time, we just wanted to finish within the 10-hour cut off, but there’s still no point hanging around for the sake of it.

CP1 - there was cake! We pushed on through though, barely warmed up!

We’d elected to run 8 minutes, walk 2, with extra walking up hills and extra running down hills. This was a tactic we’d employed at the Wales marathon in July, and in a couple of training runs since, and it works well.

The route was really enjoyable and had so much variety. Wide stony paths, narrow twisty trails, across fields, through forests, and down by a river. One section in particular through a forest was great fun - I’d never been on a run like this before, it was great fun and we weren’t doing too badly for pace.

Near the end of the forest section - up the stairs or not? (we chose "not")

Towards CP2 I was starting to get a bit grouchy - although I was enjoying it my legs were complaining. I think the sheer variety of surfaces was making me more tired than I’d expected. CP2 arrived and we refilled water - I felt happier and we set off.

Very soon though I started to feel a pain around my left knee - a very familiar pain! I’ve been here before and there’s only so long you can push on for. It started to complain about any rise, and descending wasn’t much easier. I’d make it to the next checkpoint, but there I would have to pull out.

CP3, where we unfortunately called it a day

Mrs stopped with me, which was really nice of her, and we chatted to the support crew and went for a coffee in the posh café of the Bivouac "glamping" site where the checkpoint was.

A welcome coffee in the warm

Chris, chairman of Ripon Runners, was helping out at the checkpoint and offered to drive us back to the start to collect our bags, then back to where we were staying.

Elevation and pace for the first 20 miles

It wasn’t the day I’d hoped for, but I still covered 20 miles in about 4 hours. If it was a marathon I’d have pushed on for the last 6, but I didn’t feel I could make it 15 without hurting myself more and possibly more seriously. As it is today (the day after) it’s a bit twingy, but will recover quickly.

Not quite round Ripon...!

Before attempting a race like this again, and I certainly will be trying it again, I need to make sure I’ve done some more specific (hilly, trails) training. I don’t think my problem is general strength or fitness, I just need to be a bit more targeted. My legs have never been so strong, thanks to the boys from The Athletic Edge, but when every step is different to the one before due to the terrain you need to be ready for it.

A hearty day-after breakfast - this went down very well I can tell you!

See you next year, Bob the farm cat

Monday, 25 August 2014

Reality check

The plan has changed quite a lot lately. I have a new job, started two months ago, and it takes a lot of mental energy. It's an amazing role, I love it, but I'd forgotten how it felt to be really pushed at work and have to actually think hard. And how much that takes out of you. I was getting more and more tired, and something had to give.

Removing as much pressure as I can

Swimming was the first casualty - and being allergic to whatever they put in the pool near work didn't help much. Long sessions were the next. I signed up to The Tri Life's 12 week plan for Wales Ironman - the sessions during the week went well, but come the weekend I simply didn't want to spend 5+ hours cycling on Saturday, and hours running and swimming on Sunday. So I followed my own advice - if you're not enjoying the training and it's putting you under unnecessary self-inflicted pressure - then stop doing it. So I stopped doing it.

Next I took a long look at the races I was doing. I just didn't want to be getting up at 3am to drive somewhere to race right now, I didn't want the pressure of knowing my bike wasn't perfect and needed some work but day after day passed without me getting round to it and it was making me more and more stressed, and I didn't want the pressure of being out on the course thinking "I haven't done enough training". So I pulled out of a lot of events, viewing it as a positive decision. It was worth it in part just to get a good lie-in!

Smashing out a 10s max effort sprint on the Air bike - 10 seconds has never felt so long

Since then I'm freewheeling - hitting The Athletic Edge gym twice per week like clockwork - that's never felt like a chore, and then just running and cycling as I feel like it. And there's now so much less pressure on me, I feel I have the mental energy to get up on Saturday morning, get on my bike, and cycle to parkrun. This is great, I love parkrun, and was pressuring myself even more for missing them week after week.

I pulled out of the Human Race swim series events I was entered into (Windsor, Hampton Court and Marlow), and I skipped the London Triathlon and Ride 100. The biggest decision was to pull out of Ironman Wales though - there's no way I can wing it round a full Ironman without some good training under my belt.

I didn't pull out of everything though...

