Inspiration comes in many forms

Here I am aboard the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin en route for Ironman 70.3 Dublin on Sunday.

I’ve got a few hours to just sit and relax. It’s a rare treat.

So with nothing more to do than sit, my mind has started to reflect on a few non racing highlights of the summer so far.

DHgOEK-WAAEo4kV.jpg-largeI do most of my swim training in the local leisure pool, between 7 and 9 in the mornings. At this time of day the pool is rarely busy and attracts regulars who are mostly in the age group that my blog is intended to inspire, the over 50’s. In fact, I would imagine that most are well into their retirement years.

Retirement is one of those words that I don’t like as it is too often associated with slowing down, becoming entrenched in comfort zones and reluctance to learn new things…..all pet subjects of mine and hence my Blog!

Amongst the retired group in my local pool the key subjects of conversation each day( other than the weather of course) are how busy the pool is (or isn’t) and who is ill or sadly passed away. I’ve noticed that they tend to swim in the same spot and swim the same number of lengths each day. Routine is clearly important for them. When a fellow swimmer is missing for a day or two, they worry that something catastrophic has happened. Over the last couple of years I’ve grown very fond of my new swimming friends. Our relationships have progressed from silent daily acknowledgment, through daily greetings, to small talk, and I now seem to have been welcomed into various circles of trust. Me being me, have used this as an opportunity to encourage them to break their routines a bit.

My racing seems to be a subject of real interest to them and so I occasionally use it to challenge them to do things a bit differently or to set new goals for themselves.

About a month ago one 85 year old lady was telling me that she wished should could swim faster. Much earlier in her life she had been a swim instructor but as the years had gone by she had stopped swimming and has only recently returned to the pool. Getting from one end to the other was a challenge in itself and she would battle her way to 10 lengths before getting out. We discussed a strategy for improvement. First aim for 12 lengths, then reduce the rest period after each length, then aim for 14 lengths, then 16. 16 lengths would represent a massive improvement and at that point she could look to try going harder for a couple of her lengths. As she listened, I could tell that she was remembering many of the techniques and tools that she would have used years ago to improve others. She smiled and told me it was nice to talk to me.

Each day afterwards I saw her and made a point of telling her how much quicker and confident she looked in the water. She told me she was increasing the number of lengths she was doing. She is now upto 14 lengths and is definitely swimming so much smoother and quicker. She now smiles whilst she is effortlessly breast stroking her way up the pool. She is an inspiration. 85 years old and still open to breaking her routines and achieving new goals.

Another of my swim “buddies” is also in his 80’s. He reminds me of my Dad, with his use of certain phrases and mannerisms that are features of men of Chester. He’s a very good swimmer. Each day he ploughs up and down knocking out about 1000m in a metronomic front crawl without taking a break, then gets out. He always asks about my races and I can see in his eyes that these exchanges dig up memories for him of his competitive past. I tell him he could try a triathlon or maybe an open water swim event. He chuckles and changes the subject. But I keep on at him at every appropriate occasion. Then last week he told me that he’d been to watch the Dee Mile. The Dee Mile is an annual swim race in the river through Chester that has been taking place since 1922. It always attracts hundreds of swimmers and it’s one of the events I’ve suggested he try. He told me that he was surprised how many “ald fellas” were taking part. Watching these “ald fellas” had clearly got him thinking that if they could do it, maybe he could too. I could tell he wanted to give it a try.

Next year he’s agreed that he”ll borrow one of my wetsuits and have a go. I can’t wait.

Yet more inspiration. Thanks.

Breakthrough Performance at Anglian Triathlon

I was back racing again this weekend after my mid summer break. Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire was the venue and I wanted to use this event as a warm up for Dublin 70.3 in two weeks time. My goal was to perform smoothly through each of the elements of the race, ensuring that I went hard but not so hard that I was empty on the run. I’m delighted to report that my race execution was pretty damn good. It was as good a triathlon race performance as I can remember.

The usual early morning start time for races meant that I needed to go down the night before. Premier Inn did themselves proud with a quiet clean room, comfy bed and TV to watch the World Athletcics champs. The whole evening in the Olympic Stadium was built around Usain Bolt’s last individual 100m and whilst I had a spooky feeling that he wouldn’t win I really did not expect his conqueror to be his old nemesis Justin Gatlin. I felt a wave of disbelief surge over me at the fnish. This was not in the script and whilst I disagree with gatlin being given the opportunity to compete I think his mental fortitude needs to be admired. The real villains in this in my view are the IAAF who fail to create a system where clean athletes can thrive .

My usual sense of outrage at this kind of hypocrisy passed fairly quickly as I settled down to sleep and prepare for my own race the next day.

I slept pretty well and awoke just before my alarm was due to go off at 5am. I like to eat my pre race brekkie upto 3 hours before the gun goes off and within 30 secs of opening my eyes I was tucking into my “Performance Chef “ bircher that i’d brought with me and kept in a coolbag overnight. This has become my staple start to most days and I never get bored of it. Varying the fruit does the trick to keep it interesting. By 6am I was out of the door and heading for Grafham Water.

Sunday was a beautiful morning. Blue sky, cloudless,  and a slight breeze over the lake. Perfect conditions for racing.DGhpte1XkAA-wIQ.jpg-large

By arriving nice and early I got through registration quickly, strolled back to the car where I put wheels on the bike, checked tyre pressures, gels on board and went through to transition. I had a flawless set up, went for a good warm up jog and was feeling very relaxed and ready for the start.

The only concern I had was that with 650 competitors going off in only 4 waves, the swim start could be carnage. I was in wave 2, all men over 40. This was by far the biggest wave. Mamils were out in force!

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I decided that with my new found swim confidence I was going to take my chances at the front of the wave. I positioned myself on the far left which was technically the outside of the group as we were swimming in a clockwise direction. I chose to go out as hard as I could for as long as I could and just hope that this would help me avoid too much of the human washing machine effect. I got away pretty well held my nerve, kept relaxed so that the stray limbs would slide off me and smashed it for as long as I could. My lungs were burning and fatigue was setting in after a minute or two but I did manage to find clear water. I then took my effort levels back a notch, slowed my breathing down and found a good sustainable rythmn . I’m a left sided breather so was reassured that I could see a few guys outside me and knew that if I could still see them then I wouldn’t need to sight the turn bouy too often as we headed up the lake for approx. 600m to the first bouy. Everynow and again I checked and was reassured to see plenty of orange hats around me. Soon we were heading back down the lake with only one more turn to make and from here it was approx. 150m to the swim exit. A really short run into transition gave me just enough time to get the wetsuit down to the waist ( this new Snugg suit is a joy to get on and off). I was pleased to see that my area of transition was still full of bikes so that suggested I’d had a pretty good swim. It certainly felt that way, but I’d forgotten to start my watch so could only guess at how long. Once out onto the bike I realised that it was just after 0830 and given that we’d started at 0805 that meant I’d flown round by my standards.

