Wednesday 25 September 2013

Holiday! 3-2-1 pacing session

I joined Mrs on one of her pacing sessions yesterday. It's a fairly well established format, in fact there was an article on Triathlete Europe recently (that I can't find now, unfortunately) covering the principle.

This session was a warm-up of 15 mins easy jog, then 5 repeats of 3 minutes at half marathon pace, 2 minutes at 10km pace, and 1 minute at 5km pace. No rest. After that, a 10 minute cool down. I looked on google maps satellite view to try and find somewhere flat - this is not a session to do up and down hills.

Flatish park, bit of a dip down at the South corner

I took some guesses based on recent performances that a realistic target half marathon pace is 5:30/km, 10km pace is around 5:00/km, and 5km pace a speedy (for me) 4:30/km. A bit hopeful maybe, but the session is about awareness - there should be a measurable change in speed with each stretch.

The first good news is that there was a clear difference in my pace.

Pace in each segment plotted across the 5 repeats

However, I was generally slower than I was aiming for. Whether this is due to poor pace awareness or not setting realistic goal paces is the question. Right now, I suspect a bit of both. The number of right angles in the course we were following wouldn't have helped either.

Half-marathon target pace, and actual pace with trend line

10km target pace, and actual pace with trend line

5km target pace, and actual pace with trend line

It didn't help that the park I found wasn't entirely flat, there were some gentle hills - but I can't really fall on that too much as an excuse. The trend lines tell the story - I was generally slowing down - apart from the 5km sections where it felt like I was going to vomit up a lung.

The repeats are clearly visible - peak at 175bpm on rep 5

An interesting experiment. I will repeat this session regularly until I can more accurately gauge and sustain paces - it's an incredibly useful skill to develop.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Holiday! Race report: Malmesbury half marathon

Wait, what? "Holiday" and "Race report"? Well it's like this...

A long-ish slow-ish run was on the cards for today, but we don't know the area. So last night I looked around on t'Internet for some trail run routes. I stumbled across the Frome Running Club site (they've been running since 1981, apparently - I'm assuming not continuously). On their site I'm pretty sure there was a link to the Malmesbury Half Marathon page - though oddly I can't find it now. Local half, £20 quid on the day, a bit hilly and pretty countryside. Perfect. It was decided. So we drank two bottles of wine, I bought an iPhone (drunken purchase and a half), and turned in for the night.

I think we arrived first - for a local race the facilities were surprisingly good

Up at 6.30am (on a Sunday? We are on holiday, right? Yes? OK just checking) and off to Malmesbury. Uneventful drive apart from the bit where I drove down a road too narrow for the car and had to reverse back up a steep hill with pointy walls on each side, trying to keep it together while Mrs did a saintly job of directing me. Learned that my car far prefers going forwards, and also that burning clutch is quite an unpleasant smell.

Pretty sure I could have got through this, actually (maybe...)

This is significantly steeper, narrower, and harder to get up in reverse than it looks here

I was going to try the run fasted (like yesterday) but the bacon smell from the refreshments booth was far too hard to resist. One bacon roll each, and a pretty good cup of filter coffee.

The start was up in the town, so after a brief race briefing we were led up en masse. The Mayor of somewhere started the fun, and with a "Go!" we were off.

Mrs and I had vaguely discussed a race plan. Firstly: It's not a pedal-to-the-metal race, it's a training run. We're not out to kill ourselves, so take it easy. Secondly: A negative split would be nice (covering the second half of the race in less time than the first half). Finally: Try and keep at around 6min/km, maybe a little below.

As we set off the tide of other runners all ran away from us. This is normal, everyone starts too fast - it's hard not to get carried away. We were a little too conservative on the second km and picked it up a little bit. We passed the 10km timer at 59:29 - under an hour is fine. Good pace. It's unfortunate the "mid-point" timing mat was on the 10km line, the 10.55km point would have been better (a half marathon being 13.1 miles, or 21.1km).

I definitely ramped it up in the second half

We'd already regained some places - the middle of the race is when most people of similar ability are at an equal pace, though the ones who really went out hard are starting to slow already. At about 8 miles she got a move on and started pulling away - can't let that happen! From there on we just got faster and faster. As everyone was slowing down, we were getting faster. I pulled her back and ran with her again - we felt good! Strong! This is fun!

Mrs pulled away again with a couple of km left, I worked hard to hang on - she was flying! I finally caught her again as we got back into Malmesbury. I had a good rhythm so pushed on past, opening up a small lead to the finish.

I finished in in 02:02:44 for 174th place (of 248 starters and 243 finishers), 126th man (of 153) and 48th in my age group (an unusually wide group, M 20-39). The results put me in 202nd place at the 10km mark, so I ran up 28 places in the final 11.1km - no the results don't set the world on fire, and it's a long way from my 1:40:30 PB - but for a spontaneous post-injury training run, I'm happy with that!

Pace over each 5km stretch was:

  • Start to 5km - 29:25
  • 5km to 10km - 30:10
  • 10km to 15km - 29:50
  • 15km to 20km - 28:28
  • 20km to Finish - 24:19 (scaled to give 5km pace)

This gives a great negative split of 3:36 (using my Garmin data to making some estimates about where the middle is):

  • First half: 63:10
  • Second half: 59:34

A handshake from the Mayor, an unexpected finishers' medal, some sneaky cake and a glorious cup of tea, and we were done. Very happy indeed with that spontaneous little outing.

Unexpected bling!

Malmesbury was lovely. Friendly people, pretty village, and a beautiful half marathon route. It's the second year the race has been held (was 6C and a thunderstorm last year apparently!) and I'm sure it'll become a regular fixture on the local athletics calendar.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Holiday! Southwick Country Park parkrun

Me and Mrs are on jollydays this week. We've come to Frome (apparently pronounced Froome, as in Chris) in Somerset to relax (although somewhat predictably the car was mainly full of bicycles, shoes, and sports clothing).