8th June - Blenheim Triathlon

Mrs always has Blenheim on the calendar - this year I joined her. I've done it before, a few years ago, so I knew what I was in for. We were off Sunday morning in a mixed sprint wave.

Once again, "cat" was a mandatory item in the kit list

I swam with measured effort, just about held my line. The run up from the lake to transition is a good couple of hundred metres, mostly uphill.

I was planning to go hell for leather on the bike, so I pushed hard from the first pedal revolution. I flew past people all round my three laps, staying on the tri-bars as much as I could.

Legs took a while to get going on the run, but I made as much use of the downhills as I could (no one ever pushes down hill!) and flew past people. Normally I get streams of people overtaking me in the run, but my performance was better this time (or the competition was weaker!). I pulled out a hard run down the final straight to finish in 1:27:07.

A pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei at the end - lovely stuff

Compared to last time I raced the event:

I took 8 minutes off 2011's time. My cycling was strong in 2011 so I'm pleased to have knocked almost a minute per lap off that performance.

15th June - Ironman 70.3 UK

Mrs and I went down to Exmoor a few weeks before race weekend. She had already decided not to compete, focussing on ultra marathon running instead. We had a terrible training weekend - it was freezing cold and we suffered torrential rain. We managed two laps of the bike course, one Saturday and one Sunday, but I had to do it all on my TT bike (the very first thing that happened was I snapped my seat clamp bolt on my road bike - thankfully I'd brought both bikes!). We should learn that these "training weekends" never work out - I'm not sure why, maybe we don't prepare well enough, or aren't disciplined enough when we get there. Maybe we're just tired from the day job during the week.

Emergency crank swap to bring the TT bike into play... Good job I brought the toolbox

Race weekend came around though, and the weather was much better. My performance was quite poor. I swam well (felt strong, good lines, avoided too many fights) but not very fast. The bike was hard work - I benefitted from the training weekend in that I knew you hardly have to touch the brakes (appearances can be deceptive - there are some big downs but only one or two have corners at the bottom).

Nice piece of metal for the effort

The run was disastrous. Right from the start I couldn't get my legs turned over. Lack of structured training meant very few brick runs so my legs just weren't up for running after that long in the saddle. Lots of walking happened. Got a nice medal for it though, even if it did take forever for me to finally get round in 6:48:35.

Nearly two minutes down in the swim, twelve on the bike, and a massive twenty one slower in the run! Not my finest hour or seven. Let's move on...

11th to 13th July - The Long Course Weekend

I've known about the Long Course Weekend for a few years - it's a three-day event with The Wales Swim on Friday night, The Wales Sportive on Saturday, and then The Wales Marathon on Sunday. It's the same swim and bike course as Ironman Wales, but thankfully a much more interesting one-lap marathon course.

I went down during the day Friday, Mrs was joining me on Saturday. In short, I rocked the swim. I have no idea how I went so fast, but I completed the 3.8km course (which I measured at 4.00km) in 1:02 - taking 7 minutes off my time from Ironman Wales in 2012. Favourable conditions, a bit more open water experience, no freaking out, or a very helpful tide - I don't know what the reason for that performance was, but I'll take it! Probably my lifetime best time for an Ironman distance swim.

The sportive was horrible from start to finish. It was drizzling when I approached the queue for the start, then we were held for ages as the top 20 long course weekend contenders went off one by one (there's a competition to be fastest over the three days). It then rained for the first 20 miles. Drizzled for the next 20. Hazy mist with outbreaks of rain for the mid-section of 60 miles. And then good old rain for the last 18 miles. 118 damp miles completed. Bike a rusty wreck, me an aching wreck. Much slower than in the Wales Ironman race too, but I was doing it on my road bike - sportives don't normally allow time trial bikes (though as I learned afterwards, this one did...).

The medals from each event stacked together, with a front one for completing all three

But it wasn't all for nothing - I was trying for the first time a real "mind over matter' nutrition strategy. I took a couple of snack-sized pork pies, some strips of dried bacon, and a handful of full fat BabyBel cheeses. I was going for low-carb fat-fuelled endurance, and it worked. I think it's the longest I've ever spent in the saddle in one go, and I didn't "bonk" at all, I didn't feel drained or like I'd run out of energy - it was just a very very long damp day. The day was worth it just for this piece of learning, I'll be (and have been since) much more confident about completely dropping the crutch of needing a couple of gels or energy bars in my bike jersey "just in case" now.