 

I got settled on the bike quickly, was picking people off with ease and had to concentrate over the first section as the road was pretty full of athletes going at various speeds. Just as I was beginning to think I’d made it through the early rush hour traffic, someone about 20m infront of me seemed to go straight over his handle bars for no apparent reason. I swerved, missing competitors coming the otherway and took it a bit easier for a few minutes. Its amazing how quickly a slightly different intensity can begin to feel normal and I was jolted out of my comfort zone by a couple of atheltes going past me. I never like this and so it made me realize I needed to push on harder. It was really fast course, with good road surfaces and very few potholes ( but poor old fellow Erdinger athlete Garry hit one and blew his back tire…race over, sorry Garry). I was now working really hard and picking off riders with regurality. It was a pretty flat track so it was big gears all the way. I took on a second gel a few miles before the end of the bike leg to set me up for the run. I remember thinking at this point that my legs were tiring but my head felt pretty cool. I was triallng my new Scott Cadence helmet and it did seem to be regulating my temperature much better. I knew I’d gone hard and so wondered how the legs would feel over the 10k run. The answer was pretty good thanks.

As I came into T2 I scanned the area and noticed that it was totally empty. There did not seem to be a single bike in my section. “Maybe I’m leading” I thought. This would prove to be an important error. As I headed out of T2 I heard the announcer confirming that the 1st lady was just going out onto the run. She came alongside me as we headed up the reservoir and I remember thinking lets aim to stay with her for as long as I could. I got in front and began to tap out a really good cadence with short light strides. I imagined she was tucked in behind me and that was fine. At the end of the lake we turned and came back on ourselves so I was surprised to see that I’d put about 25m into her. Keep it going. I was passing people and none was coming past me and this made me think that I was going really well. At the next turn point after approx. 4 miles I”d really put more distance between myself and the 1st lady and managed to convince myself that I was flying. All the external cues were suggesting I was running really well. I was going quicker than the leading lady, I was passing lots of others and none were coming past me. I convinced myself that I was on my limit, but I’m not sure I realy was. I felt a stitch coming on but ran through it ok. With 400m to go I noticed a fella infront who looked like he could be a similar age to me, so despite thinking I could be leading I did pick up my pace to overtake him, just in case. It was a good job I did as he was in my AG and I managed beat him. I looked at the clock at the finish and saw that it was just coming upto 1013. By my calculation that would mean a sub 2 hours 10 time. Wow that felt good.

 

The Erdinger Alkoholfrei bar was just beyond the finish line, so I had jubilant chat with the team and then picked up my official finish time. I’d done a swim under 25 mins, a sub 60 min bike and a 41 min run for a total time of 2:07:56. I reckon this is my fastest ever Olympic distance race. I was buzzing with excitement. Even the discovery that I hadn’t won the age group but had finished 3rd didn’t bother me. This was a qualifier for 2018 European Championships so had attracted a quality field and this was triathlon and not duathlon where I am used to picking up the odd AG victory or two. In a quality tri I’d never finished so high up. I was hugely pleased and learnt that I mustn’t ever get ahead of myself thinking I might win. The only way to try and achieve this is to give absolutely everything throughout.

I finished my morning by jogging back to the finish area to help out with serving the Erdinger to all the deserving finishers. It was great to see so many satisfied, exhausted faces. The positive energy was intoxicating and it was a joy to chat to so many athletes about their individual race stories as we gave them a taste of the isotonic recovery juice, that is Erdinger Alkoholfrei.

 

After the frustrations of my first two “A” races this year it is a real confidence boost to head towards my 3rd biggie with such an encouraging performance. I’d put together probably my best tri race to date. Lets see if I can build on it in Dublin in two weeks.

A Tunnel from Elsinore to Dublin!

During the first few weeks since getting back from Denmark I struggled a bit with motivation. I felt distracted by other things in my life and training wasn’t quite giving me the same sense of positive structure to my weeks. I was still putting in the hours, still completing the sessions, but it was all a bit flat and I didn’t feel that I was making any forward progress. I was still getting up and heading off to the pool, but I was lacking my usual zip first thing each day. There was definitely a period of going through the motions and even though I knew that this was simply a short temporary low phase I did need to give myself a good talking to on a couple of occasions to ensure that I stayed with the programme. I do believe that it is these difficult moments that define us. How will we react when things get tough? Will we remain focused on our long term goals when they start to seem so distant?

It felt like I was in a tunnel that was so long that I couldn’t see the light at its end and the darkness was disorientating me. Would I be able to find my way out, what would I find at the other end and importantly would I like whatever was awaiting me?

Good news. I have found my way out and I have found that I’m reinvigorated by my long term goals and they even look slightly more achievable than they did before I disappeared into that tunnel of self doubt and demotivation.

My next 70.3 race in Dublin is now around the corner. Its only just over 2 weeks away. This weekend I’ve got a warm up race at Grafham Water near Cambridge and I’m getting really excited again.

Training has been going well since returning from Italian Dolomites where I took a group of cyclists to ride the iconic climbs of this stunning area of natural beauty.

That week of pure cycling disrupted my routines in a really positive way, built new levels of leg strength and helped to remind me about the simple joy of riding for pleasure. At times I find my pursuit of huge goals to be overwhelming and so to get back to a really simple recipe of exercising for pleasure was pretty invigorating. Add the fact that during that week I was there to serve others, to ensure that a group of 8 cyclists had the perfect holiday. It wasn’t about me, my goals, my training during that week. It was about them and that was really healthy for me. Dolomites really helped me to find my way out of the tunnel.

The net outcome is that I’m buzzing again and looking forward to Dublin. I’ve even got hold of a new cycle helmet that I’m hopeful will make a difference to controlling my body temperature so I can run better off the bike. I opted for the Scott Cadence Plus that was used by Sebastian Kienle when he won Ironman World champs in Kona last year. If its good enough for him, then surely it must be helpful to me. I can’t wait to try it out this weekend and see how it compares with my Kask Bambino that I’ve been using for a number of years.

As I’m right in the middle of a block of training for Dublin, the race at Grafham Water will be treated more like a big training session, with no taper into it. I’m curious to see how I’ll perform after some pretty tough sessions this week.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The road to success is full of challenges

We were lucky enough to head over to Denmark recently for the European 70.3 Championships. This was the 1st time this event was being held outside of Germany and the local Ironman team were keen to ensure that this switch was seen as a success. In my view, this was an outstanding event. A challenging course with lots of twists and turns in each of the three disciplines, superb organization that was well thought through for athletes and a stunning venue based around the beauty of Elsinore harbour and Kronberg Castle. The local people were incredibly welcoming and helpful. The weather on race day was also perfect. Cloudless skies and the temperature rising with every hour, so all the more incentive to get to the finish-line as fast as possible!