We drove down after work yesterday and today was our first full day - it's Saturday, and that means parkrun day. The nearest parkrun is Southwick Country Park parkrun, a 30 minute bike ride from where we're staying. Up and off, slightly foggy head after an unexpectedly good meal and wine at The Archangel (we'll be back there for sure - incredible onion rings), and with google guided navigation chattering instructions from my chest pocket. We got there with 10-15 minutes to spare.

Today's Run Director, and overall Event Director, Sean Price came and introduced himself. He explained Southwick Country Park parkrun was just over two years old, and told us about the course route. When I said my home run was Wimbledon Common he remembered Abradypus coming down for their inaugural run (and he was right, she did!) - good memory, Sean! He also said he recognised my name from somewhere (uh-oh!) and knew about my blog. We talked about parkrun tourism a bit, I just love trying out different parkruns.

Today was my 79th parkrun and my 64th different course (including 26 inaugural events). Some people are far more accomplished parkrun tourists. There's a most events table, and I'm a long way from the top! Ordered by number of different events I'm languishing down in joint 26th place, but ordered by inaugurals attended I sit 9th.

The top 4 as listed by number of different events, the competition is hot at the top (I'm joint 26th)

The top 4 ordered by inaugural events attended (I'm 9th)

I'm not quite challenging for the title yet, but I'll keep plugging away

The run went very well. Mrs and I ran perfect 25-minute pacing for the first 3km (5:00, 4:57, 5:00) and then I wound it up a bit to cover km 4 in 4:42 and then km 5 in 4:36 (Garmin data here). This was my strongest and best managed performance since injury. With an official time of 24:27 I ran faster last week at Southwark in 23:36 (but I measured that as 120m short, so I was on 24:12 5km pace really) but had it all on the line in terms of effort, I was far more comfortable this week.

We cycled there (and back) and ran "fasted" (no food, only water and black coffee). Fasted sessions encourage your body to burn fat as a fuel rather than relying on carbohydrate stores. I was very pleased that I felt no loss of energy throughout the morning - I must go and get myself tested at some point. Mrs did it recently - her blog on it is a fascinating read.

A happy café stuffed full of happy parkrunners - just how it should be on parkrunday

£2 for toast'n'tea? A pleasant change from London prices!

After the run we enjoyed a cuppa at the wonderful little café. There's a really strong sense of community at this parkrun - lots of encouragement (it's always a good sign when the early finishers stay around to clap everyone else in).

The only parkrun with its own statue: L to R - Me, Sean, Mrs, and Forrest

I asked Sean if Danny Norman (presenter of The parkrun Show podcast) had been down, but although he's been invited a few times he's yet to get here - come on Danny, I think you'd love the community here!

Forrest has his own olympics inspired torch and his shape seems inspired by the London 2012 font

Thank you to Sean and the team, you made us feel very welcome indeed - particularly with the "come on, Wimbledon!" encouragement.

He represents the spirit of the parkrunner

This certainly have a wonderful parkrun, I look forward to running it again one day.

Friday 13 September 2013

Race Report: Valencia Triathlon

When Mrs won a competition to race and train with Team Freespeed for a season she also got entry into the London Triathlon. This is an annual event for Team Freespeed, and they generally perform very well (that’s a bit of an understatement!). We had an enjoyable weekend there, I really enjoyed the race, as did she, and we met most of the team and sponsors. I raced the Olympic Plus distance with some of the team and had a good day.

I thought that would be my only insight into what racing with a real team of high-performing age-group (amateur) athletes would be like, but quite unexpectedly she also received an invite courtesy of Virgin Active UK to fly out to Valencia with the team for a couple of days together with entry into the Valencia Triathlon – and I got to go too!

The weather in London would not be missed

That’s why, on a cool rainy Friday morning, we found ourselves shuffling the bike boxes around again on our way to another airport. We met up with Richard Melik, owner of Freespeed bike fitting company and team manager, his wife Jenny, their adorable twins Noah and Leo, Freespeed athlete Stuart Anderson and his wife Mette, (also the team’s administrator), David Risebrow and his wife Steph, and Nick Stocker who is Sponsorship and Partnership manager for Virgin Active UK and our liaison for the weekend. In the hotel we met up with a further Team Freespeed athlete Matt Malloy and his wife Helen. Quite a party!

No problem with bike boxes this week - they just popped out onto the carousel

The weather in Valencia was beautiful – we left Gatwick in 14C and a rain storm, we arrived to almost 30C and a perfect sunny day. After some fun trying to get all our bike boxes and luggage into taxis we checked into the hotel and strolled the 25 minutes or so down to the beach-front.

Plenty of room for bike boxes, not so much for passengers

A few of us went for a dip in the sea and pointed at jellyfish – a world apart from London!

That'll do nicely, thankyouverymuch

Saturday we took it easy – most of the team went out to look around the old town, but Mrs and I had a lazy day. We put our bikes together and cycled lazily down to the marina to see what was going on. The Valencia Triathlon is in its 4th year and spreads across the weekend with around 1,700 people racing each day. It was mainly sprint and super-sprint distance Saturday, with Olympic distance on Sunday. We were all racing on Sunday, but in different waves.

The expo area was small and quite crowded. We tried to register but it was too early. Bikes now confirmed as working, and circuit checked out, we headed back to the hotel for a nap (which accidentally turned into a good few hours sleep).

The whole group went back down at about 6pm to register. The queues for registration were short, but the queue for collecting timing chips was huge! It spiralled around the entire expo area, coiling in on itself confusingly. The queuing etiquette was distinctly non-British with much queue-jumping and pushing in! We had to rack our bikes but weren’t allowed to leave anything else in the transition area.

Queuing - Spanish style

Race day rolled around with a 6am alarm call, and we headed downstairs for breakfast. The hotel was serving from 6am, an hour and a half earlier than usual on a Sunday, due to all the athletes staying there who needed to get out early. Every competitor had to lay out their transition area out between 07:00 and 07:45 so regardless of which start wave we were in we all needed to go down at that time. I was the first of the group to go off at 08:20, with Dave Risebrow in the wave behind me at 08:30, so I didn’t have much standing around to do.

