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.


  1. I'm not sure I will be "competing" in the Dorset half.....struggling to survive is much more likely :)
    Good luck with your first ultra!

    1. Ha - thanks Kat, not sure how much "competing" I'll be doing either to be honest, more looking forward to a drink afterwards...!

    2. I'll probably get pulled at the "marathon" finish again anyway. I'm pretty sure I won't make the cutoff for the jaunt through town and out onto the 10km loop.