It was also my first time to be involved in an Ironman Championship event. The scale of the production was huge, so much grander than an ITU sanctioned event and with 2500 athletes there was a fantastic buzz around the whole race village. It felt more like a festival than a race event. The build up to race day was full of excitement.

We arrived on Thursday and had plenty of time to get our bearings, reccie the courses and ensure that registration was taken care of before the crowds arrived. At registration I had to make my first key decision of the race. Which of the swim waves did I want to start in? It was a self-selecting process with the fastest swimmers heading off first. The cut off for the 1st wave was 35 minutes and I estimated that I should be capable of completing 1900m in just about 35 mins, therefore I opted to start in this first wave. Anyone who has been following my blog will know that the swim has been my achilles heel over the years of triathlon and so to now have developed to the point where I can be classified as part of the fastest group of swimmers is a massive achievement for me. Before I’d even set foot in the water I’d accomplished something and was taking huge confidence into the race.

To minimize chaos at the start, Ironman are now using rolling starts whereby only a small number (in this race it was 4 people) will pass over the start mat every 10 seconds. This provides a bit more room to get into the swim at the beginning and find some rhythm. After a good warm up in the harbour, getting used to the water temperature of 15% the blue caps, (that included me), were called out and asked to head for the start funnel. My plan had been to try to position myself towards the back of the blue wave so that most of the really quick swimmers would be infront of me, but I seemed to find myself somewhere in the middle and once the mass of bodies began to move towards the start mats I simply had to go with the flow. Oh well, I’m sure it will be fine I told myself.

Pre race ElsinoreKathy found me as the mass of neoprene clad humanity inched forward towards the jetty, we had a little pep talk and a kiss for good luck and then I was off into the water. I felt really good as we headed for the first turn, enjoying the sense of rapid forward progress that comes from swimming in a pack. Early on I was holding my own and got around several more bouys without incident. Then things started to get messy. A flailing arm ( not mine I must add) knocked my new goggles sideways but somehow I managed to adjust them without losing too much momentum, but then an endless stream of faster swimmers used me as a kickboard and I found myself getting agitated and then angry. I was hurling abuse (in my head) and trying to hold my position in the water. I realised getting angry wasn’t helpful, refocused on relaxing again and decided to try to get a bit closer to the harbour wall where there might be a tad more room. A few more bouys to negotiate and then I could see the exit arch ahead. I was glad to get out of the water, still a bit shell shocked at the dogfight it had been, but at the same time feeling as though I’d coped pretty well. You can see from this picture at the swim exit just how discombobulated I look as I emerge from the water.

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Kathy was positioned by transition and shouted out to me that I’d been going 36 minutes and I assumed this was the time to where she had seen me rather than for the swim itself. Based on this information, I was reassured and set off on the 90km bike leg in really good spirits.

I’d ridden most of the bike course over the previous few days and knew that it was going to be fast, with a high numbers of tricky corners but no daunting leg stinging climbs. The first 10k or so was along the coast into the wind and with lots of similarly matched cyclists I was on high alert not to be seen as drafting. At times it is difficult, but with either a short sharp effort to overtake or a brief pause to take a drink I was able to maintain the legal 12m distance between myself and others. Distance markers were given every 10km and so early on I worked out that a sub 2:30 bike split could be achievable. As each 10km was ticked off I was still holding this pace.

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3_m-100767682-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1912_000318-8521799As we came back into town around 65km and headed out on the second part of the course I was starting to struggle with overheating. My head felt so hot, but frustratingly pouring water onto my helmet did nothing to provide relief.

29_m-100767682-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1912_063377-8521825My aero helmet only has minimal ventilation and over the last 30km my core temperature was probably continuing to rise. Despite feeling more uncomfortable I was able to hold my speed and got back into T2 well under 2:30.

I knew at this point that I was well on course to smash my pre race goal of going Sub 5. A half decent run around 1:35 would put me close to 4:45 finish time and the run is my strength so I grabbed a couple of gels, sunglasses and visor to keep the sun off my face and set off on the half marathon with much excitement. My plan was to take the first lap of 4 very steady and then build the pace as each lap went on. My legs felt good as I followed the route around the outside of bike transition, but after a few minutes I became aware of just how hot I was feeling and how high my heart race was getting. I needed to get to the first aid station to grab water and get it over my head. Having walked through the aid station I felt a bit better and set off again towards the castle but pretty soon realised that my temperature was shooting up again. In a quiet shady section of the course I took another sneaky walk before coming out into the crowded streets of Elsinore. The first lap was really difficult as I had to reassess my plan.

I figured that my body temperature was out of control and so decided that the best way to get to the finish was now to treat this run as an interval session, with recovery coming at each of the aid stations where I would walk, get as much water over my head as possible, sip on electrolyte solution and generally try to get my heart rate down. Once I’d made this new plan it became so much easier to execute the rest of the race. I kept an eye on the clock and knew that my pre race goal of Sub 5 was still achievable. I knocked off the laps, focusing on getting from one aid station to the next as efficiently and relaxed as possible.

Soon I was going around the castle for the final time and within sight of the finish shoot. I saw my name come up and the timer ticking over towards 4:58. I’d done it, but wanted to see if I could cross the line before the clock got to 4:58. A last burst and I got there in 4:57:59.

It was great to know that I’d achieved my Sub 5 goal, but I knew that I’d run really badly. Kathy was waiting at the finish area and I was so pleased and relieved to see her. The physical effort of putting it all out there always seems to trigger tears and this race was no different. This time it was especially poignant as it was Fathers Day and I was suddenly overwhelmed with thoughts of my late dad who would have been so proud to know that I had achieved another significant goal.

As I recovered over an extremely well deserved Erdinger Alkoholfrei I started to reflect on what had just happened during the race.

Post race Erdinger ElsinoreI was really pleased with the way that I’d executed the race and dealt with the unforeseen challenges that it had thrown up. The dogfight of the swim, the constant adjustments on the bike to avoid drafting and my overheating on the run could all have been race wrecking situations, but I kept a really clear head and overcame them. More than that though, as I’d put together a PB swim of 35:23 and I’d banged out a bike split of 2:28:51 despite struggling with overheating over the last hour. That was worth celebrating.

However, as we sipped another Erdinger I couldn’t get beyond the fact that I had run badly. What had caused me to let at least 10 minutes slip away? The competitor in me was desperate to know just how crucial those 10 minutes would prove to be in the final race positions.

It wasn’t long before I found out. I was 10th. 10th in European Championship is good. 10th in Europe is a mark of real progress of how far I have come as a triathlete. But those vital 10 minutes made the difference between 10th and 2nd. This was a missed medal opportunity. But racing, just like life is not about could haves and should haves, its about what you actually do that counts.

Rather than dwell on the medal that might have been I can take away encouragement from the fact that I’m now a contender at this triathlon distance racing in Europe. I know there is more to come from me and that gives me lots of motivation to continue putting in the hard work in training. Two years ago I wouldn’t have believed it. I really am getting faster after fifty.