Road bike in transition for a change

I barely had time to take advantage of one of the very small number of portaloos before it was time to get in the start pen. For future reference: Avoid the portaloos at all costs. There are nowhere near enough of them and they aren’t cleaned or emptied between Saturday and Sunday. Not a joyful experience!

Couldn't ask for a better venue

The course is in a fantastic location with excellent access and viewing for spectators. Right in the heart of the Valencia Marina, it’s in the same location as the Formula 1 circuit. Mrs and I had been here before in 2010 for my birthday (the year MarkWebber tried to take off).

My wave collected in the start pen eagerly – let’s get going! A final briefing in Spanish that I didn’t understand a word of, and we were off down a ramp to plop into the water. I jumped in and set about acclimatising myself.
  • The swim, 1,500m, 28:20, 448th overall
I was understandably cautious going into the swim – I really didn’t want a repeat of last week’s freak-out in Austria, particularly with the Team Freespeed crew watching from the shore. The water was very warm so it was compulsory non-wetsuit. I’m not currently sure if my sudden panics are due to the cold water, wearing a wetsuit, the fact there are so many people around me, or something else. I positioned myself at the back and floated around a bit waiting for the off.

At 08:20 on the dot a gun sounded, and we were off. I decided I wanted to start slowly, be as calm and relaxed as I possibly could, and hope that I was OK. Thankfully there was no repeat of last week. I gradually wound up the effort over the first half of the 1,500m course, and by the far turn buoy I was moving up the field. I hadn’t looked at the course closely enough so wasn’t sure where the exit was, I relied on following a mid-pack group and trusting the collective sense of direction. That worked fairly well, and I even jumped a few gaps from group to group. One day I’ll learn to start hard without a panic-attack and my swim times will improve appreciably!

Wave all set and ready to go

The water was a perfect temperature. The high salt content made the swim very easy. There was a bit of jostling and a few periods of contact but in general the swimmers were considerate about their space. I’d expected a bit more of a bun-fight, so this was a nice turn-up. Towards the end we swam under the famous swinging bridge of the F1 circuit, and after an acute left turn round a final buoy I could see the red carpet of the exit ramp. I’d been jostling a guy for the last few minutes and decided I was going to beat him in the last 100m, so opened it up a bit and came out a couple of lengths ahead.

The bridge was "open" when the magic satellites took this photo

I’d had a little facebook banter with Mrs before hand about who would win the swim between us -  thanks mainly due to that push at the end I took the win in 28:20 compared to her 28:55. There must have been some current helping me somewhere as 28:20 is a huge PB for me over 1,500m. From memory I’ve broken 30 minutes just once before, and that was only by a couple of seconds.

I felt good coming out of the water and all fired up ready for some fun on the bike. A great start!
  • Transition 1 (Swim to Bike) 2:56
With no wetsuit to remove, T1 was uneventful. After picking up a blister on the run last week I decided to take the time to pop some socks on. As I was racing my road bike rather than my TT bike I didn’t have any loops on my shoes to attach them to the frame, so I had to put those on too and run out to the mount line in my cleats, clattering and skidding as I went.
  • The bike, 40km, 01:10:06, 391st
The bike course is four 10km loops that take in a few km of the Formula 1 circuit before branching off into the town, over a couple of bridges, through what looked like a disused car park, and then back onto the F1 circuit. The course was fairly flat, a few lumps and bumps with the only rises being over the bridges. The road surface was generally very good although there were some gratings, manhole covers, and at one point some sand to make the corners interesting. There were quite a few right-angled turns to keep it interesting.

A satellite view of the F1 course...

The most exciting thing is that this was a drafting race. Normally the bike component of a triathlon is non-drafting – this means you have to make sure there’s a certain minimum distance, normally 10m, between you and the bike in front with overtaking manoeuvres need to be completed within a time limit, typically 15 seconds to overtake and 15 seconds for the overtaken rider to drop back again.. This is why most triathlons are ridden on fast aerodynamic time-trial bikes. In a drafting race there are no such restrictions. Everyone rides road bikes and you can be as close as you like to the bike in front (therefore gaining an advantage by being in his slipstream), and if someone wants to sit on your wheel to get an advantage, they can do.

...and the bike route we followed

I shot off out of transition full of excitement; I’d really been looking forward to this. I immediately came across a couple of groups and decided they were going far too slowly for my liking, and shot past them looking for a pack going as fast as I wanted to go. I went round most of the first circuit alone, before getting into a group just before the start of the second.

Generally when you ride in a big pack it’s good form to take turns on the front. There’s no advantage in the front so it’s harder to keep the pace. With each rider taking a turn for a minute or two, the whole group can make better progress without tiring out. My turn came and I put some power down, I checked over my shoulder and I’d dropped the lot of them! Oops. They caught up and swallowed me up, then my turn came around again and the same thing happened! This probably wasn’t the right group for me.

Constant high heart rate all the way, check 40-50min - I finally got a drafting advantage!

I jumped off the front in search of some new friends to play with. For about 50% of the second lap I pushed hard. Racing on my road bike was great fun – it’s so much more nimble than my TT bike, and I feel a lot more comfortable flicking it about and through corners.

I found a new pack and had to work hard to stay in it – this was more like it. When my turn at the front came I couldn’t drop them this time, instead I put in some real effort and had a snake of about 20 people behind me for a quarter of a lap. Someone else took over and pushed hard. By the end of the third lap there were just 4 of us left, all working well together. Everyone else had slipped off the back. Loved it.

Kept my speed up, pace well under 2:00/km all the way through

Two of the remainder were from an earlier wave and so pulled off into transition at the end of the third lap. Me and my new friend pushed on for lap four, picking up a couple of stragglers along the way. We exchanged mutual respect statements and back slaps at the dismount into transition – I don’t think we had a common language (other than cycling).