The marathon was another learning experience. I decided to run 9 minutes and walk every tenth. Run/walk as a strategy is well known for helping you go further, and I've never tried it before. I maintained fairly constant pace round the whole course, and really enjoyed the day. The weather had cleared up and was lovely and sunny, Mrs ran with me (or was in sight up the road) for most of the race, and she waited for me at 24 miles so we could finish together. We put in a big old sprint at the end and came in a few seconds under 5 hours. Number of stand-alone marathons completed now equals two.

I enjoyed the format of the weekend, I'd certainly consider doing it again - and the Wales marathon course is gorgeous. The medals are pretty sweet too - four that combine into a single one (be better if they actually clipped together though).

The rest of the year

Lots of parkrun, I love parkrun and I've really missed it lately. I cycled to Woking inaugural last week and across to Dartford and back this week. I'm enjoying planning out my next few events too. There are a few inaugurals coming up I'd like to make it to, and I'm on 90 different courses, so I should be able to get to 100 in the next few months. I'm also just 11 events away from having completed every one within the M25 (known as "LonDone" in parkrun parlance), so that's a 2014 target too.

11 events to go (the red ones) before I'm LonDone

I used to enjoy the Innovation Sports Clapham Common series, so I'll consider taking in the last two of the year - next weekend, 31st August, and then 12th October. Mrs isn't doing Rowbotham's Round Rotherham 50 mile ultra marathon this year, instead at around the same time she's doing the Go Beyond Ultra Round Ripon 35 mile race instead. I've decided it's high time I lost my ultra cherry, so I've signed up for that too. Unfortunately it's on the 4th October which is the 10th anniversary of parkrun, so I'll miss the big Bushy Park event - instead I'll be running on trails for 8 hours with my wife which I'm really really looking forward to, we've been talking about doing an ultra together ever since she started doing them at the start of 2013.

Mrs did the Endurance Life CTS (Coastal Trail Series) event in Dorset last year - it's insane with crazy amounts of accumulated height. She's entered the ultra again this year, I am not ready for that kind of challenge, so I entered the half-marathon distance, which is still bonkers. Looking forward to that one as Louise (@abradypus), Kat (@IAmKat) and her partner Jools are competing too - should be a good laugh.

The position after Richard worked his magic

I did manage to find time to finally get to Freespeed London for a bike fit from the ever friendly Richard Melik. If you need a bike fit you should get down there.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Mallorca

Hola, bienvenido a Mallorca!

It's Ironman MC Paul Kaye's fault we're here. We were talking at the awards ceremony after IM 70.3 Zell am See/Kaprun last year and discussing the races we'd be doing this year - "Hey why don't you start off in Mallorca, lovely weather and a nice early-season sharpener!" (or something like that). Before we knew it, we'd signed up. And then in no time at all it was here.

We spent the weekend before the race crewing for Louise in the Centurion Running Thames Path 100, a 100 mile running race up the Thames Path from Richmond to Oxford (just seeing it written down looks insane). Louise and that experience deserves more than a footnote here, so I'll post about that later.

No Dexter, you can't come to Spain, you have to go to "kitty hotel"

Mrs and I packed hastily and tiredly on Sunday night, and set off Monday morning to London City Airport. Thankfully it was a bank holiday and very quiet on the underground - bike boxes are large, and great fun on escalators. Coming back it'll be Monday rush hour - can't wait!

My favourite timesheet entries

This is not a rush-hour train

We're off!

Plans to spend the week training hard up to and through the race (not tapering specifically for it, or being too concerned about not feeling fresh) evaporated in the heat, wine, an relaxing atmosphere of Port d'Alcudia, host town for the Ironman 70.3 Mallorca. We went out for a lap of the bike course, had a few swims (particularly sea swims in our wetsuits), and I went for one run - a sweaty 10km out and back to see what the run course terrain was like (very flat). Not the heavy training week I had in mind, but a nice relaxing time that I certainly don't regret. This is by no means an a-race, I won't beat myself up about less than perfect preparation at this stage.