Kathy and I enjoyed a really chilled evening in Elsinore. We strolled back into town to watch the awards being given, visited the lovely Street Food market and then went back to our hotel to sit in their deckchairs and share a bottle of wine. As the sun began to go down over The Baltic we both agreed that we were so lucky to be able to do these wonderful trips. Elsinore is another one of the real gems of the world that we would never have come to if it wasn’t for racing. Life is good.

Rolling with the rhythm of life

I was sitting on the turbo this morning warming up for an interval session, reflecting on the last couple of days. Things are good. I seem to have turned a corner physically and mentally. Getting some positive feedback from Brett Sutton on my latest blog gave me a boost also. Brett doesn’t hand out compliments lightly so to know that he appreciated the way I’d approached and executed the Deva Tri at the weekend meant a lot. He also summed up the key learning from the race for me and that is just how important it is to take satisfaction from the perfect execution of a race plan, irrespective of the result.

Back to the turbo. After the warm up I got straight into the main set which was 8 x 4min intervals at a strong tempo with 4 minutes steady between each one. Earlier in the year I invested in a set of Powertap P1 Pedals so that I could get some objective feedback from each session to support the all important and yet more subjective feelings of perceived effort that I had been using to judge most my sessions in the past. These pedals measure the amount of power that is being put through them and the numbers are especially useful when doing interval training. With this power data I find it helps me to squeeze out even more from a session. The numbers don’t lie. They simply give real time feedback about what is going on. It tells me exactly how much power in watts I’m produced. However, my little friend, my chimp, is ready to step in and make judgments for me about why, as soon as the numbers start to come through and today I noticed something really odd. When the numbers are low, as in the last few weeks, my Chimp interprets this as “you are rubbish”, “I told you, you’re no good”, never giving me a break around how fatigued I might be etc. On the other hand, when the numbers are high, just like today, my Chimps immediate reaction is that the numbers are wrong, the pedals are playing up and over estimating the power I’m generating! Thankfully, I am feeling really good right now and so I could laugh off the nonsense that was coming from my little friend inside my head. It was however, a great reminder not to take any notice of the negativity that comes from within.

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On I went with the session. Each of the intervals got better and I managed to nudge up the average power by 25 watts between the first and 8th interval. I was really happy with this. In between intervals I was riding steady and once my heart rate had come back down under control my thoughts turned each time to the rhythm of life and how it tends to flow in waves. If we want highs (and who doesn’t love them) then we have to accept that there will also be dips in form, motivation, energy etc. I’m learning that its important not to fret about the dips and instead to accept and embrace them. They are normal and necessary for improvement to take place. Objective feedback such as power data can be really helpful to pinpoint a dip and thus make more informed decisions with your coach about backing off for a while. If like me, you want to know why the dip has occurred I am finding that by embracing the process of backing off I can reflect more clearly on what has been happening, seek other opinions and then during this period of lighter training allow my brain to work out the reasons for it. In doing this, we can then adjust our plans or reset strategy so that we can be enjoying the sensations of being back on the way up again in the shortest possible time.

So, not only have I smashed out a great session this morning but I’ve also learnt the value of rolling with the rhythm of life.

My Form Shows Improvement at Deva Triathlon

I have always loved the Deva Triathlon.

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Chester is where I spent my school years and the course visits many of the spots in this beautiful city that I used to love as a lad. Transition is in the park that I went through everyday on the way to school and the run course retraces the route of our old school cross country races. Happy memories.

So it seemed like the perfect race to re-energise me following the difficulties of recent months. After bearing my soul in my blog post last week ,I felt genuinely refreshed going into Sundays event.

A plan for the race was hatched with Coach Annie. We agreed that the way to approach it was to go as hard as I could in the swim, treat the bike like a 40km TT and then ease back in the run to find a comfortable sub threshold pace that would leave my legs feeling ready to train again early this week. Our thinking behind this was that I’ve got my next “A” race coming up in Denmark in two weeks and so Deva was to be treated as a strong training session in race conditions. The result didn’t matter, it was all about rebuilding confidence through showing improvement in the water and rediscovering my legs on the bike.

I felt no pressure at all in the hours leading upto the start and in fact, I felt real excitement at the pre race briefing on the banks of River Dee. I couldn’t wait to get into the water. I probably got into the river too soon as I had a good warm up swim and still found myself treading water for several minutes before the gun went off. I’m clearly gaining more confidence around the swim leg as for the first time I positioned myself at the front of the wave, rather than hanging about nervously towards the rear to let the fast swimmers get away. I sprinted off as fast as I could to avoid the typical “washing machine effect” of arms and legs everywhere and to my great surprise didn’t experience anyone swimming over the top of me.

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The first 200metres was full effort and then I settled into a good strong rythmn, holding a pretty good line as we went upstream. I even managed to get into a bit of a pack, with feet to swim on and others to my left to create a sense of pacing. This was a whole new experience and I remember thinking at the time that this was fun and must surely be helping me to swim faster. My new made-to-measure wetsuit, thanks to the guys at Snugg, felt exactly that, and gave me total freedom to swim without restriction through the shoulders. After 850metres we reached the turnaround point and now headed back downstream to the exit point. The 1500m went by relatively quickly and I must have emerged from the water in just over 27 mins as by the time I ran up the hill, up the steps, into the park and across the timing mat I’d been going for 28:34. I’m definitely getting quicker. My first objective of the day was nailed.

Deva swim exit

My new wetsuit is so easy to get out of. It almost slips off. So I was soon heading out of transition with my bike, ready to go hard for 40km. The first section is technical through town, with a number of tricky sharp corners before crossing the river and heading out of Chester. So I used these first few minutes to spin my legs and allow the body to adjust to being on the bike. Once clear of the city I clicked down the gears and set about holding my threshold power. Within the first ten minutes of the bike leg I could feel that my body was responding much better than in my last race. This gave me more confidence to push on and I was soon overtaking guys with turquoise numbers ( my age group).

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I know the course very well as I train on these roads regularly and so it was reassuring to discover from Strava after the race that I was setting new PB’s on each and every segment along the way. I checked my watch after 30km as I turned back north towards Chester and thought I had a good chance of getting close to 60 mins for the 40km if I could hold my form. However, the traffic was now starting to build up. The Sunday drivers were being extremely courteous to the cyclists on the road by not taking any risks in overtaking. As a result, a line of cars was occupying the road ahead, only travelling at the speed of the slowest cyclists. I found myself caught behind them all, unable to get through and for most of the last 8km back into Chester was going far less quickly than I wanted. At first I got really frustrated. I contemplated undertaking but there wasn’t enough room. I contemplated overtaking but thankfully dismissed this fleeting idea as madness. I reminded myself that this race wasn’t important and staying safe was much smarter than chasing a PB. (I really don’t know what I would have done if this had been my big race of the year. I fear I may have taken a huge risk and shot down the outside of the cars, but hope not!)