This was my first experience in a drafting race and I absolutely loved it. You work yourself so hard that you can hardly breathe any more, and then get to recuperate by tucking into a pack, before taking up the reigns and doing it all over again – brilliant, I highly recommend it. I think you have to be strong on the bike though, and confident in a group - probably not for the feint-hearted.
  • T1 (Bike to Run) 2:35
Full of adrenaline and excitement I ran through T2 quite quickly. A change of shoes, a quick gel (High5 EnergyGel Plus caffeinated orange – tastes disgusting and metallic but I figured I needed a bit of a boost going into the run), and I was off again.
  • The run, 10km, 55:40, 1,039th
My run plan was simple: Firstly, try to run rather than shuffle along – it’s not an Ironman, you’ve only got to go 10km. Second, listen to my knee – if it even begins to hurt like last weekend, stop and stop immediately. This race was never planned; if I need to DNF to avoid an injury then I must do so. Thirdly, try and get in under an hour.

The run course was three laps round one side of the marina

The run course was a simple three-lap circuit with a lead-in from transition and a lovely finishing segment round the amazing building with the Mar de Bamboo restaurant in it. Today it was being used as a VIP bar area during the race – and at the F1 events it’s inside the circuit and very exclusive indeed. I tried to remember that I’m not “run fit” so I know my time will be slow in comparison with 10km PB performance, but let’s just see what happens.

This building is incredibly striking in the flesh - and much bigger than it looks here! (not my photo)

My legs felt surprisingly good after such a thrashing on the bike, and I set off at a healthy pace. The first km ticked over in 5:24, not bad. It’s now around 10am and the sun was firing up its afterburners. The temperature was rising sharply and some parts of the run course were very exposed with nowhere to hide. I had a bit of stomach discomfort in the first half, but I knew it would pass so pushed on through.

I was managing to stay under 6min/km and was comfortable with that. In the second half I even overtook a few people, a rarity! My solid consistent pacing was paying off and I was overtaking those who had gone out too hard and were now paying for it in the heat.

My knee had niggled me a little bit, but only once or twice and it certainly wasn’t hurting or aching – I continued to push on.

For once, my speed didn't drop off, when I pushed in the second half I got a sustained higher speed

With 3km left I turned up the effort. I didn’t seem to get much faster, but at least I didn’t slow down. I eschewed the final pass of the aid station and focused on the finish. The final 200m took us up a long carpeted ramp, round the base of the VIP building in the marina, and then down a ramp to the finish line. I was not looking forward to the up-ramp and was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be made of sprung wooden slats and I could sproing up it without much effort at all.

There was an athlete ahead of me who had started his celebrating half way down the finish ramp, so with a final push I accelerated and overtook him a few metres before the line. A bit cheeky, but the race isn’t over until you cross the line and every place counts! From his number I think he was in my start wave too.

A rare piece of foreign bling for the wall
  • Final result, Olympic distance triathlon, 2:39:37, 707th
The finishing area was excellent with a veritable feast for the hungry athletes. We snaked through some counters with water, Amstel Lemon beer (nice for the first couple of cans, and very refreshing, a bit sickly beyond that), and Toro Loco energy drink - then had a choice of melon slices, pastries, sweet and savoury pasties and more.

There was no urgency to push through so we could have as much as we wanted including going back for seconds. The big win was that beyond the refreshments tables was a large square concreted area reserved for finishing athletes. There was all the room you could need to cool down, stand in the shade, stretch, and chat to fellow competitors.

This was a far better experience than last week where after a race of twice the length in harsh conditions the disoriented finishers were shunted out into a tiny area crammed full of people. You can learn from this, Ironman – get some more finishing space, it makes a huge difference to the race experience.

This is a race I would definitely consider again – the circuit is good and fast, and the drafting element makes it very exciting. If it falls a week or two before Ironman Wales next year it’ll be a great warm-up race, however I think it might clash – this year they were on the same day.

Mrs went off later. She was 3rd in her wave in the swim but suffered some really bad luck on the bike with a blowout in the front tyre just 10m out of transition. She had to abandon there and then – a real shame, but these things happen. Better that it happened this week in a C-Race than last week in Austria or next week when she’s racing on home turf on the famous Hyde Park course in London in the open sprint competition.

Matt (left) sprinting to win his age group - this is why kids on a finish line is a Very Bad Idea

The rest of Team Freespeed had good days. Matt Malloy won his age group, Jenny came third in hers and fourth woman overall, and David and Stuart raced well too. Richard, Mette, Steph, Helen, and the kids had a great day in the sun soaking up the atmosphere and watching the races.

L to R: Me, Mrs, Stuart, Jenny, Matt, with Dave seated

Afterwards we went to a bar on the beach-front for a few well-earned beers and food. We fixed Mrs’ tyre and cycled gently back to the hotel. We all met up and ate together in the evening, with some tipsy banter and good laughs. What a lovely day!

L to R: Mrs, Stuart, Mette, Nick, Jenny (Noah), Helen, Richard (Leo), and Steph, with Dave standing

It was fun feeling like part of a team for the weekend. I must give huge thanks to Team Freespeed and Virgin Active for the opportunity. Maybe one day I’ll get to have this kind of experience based on merit – got quite a long way before that happens though!

Back home now and back to the real world. The last few weeks of racing have been such good fun, yes even Austria where I had a horrible day. I need to remember this feeling over winter when the temptation is to sit on my bum and eat pies – it’ll be ten or a hundred times better in 2014 if I’m leaner, fitter, stronger, and faster. A long winter of turbo sessions awaits…

(PS: A few days later and my knee remained fine, looks like Austria was just a one-off :)

Friday 6 September 2013

Thinking about 2014

While I'm enjoying a bit of racing right now, I think it's time to have a muse about next year.

Looking back through my training record for early 2012 I can see that although I did a fair amount of work, much of it was the same thing week-in week-out. There was little in the way of periodisation and specific training.

“Periodisation” means a gradual build of effort over the course of a few weeks followed by an adaptation period of reduced intensity. Often there will be meta-cycles mapped over this such as a group of 4x 4-week periods with a specific objective. 16 weeks is often regarded as the time before a race where extra focus really pays off and you can perform to your best. Many Ironman and marathon training plans are 16-weeks in duration.