A meal on our terrace (yes, I know it looks like breakfast, no we weren't having wine for breakfast)

When we arrived on Monday afternoon there was no sign of there being a race the following weekend. Sure, there were a lot bikes around, but Mallorca is big for cyclists so I expect that's as normal. During the week the excitement built as the Ironman show came to town. Big Ironman trucks, miles of barriers, and more miles of blue carpet that ran the length of the longest transition I've ever seen. With more than 3,500 athletes taking part, this is Ironman 70.3 racing at scale.

Lots of people out to check out the bike course a few days before the race

Bike-friendly petrol station and café

Very high with a glorious sequence of switchbacks to get back down

Unfortunately, Mrs took a pretty bad tumble in transition the day before the race and hurt her knee pretty badly - it immediately swelled up and went purple - for a while we though she'd broken it. She was destined not to start the race, so it was up to me to get team Driskell on the score sheet.

All registered!

Expo on the beach - it's a totally different atmosphere in this kind of climate

A little retail therapy!

"Hello, yes, your two truckloads of Ironman have arrived"

Building the longest transition I've ever seen

Let no trade mark remain uninfringed!

The day before I racked up my bike. It wasn't a "clean" transition, so we were permitted to leave he;mets and race numbers on the bikes. This is unusual in my experience, maybe because all the other races I've done have been in windy places where it's a near-miracle if your bike hasn't blown away over night, never mind anything left resting on it!

See you tomorrow! (check out the beautiful BMC TM01 on the left *swoon*)

This is what a 3,500+ bike transition looks like

We were staying at a hotel very near the start so race day morning was pretty low stress - particularly with only one of us racing. We walked down to the beach and I popped into the sea to acclimatise. I've suffered from panics in the swim before so I'd been practising running down the beck into the sea during the week. The panics always clear in a few minutes, but it takes time and is very unpleasant. The worst I've experienced was at IM Wales in 2012 which was admittedly my fault (why I thought "run in from the front" was a good idea I'll never know), but was a highly unpleasant experience none the less. I also freaked out in the London Triathlon last year, and IM 70.3 Zell am See. I'm convinced it's nothing but a lack of experience and confidence, so we spent a fair amount of time earlier in the week practising starts.

Off for a practice swim

Mrs on the beach

Contents of my white bag, for before and after the race

My BFFs on race day

The swim: 0:33:28

During my warmup I watched the pro waves start, and then the big wave with all the female age groupers - more than 600 of them, a seemingly never ending stream of pink swim caps. Feeling relaxed, I went to the assembly area to await my start. M35-39 is the biggest group in this race so we had our own start wave. I had decided to start at the back on the left to give myself as much room as I could to relax at the start. I never get panicked once I'm going, it's just something that has happened after 15-30 seconds of swimming. Once it's cleared which takes what feels like an age but is probably only one or two minutes and I relax, I find my rhythm again.

Swim course was a nice easy single loop

The gun sounded and we were off. I walked down into the water to try and keep my heart rate from spiking with excitement and effort of running through the shallows in a wetsuit (maybe a contributing factor to panics?) and jumped in. Massive props to Mrs for teaching me how to running-jump into the water, it make a big difference to enter cleanly and without slowing down much. It was busy, but I had some room to myself to settle in. No rising panic, good news. I gradually turned on the power as I got more comfortable and started overtaking people. This is the most frustrating thing, once I get going I'm reasonably fast, but to avoid freaking out (or to take the time to recover if I have) I always start at the very back and have to battle through people. I need to make it a priority to get as much open water experience as I can in training this year.

Hitting the "lap" button at swim exit

I had a good swim out without much contact, got a little bit bashed round the turn buoys but that's normal in a big group. The return leg was a bit rougher as I got caught in a bit of a pack and couldn't get through. My group swimming sills are poor, something to work on. Still, it could have been worse, I saw one poor chap disappear at right angles to everyone else, off to the other side of the bay being frantically chased by a marshall in a kayak. There's always someone cocking it up worse than you, and I'm pretty sure I've been that guy in the past!

I was making an effort to sight every 3rd breath and I'm fairly sure it paid off, I swam in a straighter line than normal. I have an annoying tendency to drift to the right if I don't sight frequently. I ended up setting a new personal best for a 70.3 swim, so I'm certainly happy with that.