As we got back into town the traffic was being managed and we were given a dedicated lane and so for the last km it was back to balls out to transition. 65:34 was my spilt for the bike, which considering the delays over the last 8km was pretty good. I know I felt strong on the bike. So objective two was also nailed.

Now there was just the final run leg to negotiate and ensure that I didn’t get carried away and run harder than the plan. The danger for me was a turquoise number coming past. Would I be able to resist chasing after them? Thankfully, none of the turquoise boys and girls did come past and so I was able to run to the finish on my own terms. Lap one was taken very gently. I focused on relaxtion, giving the body time to adjust from the bike to running. Lap two I think I went a bit quicker as I was definitely feeling pretty chilled about this sub threshold tempo. Then on the final lap I thought I’d just stretch my legs a little and see if I could pick off a few more guys in turquoise. I crossed the finish line in 2:19:02, giving me a run split of 42:17. Given how easily I took it, I’m really encouraged by this performance.

PeteDevaTri

I finished 9th in the AG. This was a World Championship qualifier and so the race attracted a high quality field. To finish 9th without going hard on the run shows how much my form is coming back and perhaps more importantly how my swim is improving. There is still lots of room for further improvement but I’m starting to get there.

The finish area down by the river in The Groves is an amazing spot, with huge crowds. It creates such a memorable atmosphere. The only thing missing was a pint of my sponsor Erdinger Alkoholfrei. I had to wait until I got home to get my fix, but given that I only live 6 miles away that didn’t take long!

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Thanks as usual to Coach Annie, Erdinger Alkoholfrei and to my wife Kathy for all their ongoing support and tolerance. Special thanks to everyone at Chester Tri for putting on such a great event, surely the best on the circuit. Also thanks to my physio Gemma, from Anatomy in Chester, not just for keeping my body in one piece but for her wise words over the last couple of sessions. Finally, thanks to Alan Murchison, Performance Chef for all his knowledge and nutrition advice over the last four months.

 

PS its now 48 hours since the race and my body feels totally recovered. The race plan worked. I’m now ready to kick on for the next couple of weeks and prepare really well for Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Denmark.

Dealing with an Unexpectedly Difficult Period

It’s been a while since I last shared my thoughts.

I’ve found the last few months to be a very difficult period and this has surprised me, especially as I was feeling so positive after my marathon performance in Manchester.

It’s been difficult emotionally and more latterly physically and I’m pretty sure that one has led to the other.

From the outside it would appear as though I’ve been doing really well. I’ve not been injured, I’ve not missed any training sessions, warm up events have gone well and everything seemed to be building towards some outstanding race performances, but that just hasn’t happened yet. There is something not quite right and putting my finger on what, has proved challenging.

When things become difficult I tend to internalise my thoughts’ until i can work out what is going on. My crazy mixed up emotions and thoughts can contradict each other and so I need to allow them to percolate around inside me for a while before it makes any sense in sharing them. I’m now ready, so here goes….

 

The passing away of my parents has affected me much, much, more than I ever imagined it would. Their deaths were hardly a surprise, with both of them requiring 24 hour care for almost the last two years of their lives. Observing their decline and helping to care for them during this final life stage took much more out of me than I’d expected. My rational self understood that whilst the daily caring might be emotionally tough it does at least it prepare (or I thought it did) you for a future without them. Training everyday gave me the space to process all the emotion and get ready for the next session of caring for them. I really don’t know how I would have been able to cope without the gift of swim, bike and run sessions. When they died I knew they were ready, I knew they were at peace, I knew they had thoroughly enjoyed their lives and I knew they had passed on amazing values to their children and grandchildren. Their work was complete and this helped me to understand, accept and embrace their passing away. I thought I was at ease with it.

 

So why have I found the months since Mums death so difficult? I’m not quite sure is the honest answer. Maybe, it’s something to do with the responsibility of dealing with their will and tying up all the loose ends of their lives? I’m not good on admin at the best of times and this feels like an administrative task that is designed to file them neatly away. Hence I’m struggling with it.

How do you deal with a pair of lifetimes that have now ended? Why do we have to put a monetary value on it and create a set of “estate accounts” that summarises their lives? Surely it’s about more than this? Their home for the last 55 years, full of possessions accumulated along the way, nothing ever discarded because you “never know when it might be needed”, has had to be dealt with. How do you decide what to do? Some things have sentimental value and will be kept and distributed amongst the family as prized memories. That’s the really positive and rewarding part of this responsibility. Other things can be taken to the tip because they were never needed again (surprise surprise) but with a bit of luck they may get recycled. Wardrobes full of clothes can be taken to charity shops and may prove useful to others. Again there has been something mildly satisfying about these two functions. Then there is a whole mass of other stuff that has helped to define and colour their lives and makes the important difference between a house and a home. All the things from furniture, ornaments, bits and pieces that they accumulated along their journey, every piece chosen for reasons that will never now be known. Everything they possessed was hard earned and so they didn’t make any purchase decisions lightly. Whilst some of this stuff would still have been useful to them for the next twenty years it now seems that it has become redundant. When these things are taken out of the setting of the home they simply become a random collection of odd things. Its value to the world is seemingly minimal and yet to them it was priceless. Should I really be making the choice between a charity shop and ebay for the things they worked so hard to possess? Is that really all dismantling their home has come to? I realize I’m over thinking all this but maybe its part of my grieving process….certainly getting it all down in this blog is helping me to identify what has been going on in my subconscious.

 

Another factor in my emotional struggle recently has been the question of what next. We moved our lives three years ago to be close to my parents to help them adjust to a less independent lifestyle. This is now over and so we can choose to do something else and choose to go anywhere we like. Now that my parents have gone we feel that we want to move on and so we have spent lots of time discussing all the places we might like to move to. This is exciting, but also destabilizing at the same time. I think I’m realizing that unlike in the Paul Young song from 1980’s wherever I lay my hat is not really my home. I think I do need to have a physical base that I can call home in order to function at my best. Our decision to move on is crystalising for me that Chester is not going to be home, nor is Windsor where we brought up our boys but moved on from 3 years ago. So where will our home be? It’s too early to say yet but I know we’ll find the right place and when we find it, it will also prove to be the springboard for a new business venture for us both to share. That’s really exciting but currently not knowing where is proving a distraction to my current goals in middle distance racing as it destabilizes me when something doesn’t go to plan.

 

For example, my first A race of the year was two weeks ago in Sankt Wendel Germany. It was the European Middle Distance Duathlon Championships. Last year I performed really well and picked up the bronze medal for 3rd place in my AG and going into this years race I thought I was on top form. I’d had a really good block of training following on from my marathon achievement in April and I really believed I was ready for another outstanding performance. But it just didn’t happen.