Training is considered “specific” if is designed to improve your performance over the course you will be racing on. If you’re taking on a fast flat bike and run course then you might work on pushing a steady wattage for a long period on the bike, keeping your aero position for the full time, and sustaining a fast run speed. However if your race is full of hills then you will really want to work on strength and climbing technique both on the bike and in the run. Maintaining a specific approach during your pre-race period will work to ensure you’re as prepared as possible – mentally and physically. If possible you should train on the actual course you will be racing on, learning the best lines on the climbs and descents, where you need to brake (or just as importantly where you don’t need to brake), and developing an appropriate fuelling strategy.

In order to train and race in this way you need to decide on your “A” race(s) – the one or two races where you really want to do well and perform at your best. Other races in the lead-up could be good tests for technique, equipment, and race strategy. Some races might just be for fun, or integrated into a training plan as longer or harder effort sessions. As far as is within your control there should be no unknowns when going into your A-race. You should have as much of your mental bandwidth available for focusing on your performance, following your plan, and dealing with anything unexpected. Practice might not guarantee perfect in triathlon, but it can certainly help you stay calm and perform efficiently.

It’s important to work on the psychological side too – Mrs and I were very strict with ourselves in the first half of 2012, unsustainably so, which is why I think as soon as the races started my weight started drifting upwards. A healthier approach is to reserve the strictest periods for the final approach to the race making it easier to stay on track.

At the moment, I’m signed up for a lot of races for next year including three Ironman events (IM 70.3 Mallorca in May, IM 70.3 UK in June, and IM UK in July). This is very exciting, and I feel motivated to have a good winter working on my strength and fitness - but if I'm to take it to the next level I'll need to work out my A-race events. It'll certainly be a triathlon. I’ll be competing in some single discipline events but those will just be for training and race exposure. I am also sure it will be a long-distance event. From my racing last year I am utterly convinced that I have the capability of going significantly faster over 70.3 and full Ironman distance triathlon - providing I can remain focussed and avoid injury. As for which event, I think it makes sense to pick an early season race and a later season race and peak for both. Races I’ve completed before will be good – it’s motivating to have prior course experience and a PB you can aim for. I’d like to race on courses it’s relatively easy to get to for training experience, and so that means the UK.

Meeting all those requirements means the decision basically makes itself. My A-races for next year will be:
  • Ironman 70.3 UK, Wimbleball Lake, Exmoor, 15th June 2014 (already entered)
  • Ironman Wales, Tenby, mid-September 2014 (entries not open yet)

A 16-week run into Wimbleball is clearly achievable, but there are only around 13 weeks between Wimbleball and Wales, and that period has IM UK in the middle, which I've already entered.

A quiet week after IM 70.3 UK followed by a 12-week run into IM Wales could work, but effort would need to be very carefully managed at the UK event. This period will be essential if a good performance is to be attained at IM Wales. It might be wise to defer my IM UK entry to IM Wales to take it out of the middle all together. I’ll decide on this once the date for next year’s IM Wales event is announced – the 2013 edition is on this weekend so it’ll be announced and open for entry shortly afterwards.

Obviously a great deal can change in a year, who knows what will happen between now and then – but right now, these two races are what I'm going to target.
  • 2012 gave structured training, something I’ve never done before in my life, but with no target other than “complete the Ultimate Challenge”.
  • 2013 brought injury and frustration for the first half, underlining the importance of maintaining a strong flexible base to remain resilient to injury, and some fun training and racing in the second half (so far at least!).
  • 2014 will bring an A-race or two and a periodised targeted training plan, as discussed above.

For the first time I want to get to a long-course triathlon and actually race it hard and to the best of my abilities rather than just aim for completion with a time or age-group position as a secondary concern. Let's give it a shot and see what happens. Next I'll be looking at periodisation and working out where training blocks fit between now and the races, then I'll start to work out what the objectives of each block are. Plenty of work to do! Stay tuned!

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Zell am See-Kaprun

I’ve been looking forward to this weekend all year. When I injured myself towards the end of last year and took a lot longer to recover than I’d expected it became quickly clear that I wasn’t going to be able to compete at Ironman 70.3 UK this year (though I did go to support Mrs – the weather was terrible, and she didn’t have the best day). Rather than pull out all together and lose the cash I transferred my entry to Ironman 70.3 Zellam See-Kaprun. Mrs was already signed up, it’s her A-race for this year – but I hadn’t made the choice yet and was considering just going in a supporting capacity. So for the bargain transfer fee of €29 it was out with Wimbleball and in with Austria. And in what seems like no time at all, here we are!

And the award for "70.3 with the most place names on its official logo" goes to...

Bikes neatly (ish) packed into the rental boxes we get from Bicycle Box Hire, bags packed, ready to go. The first close call was checking the flight times the night before to work out what time we needed to get up. We’d remembered the times correctly, a most acceptable 11:10am, but for some reason thought we were going from Gatwick. We weren’t, it was Heathrow T1. Talking about a race for 6 months then realizing the night before that you were about to head to the wrong airport is a close call for sure.

We wanted to be as chilled as possible for the weekend, so set off in really good time for the airport. Two giant bike boxes plus hold bag plus hand luggage plus District Line commuting rush hour on the underground means we did not make any new friends on the train this morning.

On the Piccadilly Line, District Line was rammed with commuters - we were not popular

At Heathrow (we’re supposed to be at Heathrow, right?) Lufthansa check-in told us that although we had bike box spots reserved on the flight, they weren’t pad for so Mrs had to do a tactical strike at the Lufthansa desk to pay – and I think we’ll need to do the same on the return flight. Still, no stress, everything fine.

We were flying to Munich where we’d be met by someone from Nirvana Europe to drive us down to Zell am See. Neither of us can remember why we chose to travel this way, but it involves a 200km drive through Germany and into Austria. Should be pretty at least.

The flight was uneventful, and the “pizza snack” got our pre-race carb loading off to a good start – oh hang on, we don’t subscribe to that any more, whoops... Our hold luggage came out quickly, and we went to hang out by the “Bulky Baggage” belt for our bike boxes. And hang out we did, until after half an hour with no bikes Mrs went to the “Baggage Tracing” desk to enquire (incidentally, I continue to get progressively more annoyed at it being "Tracing" rather than "Tracking").