Transition 1 (Swim to Bike): 0:07:21

T1 was good, normally I find my heart rate goes through the roof after swim exit and I can barely walk never mind run, but this time I jogged at a respectable pace all the way up the beach, grabbing my blue bag, and into the change tent. Often I lose many tens of places here, but not today. Hopefully I can do the same at IM 70.3 UK in five weeks.

The blue bike bag for T1 (helmet, glasses and race number were all mounted on my bike)

I took the time to put socks on, not really for the bike but more to protect from blisters on the run. Stuffed a couple of gels in my pocket, and ran off to fetch my bike - it was a good three-quarters of the way down transition, and took an age to get there. As I was on my road bike I couldn't clip my shoes to the bike in advance so I had the added annoyance of running in my road-bike shoes.

Transition, measured by my Garmin, at a little over 400m from end to end!

The bike: 03:19:09

Seeing as it was supposed to be a training week I'd decided to bring my road bike rather than my triathlon time-trial bike (tri-bike). I should have realised that as soon as I was in a race I would want to race with any thoughts of "it's just a training ride" going straight out the window. Therefore, I regretted my bike choice almost immediately.

In the first few kilometres I overtook a host of people from the wave before, all on their swanky tri-bikes and my on my creaky old Fuji road bike. Within the first 20km I realised that riding so long on the dropped handlebars with little variation in power and cadence was going to wreck my hip flexors. You don't get the same amount of leg extension on a road bike as you do a tri-bike, and the leg and bum muscles are engaged differently. Not changing position much wasn't helping.

The one-lap course is in toughly four sections. A 20km flat start, a 10km sequence of climbs, 15km back down again, and then the second 45km half on the level with just the odd pimple to shave off a little momentum.

Looking happy on the bike

With over 3,500 bikes hitting the circuit over the course of an hour and a half there was bound to be some congestion. It was virtually impossible to get the right distance away from everyone. The draft-busting motorbikes tried their best, but it's kind of pointless - you're almost permanently in a position of overtaking or being overtaken, and the differences in speed are often so small that packs naturally form, particularly on uphills. I don't know what the solution is - enter smaller races or try not to be hacked off by the ones doing it deliberately (and, as always, there were many of those).

The big climb came - I knew what I was in for having ridden the course on Tuesday. It felt harder today, I was slow and many many people overtook me. It didn't help that in first gear my derailleur was clicking against my spokes. Minus ten points for bike prep. Looking back I don't remember buckling down and trying hard to get up the hill quickly, I just rode up the hill. Maybe that's why I lost so much ground, I wasn't trying hard enough?

Pretty tired here, this was in the final kilometre

At the top I had one of the two gels I had planned, and set off on the descent. It turns out Team Freespeed's Sam Baxter and his friend Tom Babbington were at at the top cheering people on - I didn't see them, but they saw me. "You didn't look very happy!" was their comment. "I didn't feel very happy!" was my response.

The downhill was a lot of fun, I recharged my legs and made up quite a lot of places through understanding how to go round switchbacks. Some really very poor bike handling was on display from some of my fellow athletes. One poor guy crashed on the first corner of the descent - imagine putting all the effort in to get to the top, and then not getting to enjoy the downhill. Bummer.

My legs were feeling pretty tired as I passed 60km and had my second gel. The last third of the course is flat, some on wide main roads. Riding the course on Tuesday I didn't enjoy this bit as we were into a headwind, but today there was a nice tailwind so we all spun along at high speed in a high gear. As the faster athletes from the waves behind flew past me I again lamented not bringing my tri-bike. My legs were not happy, I knew I could and should be going faster, but being cramped up on the drops for over two hours now was taking its toll.

One-lap bike course...

...with one big hill in it!

Team Freespeed's Matt Malloy passed me at 63km. His wave went off 50 minutes behind mine! I expected to see him, but not quite so quickly. He's a totally monster on the bike, but I shouldn't have been this easy to catch. Turning off the main road we had a few kilometres into the wind now, and my hip flexors were screaming. I tried different grips, sat forward or backward on my seat, but nothing helped - they were just fried from trying to ride my road bike like a time trial bike. I slowed considerably and lost a lot of time (and places) in this section.

Thankfully the last 15km was back with the slight tailwind and I cruised back into transition knowing it could have gone a lot worse. The opportunity to recharge my legs a bit was welcome, but I wasn't sad to get off the bike.