 

The first run went perfectly to plan. I managed my effort faultlessly around two laps of what was a brutal run course and came into transition in 3rd place with two Dutch guys exactly where I wanted them. I thought I would be stronger on the bike and so would be able to build up a lead that would give me half a chance of holding them off on the 2nd run. However, to execute that plan I needed to bike well and deliver the power numbers that I knew I was capable of holding over the 60 km leg. To prevent me from going too hard up the climbs I knew the power number to stay below but frustratingly I couldn’t get anywhere near this number. I just didn’t feel right on the bike that day. My legs struggled to find the power and strength that was required. Over the first two laps I did at least manage to hold a respectable, if below par, level of output on the bike but as I went onto the climbs for the third lap my legs just died. I was suffering badly and almost cramping with the effort I was putting in to produce such a reduced level of power.

I couldn’t understand it as I had taken on board lots of fluids and fuel so I couldn’t be dehydrated or empty. Had the hills just sapped my strength more than I’d imagined they could?

I went out onto the 2nd run in 3rd place. A German guy had passed me on the bike and I’d got past one of the Dutchmen. The first part of the run lap was ok as it was slightly down hill but then I hit the hills for the first time. Bang, I could hardly lift my legs to keep them moving. My quads went into cramp immediately so I had to stretch and then walk. I was suffering, but determined to keep pressing on. It wasn’t long before the Dutch athlete came past and at that point I realized my medal hopes were gone. I just couldn’t get up those stinging hills to stick with him and on the way back down I had to be even more careful as my hamstrings were ready to pop into cramp if I went too quickly. I kept going and have taken a huge positive from the race that I did not become at all negative about my performance whilst I was in the middle of it ( I have certainly given myself an unnecessary and unjustified kicking about it since the race though!). I didn’t need to remind myself about how lucky I was to be doing this, I simply maintained focus on the task in hand which was to get to the finish as quickly as possible and I still managed a huge smile as I crossed the line in what proved to be 4th place. I was proud but hugely disappointed at the same time. I felt I was in shape to win a medal but for some reason I just couldn’t deliver on the bike and then suffered even more on that final run. I did under perform. It’s certainly not about fitness, but maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to take on such a brutal course. Or maybe it was one of those mysterious days that I hear elite cyclists talk about when they just didn’t have the legs? Or maybe, and this is what I believe its much more about, it was something to do with all of the stress I’d been unknowingly carrying since the funeral? Maybe the mental fatigue that is stress, converted itself into physical fatigue.

I now recognise that 4th in Europe is a great achievement, but with Jake, my eldest son alongside me for this race I so wanted to win a medal as I misguidedly felt that this would cap a really special weekend together. I now realise that I’d been unconsciously putting way too much emphasis on the result of this race whereas the really important thing to value is that we had a fabulous 5 day road trip together.

When I finished the race I knew it was the hardest course I’d ever competed on and the physical punishment that it created was still evident a week later. I normally bounce back pretty quickly but it took a week before my legs felt like they belonged to me again and almost two weeks on I’m still not feeling as though I’m executing my training sessions at the levels that I should be reaching. I think I can be assured that I pushed myself to the max in Sankt Wendel and have no regrets that I could have given more!

Ultimately all you can ask of yourself is that you gave it your best and this I certainly did. It didn’t work out how I wanted and I’ve accepted that it’s ok. Importantly, it’s not going to derail me from working towards the rest of my goals for this year and the next two years. I heard a helpful comment from Dave Brailsford of Team Sky after the Giro D’Italia finished when he said that what he’d learnt from the race was that even when things go wrong, if you keep knocking on the door and doing the right things then eventually the door will open and you will get your deserved reward. That’s exactly what I will keep doing, knocking on the door.

 

It’s now a triathlon door for the rest of the year, beginning this weekend with one of my favorite races, Deva Triathlon in Chester. It’s such a beautiful setting with the river swim and the natural arena of The Groves for the climax of the run. Lets hope this inspiring setting can kick me out of the lethargy I’m feeling and get me firing again towards my next A race in Denmark in a few weeks.

 

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Reflections from Manchester 48 hours on

I woke up this morning, now 48 hours on from the marathon, still basking in that warm glow of satisfaction having dealt with my demons and delivered a perfectly executed plan in the race.

The recovery swim and bike sessions from yesterday have done the trick and my legs are feeling much better already. I feel that I’m well on the way to recovering from the battering that the marathon inevitably gives the legs.

I’ve recently been doing some work with one of my clients about what it takes to be a winner and the thing that stands out amongst many success factors is the focus that these winning people have on looking forward. As soon as a victory has been secured they are onto the next thing. Every success is simply a stepping stone towards the next goal.

So I was fascinated to notice that whilst I was in the pool and on the bike yesterday my mind started to whirl again. “I wonder how much faster I really could run the marathon in the future?” Clearly a new goal is forming in my head as I now believe that more is in me than I dared to imagine only a few days ago.

Before moving on though, its important to learn a few lessons from what happened on Sunday. Why did the race go so well? As this blog is all about inspiring the achievement of extraordinary things I thought it may be useful to share why and how I believe I achieved my own extraordinary thing in Manchester.

A huge part of endurance sport is mental. I’ve talked at length about my marathon demon of self doubt that has been festering for many years and it was so important that I’d dealt with it ahead of race day. Standing on the start-line hoping it would be ok is not a recipe for success. For me, having a very explicit conversation about my concerns and doubts with someone that I trusted and whose opinions I valued on this subject was a key step. This conversation clarified that there was much more evidence against the limiting belief that “my body can’t cope with the punishment of a marathon” than there was to support it. As a result of that conversation with Annie I was able to go through a process of reframing for myself. Here are just some of the facts that I used in that exercise to rid my brain of the demon:

  • I am now an experienced endurance athlete
  • I regularly complete and succeed at equally/more demanding events than the marathon
  • I have been clocking up some huge weeks of tri training since the beginning of 2017
  • I have been bouncing back really well from some heavy sessions

I used these facts (importantly, not opinions) to form a new positive belief that I took with me to the start line: Tri training is the best way to prepare my body to perform a marathon.

With this inspiring thought firmly positioned at the front of my head I then set about creating a plan for the race. There is that old saying that “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and nothing could be truer in relation to the marathon.

You have to go into the race with a very clear plan of what you want to happen. This plan needs to be controllable. Mine looked like this.

  • Go into the race well rested, hydrated and nourished. Eat lots of green veg, good carbs and fats, plus protein during the days leading upto the race. Eat a bowl of my favorite bircher 3 hours before the race. Sip on water with electrolytes during the last few hours pre race.
  • Be disciplined to run an even paced race, know exactly what the mile splits need to be and ensure you don’t get carried away with the euphoria of the early stages. Adjust your pace, even if it feels too easy.
  • Be disciplined about hydration and nutrition. Take advantage of every water station so that you are drinking little and often. Take on board a gel after 45 minutes and then one every half an hour from then on. This keeps the energy levels topped up and avoids hitting the dreaded wall.
  • Stay in the moment. Soak up the atmosphere. Enjoy what is going on around you right now. Avoid thinking ahead. Allow thoughts to appear and drift away again. Consciously run through a technique checklist every mile or so to ensure you remain relaxed. Think hands, arms, shoulders, head, core, foot placement. Relaxation is key.