Bulky Baggage - or not, as it turned out

It turns out the bikes had never made it onto our plane! Lufthansa need to fly them out later on, but the guy who drives orphaned luggage to Austria has already left for the day, so we won’t get our bikes until the Saturday evening, and probably too late for transition. We hoped we could get special dispensation and rack Sunday morning.

We were met ground-side by the patiently waiting Lucas and his VW people shifter for the long drive down the autobahns and through the mountains to Zall am See. Apart from a stop at a service station (“Car says it needs more oil”) the journey was uneventful. I think we’d had enough worry for one day, but we stayed positive. The bikes would be here tomorrow. We hoped.

Home for the next few days

Arriving at the Hotel Neue Post we set off out to find some dinner. The town of Zell am See is small and the biggest surprise was the number of people form Middle Eastern countries. Lots of families with children, and most of the women in full hijab. Many of the shops and restaurants had signs and menus in Arabic so I think it's either got a very large Arabic population, or there are consistently a lot of visitors from that part of the world. I wonder if there's a similar population when Zell am See turns into a ski resort in the winter?

We found a shop with giant sketchers in the window

We ate well. Carb avoidance seems to have gone out of the window a bit, will need to take a look at that later - but this close to race day is not the time.

Saturday we went and registered. Ironman MC Paul Kaye advised us via twitter to find Vicky Habig, and make her aware of our situation. This we did, she noted our race numbers, and said if we couldn't check our bikes in today then we should do so on race day at 08:30am. A big weight off our minds, and a big thank you to Paul and Vicky.

Someone's beautiful bike, still with an Ironman 70.3 European Championships race number on it

Picked up my race number, cue lots of "not found" jokes

Paul Kaye welcoming us to Ironman 70.3 Zell am See-Kaprun

Compulsory race briefing followed, with Paul Kay working his magic. After some lunch we wandered down to check the layout of transition and for a look at the lake. It really was a beautiful place, we were excited to be racing the next day.

Zeller see (lake Zeller) on a wonderful sunny day

Entry into T1, blue bike bags will be on these racks, change tent in the distance

Mrs finding her bike racking spot (assuming they ever arrive!)

Red run bags will be here, running track and soft grass - perfect surfaces for transition, easy on the feet

In the afternoon I ran a mile, and then we went for a nap. We were apparently so tired that we had a full on sleep for 2.5 hours. We were woken by a call from the Lufthansa luggage delivery guy - our bikes were here!

Damn right you'd better "rush"...

It was by now 17:30 and to get to transition by 19:00 we'd need to assemble them in record time with no time to test them. This would not be a good plan, so we opted to build them up slowly and carefully making sure everything was perfect, and take them down in the morning. Again, we thanked the Ironman team for accommodating us - I'm sure at every race there are a few competitors who have bike delivery trouble, but none of that helps when it happens to you.

A startling transformation is about to happen...

All built and ready to roll - just two bottles and no nutrition this time

A final check after dinner, and we were ready for bed. I was following my success in Thames Turbo #4 earlier in the week and packing light for transition. A final tyre pressure check, and we were done.

My lightest transition bags yet - no need for anything extra

Suddenly, Mrs heard a sound - like a stream of running water. "What's that?" she asked. We looked out of the window, but with horror realised the sound was in the room - her back tyre was slowly deflating! It had spontaneously split its inner tube around the valve seal! Annoying to have to change the tube when we were about to turn in for the night - but thankfully it happened now and not in the morning, or while we were out in the swim! Coming back to T1 to find a flat tyre must really suck.

Another beautiful sunny day in- wait a minute, oh no hang on, it's lashing it down!

Race day morning and we packed up and headed down to transition. Racking up on the morning was no problem, and a few other people clearly were in the same position.

Photos taken with bike and athlete for security, I like this - they check them when you leave at the end

Say "käse"!

Shoes, bottles, toolkit, bike - see you in an hour or so!

We milled around the start area, it was very busy - really very very busy. I got a bit stressed about where to go and almost cocked up the entry to the water - for a while I was convinced I hadn't crossed the timing mat (and as Paul says, "No chip time, no world champs!"). Not the right kind of pre-race nerves.

It got a lot busier than this before the start, very difficult to move around and know where to go

I was in wave 1 and setting off at the civilised hour of 10:00am. Much better than the usual 7am start nonsense! As a result my wave got a nice long warm-up. Given my previous swim-freakouts I was determined to get a good warmup in the water. I filled my wetsuit up and flushed some water through to cool my body a bit, dipped my face in, had a float, then a bit of a swim, then practiced a few fast starts - all the things you're supposed to do. I was calm, it felt good. We bobbed around a bit longer and after some respectful silence for the Austrian national anthem - BANG! We were off!

  • The Swim

I'd love to see 100m splits - I reckon I started at 2:30/100m and finished at 1:50/100m

For the deep-water start I'd positioned myself on the far right, at the front. My plan was to swim the first 50-100m hard and then relax. I could drift out to the right for clear water if I needed - there should be little to no traffic there and no need to stress.

The swim course was very straight forward with a nice long starting stretch

My start was good and strong, I pulled away from the guys around me and tried to settle in to my stroke.

But then came the old feeling - It's now happened so many times I can feel it start and there's nothing I can do about it. My arms begin to feel heavy, they drain of energy, I can barely turn them over - my head won't stay in the water, I start to breathe at the wrong time and fight for breath - my legs drop, forward motion becomes impossible and I end up treading water as my heart rate goes through the roof.

At the same time a monumental wave of negativity flushes over me - what's the point? Why do I keep doing this to myself? I may as well just stop now - where's the nearest bloke in a kayak I can give up at? Not quite total panic, but real fright - no fun when you can't reach the bottom (don't even start thinking about how deep the water is) and you can see the entire rest of the field swimming past and off into the distance.

Also, I know the feeling passes. Even at Ironman Wales where I thought I was going to die (only a minor exaggeration!) I managed to get a grip in the end. Slowly my strength returns, and after one or two failed attempts I start to swim again. Then over the next ten minutes or so I gradually find my strength, form, and confidence. This is the sucky bit now because I am much faster than those I catch up to, and I'm not experienced enough to pick my way through them and end up getting boxed in.