Off the bike and into transition

I had previously decided to ride my road bike at Ironman 70.3 UK too, this experience has made me reconsider. I'm going to ride the course in a couple of weekend's time - I may take both bikes and see what the difference is. Last time I rode that course I had a bit of a crap time - but that was due to some mechanical troubles, lack of experience, and picking stupid carbon rims that made stopping a nightmare experience!

Transition 2 (Bike to Run): 0:05:34

Pleased to finally get off the bike I jogged back all the way to the change tent. I cursed leaving my shoes on rather than leaving them on the bike - running in socks would have been much faster! T2 is always uneventful, helmet off, gloves off, running shoes and cap on, turn your number belt round, don't lose your sunglasses.

The red run bag for T2

Being a bit concerned about the heat and possible chafing I decided to try some Sailfish lube I got at the expo. It goes on like roller-ball deodorant - I liberally applied it under my arms, and where the seams on my top were. Not much worse than running in the sun with armpit chafing-pain!

The run: 02:22:30

In short, my run was terrible. I'd rather have done another lap of the bike course (and that's saying something).

By the time I got on the course it was well over 30C and climbing by the minute. In retrospect I think my problem was that I never actually started running - I set off at a shuffle and didn't try hard enough to get my legs and rhythm into a proper run. My kilometre splits quickly dropped to 6:30 and then 7:00 as I made my way round the three-lap half-marathon course.

Apart from at aid stations where I topped up with water and wet sponges I resisted the urge to walk. I felt I needed a boost so took to drinking a small cup of cola at each aid station. Sometimes this was straight from the fridge, a most welcome surprise when it happened.

Let's be honest, this isn't really running...

I got some more encouragement from Sam out on the course (I noticed him this time), and managed to see Mrs once too. I lost hundreds of places; everyone was running faster than me. I think it was a combination of heat and poor mental strength. My learning from this going to IM 70.3 UK in five weeks' time is that I have to be mentally stronger and force myself to actually running, otherwise I'll never get there. It's easy to say now "I could have run if only I'd tried", but I really do feel that's the case.

I finished in a new PW (personal worst) for a 70.3 run, but it was by far the hottest half marathon I've ever completed. My shoulders burned a bit despite factor 30 sun cream. I should have made better provision to cover myself up - I'm fairly sure that didn't help either.

At last!

It was a relief to end the shuffle-fest and cross the line - I tried to look happy for the camera, but I'm not sure it worked. Mrs met me at the end, she still had her athlete wristband on so was able to meet me in the recovery area. I was finding the noise and crowd a bit disorienting, so we made our way out and got an ice cream. Ice cream fixes everything!


Overall: 06:28:02

It wasn't a race I was aiming for, it was a bit of fun in the sun. I had a confidence-boosting swim, learned a bit on the bike, and didn't enjoy the run. Although I'm disappointed with my overall time, a personal worst at the distance, I have to look objectively at the day. A bit of race experience when it's been a long time since I've raced, and a week in the sun relaxing with the Mrs.

On the beach afterwards, with a hoodie from Mrs to protect my burny bits!

"What's that? Time for a glass of vino, you say?!"

Party time!

In the evening we had dinner with some of the Black Line London crew. I've loosely known a couple of them via Twitter, but it was great to put some faces to names and meet some new people - they're a good bunch, say hi if you get the chance. Following that I drank heavily at their after-party, the Black Line London race day cocktail helped take the edge off!

As always, the post-race glow has now hit me hard and I'm already wanting to come back next year - but this is precisely what I said I wouldn't do, sign up for races a year in advance and lock myself into a schedule! Maybe one little 70.3 would be OK? I know that with better prep and mental toughness I can go so much faster, easily an hour quicker on this course. I feel that IM 70.3 Galway in 2012 is the only 70.3 where I've really put the effort in on the day and finished knowing I couldn't have gone any faster - I even took ten minutes off my previous half-marathon PB. This is going to be my mission for IM 70.3 UK in June - to really try hard and give it everything.

Before that though is the Blenheim Triathlon in a month. I'm looking forward to a sprint, it's been a long time since I've "left it all out there" in a sprint distance race. I'd better go dust off the tri-bike for that one.

This is a very hard way to get new jewellery and clothing