That was it. There was a physical, mental and nutritional aspect to it. Keep it that simple. Have a plan that is realistic and controllable, and then during the race all you have to do is execute it. However, just because its simple doesn’t make it easy. That in a nutshell is the challenge of the marathon!

This time I was able to execute the plan almost perfectly because I understood what was within my control and I remained focused on the 3 dimensions of it throughout. Also I was fortunate that nothing outside of my control affected me. Sometimes this happens and if so we need to accept it and adjust the plan accordingly.

Reflecting on why things went well is powerful learning for me and I’ll take this forward into my next set of challenges. I hope it can be helpful to others too.

 

Marathon Demons Well and Truly Extinguished in Manchester

The marathon has developed a very special place in our culture.  As I discussed in my last post I feel it brings out the best in people: supporters, volunteers and runners alike who invariably come together to create unforgettable experience on the streets of our cities. The people of Manchester certainly created another set of beautiful memories yesterday for everyone of the 15000 runners taking part. Thank you Manchester.

The challenge of the distance can bring with it fear, self doubt and of course when it is accomplished it also brings loads of positive emotions associated with the respect from others and pride in oneself. Those that have never run a marathon are often aware of the mystical “wall” that apparently awaits at around 20 miles. Maybe this is the reason that so many show their support for marathon runners (both with their physical presence at the events and financial charity support) to help them overcome their own walls. Is it physical, mental or a bit of both? Probably a bit of both but the size of the wall can certainly be made much, much higher through negative thinking.

My own wall or demon had been building for 26 years. In 5 marathon attempts since 1991 I’d struggled to execute a really good race and so my demon of self doubt was deeply entrenched. Could my body deal with the physical punishment that training and racing over 26.2 miles requires? Even though for the last 5 years I’ve been pushing my body to new physical limits on a regular basis through triathlon and duathlon I still allowed myself to think that this was different. “Isn’t the impact of running the thing that really does the damage?” I kept asking myself.

Even two weeks ago I made a call to Annie, my Coach, to question whether or not I should be doing the Marathon. “I’m not sure I’m ready. We haven’t done any really big mileage. I’m not sure I need to do it” was the gist of my pathetic appeal to her. “You are ready, you will love it” was the unequivocal response. That was the end of the conversation. I guess I’m doing it!

It was really important for me to have that conversation, because to quote Steve Peters “Chimp Factor” theory, “I needed to exercise my Chimp” ( now I’m really getting my metaphors mixed with walls, demons and chimps all present. Mind you, It can be pretty crowded inside my head at times!!) Having “exercised him” I could now move forward. The last couple of weeks leading into the event was positive and energising. By the time the race came around I was genuinely excited.

If Annie says I’m ready then I trust her. I knew that I had been putting in lots of volume, just not that much running and as I was about to find out it didn’t matter that I hadn’t gone over 15 miles in training. The balance of swim, bike and run is really beneficial to the body, building strength, endurance and importantly keeping the mind fresh.

So to the race.

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I explained in my pre race blog that I intended to use the 3:15 pace runner as my guide to help me judge the race and see if I could keep with them until around 20 miles when I would re-evaluate according to how I felt at the time. Well, this plan didn’t quite work out, but my plan B was superb. In chatting to a marshall beforehand he advised me against trying to run with the pacer as he knew that huge groups amass around them and it therefore becomes difficult to get into a rhythm. He suggested laying off behind them so that you could see them but not be obstructed. This made sense but just before the race began the volume of runners mingling around the poor 3:15 pacer was so huge that I couldn’t work my way through them to take up a position behind. Strangely in front of this group was an oasis of calm so I decided to begin in front, take it easy over the first few miles and then see if the pace group came through.

IMG_0996It took a couple of minutes to cross the start-line and then we were underway. Almost immediately there was clear road to run in and so I got straight into a really comfortable rhythm and began the 2nd part of my plan to chat to lots of people. Everyone was in high spirits and we were floating along. I went through the first mile in 7:14 and thought wow that’s very easy. It was a tad quicker than the plan but only just 6-7 seconds ahead. I kept chatting and as we went past the 2nd mile marker I checked again. Oops, under 7 minutes is definitely too quick. It was time to let my new mate, who had run 80 marathons, go and consciously slow down. I realized that in order to get the pace right I needed to focus on what I was doing and so for the next few miles I ignored the rest of the runners and allowed my body to settle into a 7:20 mile rhythm. Once I’d got it by 6 miles I switched my attention again to the brilliant crowds and the other runners. I was loving it and it felt so comfortable that I forgot about the 3:15 pacer somewhere behind me. My heart rate was really under control, my form was relaxed and effortless.

IMG_1003I remembered London, New York and Chicago as races where the crowds were wild and noisy for the whole of the 26.2 miles. Manchester was different. The noise of the crowd support came in waves at different points around the course and this made it even better. As a runner I could really feel the atmosphere building as we headed into the various communities around the course. We’d be able to soak it all up and then we’d then move on into another pocket of calm where we could relax and run through our little mental routines of checking how things were going, before anticipating the next welcome. It was brilliant.

I went through the half marathon in 1 hour 35 mins and whilst I was feeling really good I did have a moment of concern that maybe I’d gone out just a tad too quickly. Was my wall being built somewhere down the road? I allowed this thought to pass as quickly as it had emerged and got back to enjoying the occasion. Whilst I didn’t realize it at the time I did slow up slightly through this 3rd quarter as my only miles over 7:30 were recorded at miles 16 and 18. It was during this phase that I also began to wonder about where the 3:15 pacer was. At times I’d heard various announcers on the course alerting the crowd to the imminent arrival of the 3:15 pacer but id not seen him nor had any sense of just how close behind the group might be. By my crude calculations based on my mile splits I assumed that I was still a few minutes ahead of 3;15 pace. Reaching 20 miles was a key milestone and it gave me a big metaphorical pat on the back as I was still feeling great at this point. Hold on or kick on was the question? My conscious thought was to hold on as I was ahead of where I wanted to be and I’d just keep it going until the last 3 miles. Interestingly though, my splits show that I did indeed kick on as I was back to knocking out each mile in around 7:20 pace. I’d been saving my caffeine gels for the last hour of the run and so taking these at 19 and 23 miles probably gave me that mental boost that kicked me on.