This time no boxing in - the course is almost a kilometre straight out to the first buoy, an acute left turn, then round another buoy and back to the start area. The long outward stretch meant we all spread out so I could get up to speed again without getting stuck.

By the time I rounded the buoy I was swimming confidently. By the time I rounded the second, I was catching well and pulling hard to make good progress through my wave. The rest of the swim was uneventful.

Ironically, probably the happiest I've ever looked coming out of a swim!

I need to get over this panic at the start. The only way I'll do it is to get more open water experience. I need to get in the water more, swim with people more, get confident and capable. I've only worn my wetsuit twice this year, both times in a race, and both times I freaked out hard at the start. I just hope I can maintain my cool next week in Valencia...

  • Transition 1 (Swim to Bike) 5:31

T1 was a breeze - certainly the key is to have as little as you can get away with in your transition bag. In mine this time just my helmet, race belt and number, and glasses. Transition was on grass and a properly surfaced running track so running about in bare feet (even my soft girly bare feet) wasn't a problem.

Grabbed the bike (shoes clipped in, held in place with elastic bands) and ran out to bike mount. By now the earlier threat of rain was coming good and it was lashing it down.

  • The Bike

Averaged over 40km/h in two sections, need to be holding that over the full distance really

My feet went in easily and I reached to pull the straps up - someone shouted something at me in a language I don't speak, oops I was being English and sitting on the left of the road while I got up to speed, I should be on the right, this is the mainland remember!

Getting settled in the weather continued to worsen. I gave up on my glasses after 20 minutes and put them in my pocket, they were covered in water and wouldn't un-steam. I was breathing hard and wheezing quite badly. I'd got a wheeze on the run at Thames Turbo on Monday, but not normally on the bike. The ground was made of puddles and lakes, the road surface was very good for the most part but it was hard to see where the slippery metal manhole covers were (and there were hundreds of the buggers).

Check out the shark-fin of spray I'm throwing up from the back wheel

I found it very hard to settle. I was overly-cautious round corners which means you lock up and go rigid, ironically making it much more likely that you have an incident as you end up fighting the bike and cornering poorly. A few wobbles, particularly on a slippery wooden bridge, but I managed to keep the right way up.

The bike course is two laps with a short connector to transition. I can see how the course could be really very fast and I'm not surprised at all that those with local knowledge got blistering times. I was not feeling confident and didn't perform to my ability today. My focus became making it to the end safely.

Two laps in the valley, this would be a wonderful ride on a nice sunny day

Squinting into the rain was making my eyes tired, particularly when everyone that overtook me covered me with their shark-fin of spray when they pulled in front of me. I was overtaken so much that after 20km or so I wondered if there was actually anyone in the race still behind me. Being the first wave off meant I was being caught quickly by the fast guys in the following waves and they weren't taking any prisoners.

I was finding it hard to breathe properly. Each exhalation was accompanied by a deep rasping. When I have an asthma attack like this it's not enough to make me stop all together but it certainly impacts power and efficiency. It was certainly the limiting factor over the first loop.

All in all a depressing ride. I played games like "don't look at your watch until you think you've done another 5km" and "try not to crap yourself on the cobbles" but my mind was not on racing. I didn't feel like I was in a race, and I wasn't pushing like I had something to achieve. At about 70km the leading female age-grouper overtook me, she had started in a wave 25 minutes behind me. I felt like I was losing time to everyone on the course.

My breathing cleared considerably in the first half of the second loop. The air temperature warmed up a bit and although I was never properly cold on the bike, it certainly became more comfortable. I had an odd surge of strength going through Zell am See town for the second time and cranked up the power, I started reeling people in and flying past them. I held that until about 85km when I relaxed and just cruised in to the finish. The speed difference was obvious over that section and overtaking was easy, it was a clear message that I just hadn't been trying.

It's not all bad though, I heard two bike crashes happen behind me so at least I got to the end in one piece! I slipped my feet out of my shoes in order to make a quick dismount (might as well practice these things when you get the chance) and rolled into T2.

  • Transition 2 (Bike to Run) 6:08

T2 greeted me with a lovely surprise. Mrs' Auntie Nuala had travelled down from where she lives in Chiemsee in Germany to support us. I didn't expect to see her until the end so it was a lovely surprise to see her just past the dismount line. It's amazing what a little support can do for you, and my spirits were lifted. Thank you, Nuala!

I had a few pumps on my inhaler in T2 to clear out the last of my wheezing and took it with me in my pocket. I had not eaten on the bike at all (on purpose) and only drunk water with a High5 Zero salt tablet in it (for flavour as much as the salts). I knew I wouldn't be able to run hard without a little top up, so I packed four High5 Energygel Plus caffeine gels in my run bag. Took one straight away and carried three to take at 30-minute intervals on the run.

  • The Run

Very hard work indeed

The run course was a couple of km round the lake by the swim course to the town, and then three laps of the town including a longer out and back section down by the lake. I'd learned from Ironman UK to be careful on what is counted as a lap - I was mentally beaten up there when I realised my first "lap" of the course wasn't a lap it was just "getting to the start of where laps were counted from". I was mentally prepared for three long up/down hills and had to do four. I make a point now of checking how many circuits I'm really doing. As there was a lap of the town before getting the lap-counting bands, I knew I was to do four laps of the town, and three out and back sections. No problem, mentally ready for that.

A run into the centre, then three loops including a longer out and back section

I've been building running up very slowly, only really up to 5km with a couple of 10km (including a very slow 10km at the London Triathlon a few weeks ago). I wasn't sure how I'd hold up over the 21.1km of a half marathon, but I was ready to find out. I made a slight error immediately - my lightweight transition plan hadn't given me any socks to wear, or a towel. My feet were soaked from the bike (also sockless) and there wasn't much talc in my run shoes. A recipe for blisters!

I set off at a good pace. My plan was simple, trot along for 15km and then see if there was anything left. My ironman runs in the past have been paced poorly with a big drop off at the end. I wanted to avoid that if I could here. My first km was around 5:30, probably a bit fast - given my current fitness I should be aiming for about 6:00/km.