C8aV5v6XYAAwTmVOnce past 21 miles I was counting down. 5,4,3, 2,1 to go and I was still feeling good and holding it all together. I’m not sure counting down helped as I did notice that I was looking forward to stopping more as each mile went by. I was also aware that my hip flexors were tightening, a few blisters on my left foot were building , but there was no sign of fatigue or soreness through my neck or shoulders where I’ve always felt it before. This is surely an indication of just how relaxed I was.

Turning left at 25 miles was euphoric. I could see Old Trafford ahead. We were now on the final stretch. I knew I was going to make it ahead of the 3:15 group and more importantly I knew I had extinguished my demons around the marathon. My body can cope. By pacing well, almost metronomic, by staying relaxed, by getting nutrition and fluids right I had avoided the dreaded wall. This was such a massive step for me. I think I was beaming from ear to ear as I headed towards the barrier section over the last 365 yards. The crowds there were huge and I wanted to thank them all for helping me to achieve a huge PB and an even more important mental accomplishment.

I crossed the line in 3:12:33. I was so happy. Just writing about it now makes me emotional. The Erdinger Alkoholfrei team were there at the finish line and it was truly special to enjoy a pint with Pete and the crew afterwards. My sister Judith had been chasing me around the course giving lots of support at 6,12,16, 25 miles and so it was brilliant to find her after and know that she had shared this important moment with me.

IMG_0999Coach Annie deserves huge credit for getting me prepared mentally as well as physically and I’d also like to mention Alan Murchison for his brilliant nutritional help. My body felt so strong as I knew exactly what to do to keep myself optimally fueled throughout.

With this team around me all I had to do was execute the plan!

Finally I want to make a special reference to my Mum who passed away two months ago. She showed me what real strength, determination and dignity look like during her final days. Observing the way she dealt with this puts marathons into perspective. Thanks Mum, I miss you.

Its time to renew my love affair with the marathon.This time its Manchester.

This weekend I will be running a marathon for the 1st time in 8 years and its 26 years since I ran my first one. Back then, I don’t remember using gels, nutrition was a few jelly babies being handed out in the crowd and a tray of bananas at about 18 miles. Oh how times have changed.

Manchester will be my 8th marathon, but the first where it hasn’t been the focal point of my sporting year and so it will be lovely to take part in a huge event where I’m not putting myself under any pressure to perform. I just want to relax and enjoy the wonderful human experience that marathon running provides.

Ever since my introduction to the marathon at London in 1991 I’ve been captivated by the way that these events bring out the best in people. Runners, spectators, volunteers all come together to support each other towards the achievement of some pretty amazing things. At its most basic level a marathon is a celebration of being alive, of health and general fitness. Beyond this its a brilliant way of inspiring people to achieve extraordinary feats, to encourage us out of our comfort zones and its also grown into an important occasion for charities with millions being raised for great causes.

Back in 1991 I was naïve, young and very fit, being a footballer at the time and had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I breezed through the event in under 3 and half hours, soaking up the amazing atmosphere the whole way, comparing it with coming out of the tunnel at Wembley Stadium on Cup Final day, except the noise went on for 26.2 miles. All the sport I’d done until then had been highly competitive so I found the camaraderie of the marathon really refreshing.

IMG_0700I enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d like to see how fast I could go with some dedicated marathon training. Luckily I got a place in New York City marathon 6 months later. I spent the whole summer preparing, then only managed to shave what seemed like a miserly 3 minutes off my time. This seemed like a small reward for a huge amount of effort and a seed was sown in my head that I should be capable of going quicker.

Little did I realize though that 3 hours 25 minutes would remain my PB for at least a quarter of a century.

My 30’s almost disappeared in the blink of an eye before I was ready to try again. This was a period of working really hard to build my career and learn how to be a dad to two beautiful sons. Every minute was taken up with important stuff connected to these priorities and so my sporting ambitions took a bit of a backseat. Becoming 40 was on the horizon and whilst I reject (far too vociferously I can hear my wife saying!) that I had a problem with reaching this age I was clearly keen to prove that it did not mean that I was slowing down. Running a marathon again seemed like the perfect way to show that I was fitter and faster than ever.

Our best mates were living in New York and so we celebrated reaching 40 by heading out there again for the Marathon. Preparations were really frustrating as my body was letting me down. Calf and Achilles were the problem. I’d get over one niggle on the left and then because of overcompensating on the right, this would then go. Looking back and knowing what I now know about the importance of a disciplined recovery regime of stretching, foam rolling, massage I’m not surprised I had problems. Time seemed so precious that every minute was in demand, so I squeezed in runs around other stuff and simply didn’t ever see that recovery could be given priority for a single minute of my time (that is until it became chronic and I was rehabbing under the guidance of a physio). I couldn’t run for the last four weeks leading into the race, but there was never a question that I would pull out even though I knew I was underprepared as I stood on the start line. Surprise, surprise, I really struggled but was very proud of the way I dug in and somehow finished in just 30secs over 4 hours.

I was determined to come back the next year and give it another go when I hoped I’d be in better shape. 2000 was definitely an improvement as I crossed the line in 3hours 35minutes. Not bad, I thought, but I still felt there was a better performance inside me. Three years later in 2003 I was back again for one more shot at New York. Once again I struggled in the build up with the same injuries, tried all kinds of remedies, tried orthotics but couldn’t find a way of being able to train consistently. Frustratingly my calf failed during the race and I hobbled through the last 8 miles to cross the line in 3hours and 50minutes.

Despite all these frustrations, my love of the marathon grew stronger each time and I now wanted to try another of the Marathon Majors. I set my sights on Chicago in 2005. Consistency of training was still an issue due to these niggling injuries but I did manage to get around in one piece and showed some improvement with a 3hours and 37mins result. I loved Chicago and wanted to go back again.  We did, to celebrate my 50th in 2009. This time I knew I was in great shape, injury free for the first time since the days of 1991 and ready to set that PB. If I could do it I’d have been so chuffed to show that you could be faster at fifty than thirty. However, on the morning of the race I woke up with a terrible tummy bug that caused me to pay lots of visits to the portaloos dotted around the course. Despite this inconvenience I finished in 3 hours and 27minutes, beat my time from London all those years ago and only just missed out on my original NY time. So I was faster than the first time and this made me very proud, but I still left a tad frustrated that I didn’t have the new PB to show for it.

Since 2009 I’ve discovered duathlon/ triathlon and this has become my passion. As I head towards Ironman I’m aware that the challenge of the marathon is still there and I will need to be able to cope with the demands of this event at the end of a 2.4mile swim and 112miles on the bike.

So this weekend in Manchester it’s more about reassurance than it is about that PB of 26 years. I know I’m in good shape and I want to run a race that leaves me feeling really positive, knowing that I can execute this distance well and that my body will easily cope with it.

So my race goals are to run an even pace, to relax and enjoy the experience by chatting to as many other runners as I can. To achieve this I plan to join the 3:15 pace group and stay with them until around 20 miles when I can re-evaluate and decide whether I need to back off, kick on or hold firm.

Lets go do it.