Looking surprisingly sprightly

I felt a lot like I did on the bike as person after person overtook me. My run was consistently paced, but so much slower than most of the rest of the field. Then at around 6km I felt a stone in my shoe - I slipped my shoe off to shake it out, but it wasn't a stone, it was a rubbing bit of material wearing away at the wet skin on the knuckle of my little toe. Ouch. A blister, as predicted. There was a little red patch on the shoe where it was bleeding slightly. There's nothing I can do about it, so I just elected not to look down again, pretend it wasn't happening and deal with it later.

The next interruption was just a km or so later when my left knee started to hurt in an all too familiar way. I have become very tuned in to the type and location of sensation when I'm aggravating my ITB condition and this was certainly it. What to do? The obvious thing is to stop. The sensible thing is to stop. Anyone I'd have asked at the time who has had to put up with me complaining about my knee would have advised me to stop. So I carried on.

The discomfort built over the next few kilometres and then levelled out when I was about half way through the run. I hadn't felt the buckling feeling that I got when I hurt it last year, and I wasn't running hard or fast. I could focus on keeping my cadence high and form good. All credit to the guys at Athletic Edge, I've never found it so easy to keep my posture good when running fatigued, my core is clearly tougher than it was a few months ago - I can't wait to see what a full winter of training there will bring me.

It may have felt like my pace didn't drop off - but the GPS doesn't lie, it did

I decided that if my knee did buckle, I'd stop immediately. Some discomfort is OK, but injuring myself properly again is not. I'd go round the bend if I had to stop again now, having only just got back into the swing of things. Thankfully it didn't get any worse, I was able to maintain good form. My toe continued to hurt, but I'd already decided to ignore that so just blocked it out.

At about 17km I decided to see if I had anything left to give. I was pleased my km times came down from about 6:40 to 6:10, there was a little something left, even if not much. You can see the effort in the speed picture above, just to the left of the 1:40:00 marker.

Heart rate was managed well - I wasn't fatigued internally otherwise it would have dropped off

I saw Mrs on the first lap, and then again on the second - she'd run a lap plus a short out and back section in the time I'd run a lap. When I saw her on lap 3 we passed on the long out and back section - she'd gained on me again! Her wave started 25 minutes behind me, and she was still on the same run lap as I was! She was clearly having an amazing race, and I'd need to work hard if I was going to finish faster than her.

I pulled myself together and pushed the last couple of km as best I could. Running up the short sharp hill for the last time it was a joy to turn left and go down the final 100m to the finish rather than right for another lap. I was pleased (although I don't look it!) to get this race finished. It wasn't fun, it took some mental toughness to push through, but I got there. From zero to 70.3 finisher in 3 months. Can't be too unhappy about that.

Got there in the end! I really need to work on my finish line celebration face!

The finish area was a bit chaotic. I stumbled around a bit and tried to get some ice for my knee. "No ice" I was told by the first aid staff who were waiting on hand, "Move, you're in the way", they added. I was ejected into a narrow passageway that was absolutely rammed full of disoriented athletes and spectators. The medical team at the UK races are head and shoulders above this in terms of attentiveness and concern.

I grabbed a word with Auntie Nuala who had made her way down to the finish, and then went to get my complementary alcohol-free beer.

My final times and position

Overall I was faster than my first 70.3 by 31:57 (6:15:08 at Ironman 70.3 UK, Wimbleball last year) but slower than my PB from Ironman 70.3 Ireland, Galway, where I hit 5:22:35. I think to be just 20 minutes down on my PB in such conditions is not a bad performance though. On a good day and with some better fitness, I really think I can make a good shot at hitting 5 hours. Let's see what next year brings.


Finishers had to make their way through the expo and into the main building to get their finishers' tee-shirts and food. It was completely chocked full of people - very stressful for those who finished just a few minutes ago. There were quite a few bewildered people around in silver foil blankets looking for people. The queue for the white "streetwear" bags (the clothes you take off at the start and pick up again at the end) were immense, and I wanted to see Mrs finish, so I grabbed my t-shirt for warmth and went back down to the finish.

It was hard to get through all the people, particularly with a hurting knee. This was the most overcrowded and chaotic finishing area of any of the races I've done. I met back up with Auntie Nuala and we waited for Mrs. She came over the line looking like she'd given it everything and maybe even a little bit more.

Our "thank God it's over" faces

We went back to the building together to pick up our bags and get some food. The finishers' food was good, and we talked through our respective races over some more alcohol-free beers and some giant bready pretzels.

Mrs had had an amazing race - faster than me in the swim and on the run, and only a couple of minutes behind on the bike. Overall she beat me by 40 seconds. An amazing day for her, though not without its fair share of challenges to overcome - her shoe also showed signs of a blister and she'd had a tough day mentally. Her race report is here.

We started out yellow-shoes buddies, and no we're bleeding-blister buddies!

We picked our kit up from transition and after a quick shower headed back to the main building for the awards ceremony and roll down. I had finished a long way down my age group, but Mrs had pulled out an amazing 12th place in her age group. It's unlikely the roll down would get to her, but if you're not there, you'll never know.

Paul did a great job as ever keeping us entertained at the awards and roll down

In summary - a tough day, my hardest race yet I think, even including the full distance Ironman events at Ironman UK and Ironman Wales last year (how on earth did I ever go twice as far as I did today?!). It was marred by the weather and the finishing area. I can see how the bike course really could be ballistic in the dry and if you knew where you were going. I'll come back again one day, maybe, but not next year.

The winning pros: Eimear Mullen (4:14:16) and Gavin Noble (3:50:24), both from Ireland

Giving out slots for next years Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont Tremblant, Canada

Our journey back home was pleasingly uneventful. Steve from Nirvana Europe dropped us off back at Munich airport in good time for our flight. The bike boxes made it back to London with us, and nothing got lost or broken.

Next up, Valencia next weekend providing my knee recovers well enough - if it doesn't, I'll go anyway to offer my cheering and alcohol-free(-free) consumption skills :)