Listening to the body is key to learning the ability to adapt

It’s been a challenging week, but such an important one as I’ve learnt more new lessons that I hope I can hold onto as I continue to develop as a triathlete.

I woke up on Monday morning feeling rubbish and for a couple of days continued to go downhill physically and mentally. I was struggling with an overwhelming lethargy, a grogginess as I wasn’t sleeping well, an aching body and a sense of not been in focus. Everything was fuzzy and the physical niggles that I’ve been dealing with in my right hip and left achilles just suddenly seemed to be much more intense (they weren’t, it just felt like it).

Now, over the weekend I’d decided that this week was going to be a big training week. I’d recovered (or so I thought from Windsor) and with no business deadlines to get in my way I was going to focus on putting together some strong training as I build up to the next part of the season which is going to be about racing longer. So waking up feeling rubbish wasn’t a great start. Not being able to put a label on it made it more difficult for me to accept that there was some real going on and that I wasn’t just making an excuse to forgo training.

Unlike the normal me, I made the smart decision, took the day off and replaced training with rest but this only seemed to make things worse. A chat with Coach Annie the next day helped and she reassured me that taking a few more days to let my body heal itself was what I needed. Now, getting Coach’s approval to ease back is crucial for me to get my head right and in doing this it freed me up to reframe the way I saw the week. I was still going to train hard but rather than these sessions being swim, bike, run sets my training was now going to be based around lying down, stretching, foam rolling, reading. The time I had planned for training was still going to be used but in a different way.

One of the things I read was this brilliant article by Brett Sutton and it really resonated with me. http://trisutto.com/?s=ability+to+adapt

Brett really understands the Age Grouper psyche and in his article he identifies the very common challenge for successful people of juggling multiple important balls that include career, family, friendships, sport. (Maybe its part of the appeal of triathlon that it involves yet more juggling). We do often fall victim to the delusion of wanting it all,  thinking that we can fit it all in and that is probably the driver behind the 3.30am turbo session that Brett alludes to. He is quite right to point out the madness of it as it will have a negative impact down the line. We probably all know this, but need reminding of it so that we can change our behavior when its getting out of control. Hence the importance of a coach.

However, there is something else that is going on inside the Age Grouper psyche, I think, and this relates to the misguided view that we are supposed to be superhuman. Our contemporaries and colleagues admire us for our energy and invincibility and therefore we are not supposed to have bad days at work, at home, at play. We are not allowed to have days when we are off colour. We are supposed to set an example.

The dreaded “Man flu” is one thing and being injured is part “badge of honour”, part “comes with the territory”, but having a non specific sense of not being right is seen as not an excuse for not continuing to live our lives at 100 miles an hour, 24/7.

And that’s where we get it wrong. We wont be super humans unless we listen to our bodies and know when we are in danger of tipping ourselves over the edge.

There is a difference between the pleasurable fatigue the body knows when it has put in a block of hard training and the sense of lethargy, the aching deep in the bones and the general weariness that are signs that we are putting ourselves in danger. We need to learn to recognize this difference. If we can, then we will know when to step back and adapt and we can work towards being super humans rather than chasing the madness of superhuman status.

So, to build on Bretts mirror conversation. Lets really take a look long at that person reflected in the mirror and ask “what is my body telling me today and do I need to adapt my training ?”

By replacing swim bike run for a few days with lie, roll, stretch I’m now really alive again and enjoyed a lovely run along river this morning.

Long may I continue to listen to and trust in what my body is telling me!

Thanks Annie, thanks Brett.

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72 hours on: Reflections from Windsor Duathlon

I thought I should follow up from Sundays Windsor Duathlon race report with a few reflections now that I’ve had a couple of days to process the event.

But first I would like to congratulate all the medalists from Sunday and especially Messrs Mahon, Wood and Pollitt who won the medals in the Mens 55-59 AG. Duncan Wood and Martyn Pollitt dealt with the disruption of being held up mid race brilliantly to come back and finish really strongly, thoroughly deserving to win their medals, thus knocking me out of the top 3 in the process. Here is the revised result:

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Now, when I crossed the line I was wonderfully knackered and experiencing that sense of exhaustion that comes from really testing yourself to your physical limits. It’s a pretty euphoric sensation and it can tend to distort your view of what’s real. When things have gone well then the feeling is total elation and when things have not gone to plan then the world can feel like its about to come to an end. Neither is rarely true even if it absolutely feels that way in the moment. But on Sunday I was experiencing a mixture of confused emotion. I thought I’d won a medal, which gave me such a high for several hours, but on the other hand I knew I hadn’t quite nailed the performance and at that time I was ready to blame external factors.

With the benefit of 72 hours to reflect, to gather more information relating to the results confusion and importantly to offload the unhelpful feelings I was experiencing, I’m now in a mental place to learn from the event.

Reflection is such a powerful performance tool as it can help to identify the important factors that have impacted on an outcome such that they can be built on or changed the next time, or if they are out of your control then they can be forgotten about.

The controllable factors for me from Sunday were:

  • Dealing with the conditions: I got most of it right in that I stuck to my normal transition bike set up routine but I should have carried the bike out to mount line “cyclo-cross style” to get my bike leg off to a faster start.
  • Dealing with my chimp factor: since my Gran Canaria camp with TriSutto I’ve been wrestling with what to do about my bike as its too small and I’m now just waiting for the new bike to arrive. In the meantime I should have been much more relaxed about the bike and used my past performances as evidence that I can ride strongly on it. Instead I think I was looking out for any indications that reinforced the negativity I’ve been feeling and on the first lap I found lots of examples to get my chimp agitated. This definitely cost me time on the bike.
  • Avoiding distractions on run two: as I get tired I must continue to focus on what enables me to run well and not get distracted by such things as the race commentary, the pace of others, what might be ahead etc. I need to stay in my bubble where I know what to do and how to get the most out of myself. On Sunday I forgot all this!
  • Run hard until the end. Ultimately its about getting the most out of yourself and if you do this then the result will take care of itself. I found myself scanning the other runners to see who was coming from behind to ensure that I held off others who may have been in my race rather than ensuring that I squeezed every last drop from myself.
  • Roll with the punches better. Things will always go wrong and often these are out of your control so I need to ensure that I don’t get bothered by things I can’t do anything about…..and on Sunday there were more of these than at most events!

Finally, given the theme of my blog “Faster After 50” and inspiring others to chase their dreams I can’t finish without giving huge respect to Gill Fullen who missed out by a mere 5 seconds on being crowned overall Womens National Champion whilst representing the 50-54 AG. Gill you are phenomenal and an inspiration to us all.

The Windsor Duathlon : Queues, Quagmire, Queen and Query

Wow that was one tough race. A stunning setting with challenging conditions.

My experience of the inaugural Windsor Duathlon, hosting the British Championships, left me with a battered set of legs, a memorable return to Windsor two years after moving away and a sprinkling of confusion over the results.

The executive summary would read: Queues to get into the car park caused the race to be delayed. The race delay led to The Queen’s plans to drive across the course to cause havoc with the race and this led to confusion over finish times that have left me considering querying the result. Oh, and the quagmire around transition added a whole new level of challenge to what was already a pretty tough mornings fun!

So, to my race report.

Race morning was bright and chilly. I only had a two mile ride down to the start so I didn’t have to endure the stress of many of the competitors who were stuck in traffic queues waiting to get into the race car park before 7:30am. Not a great start to their days, I can imagine and the queues just kept getting longer so ultimately the race organisers decided to delay the start of the racing by 30 mins. The heavy ground conditions were making it difficult to park cars safely.

Fun and games really began in transition which was sited in possibly the boggiest part of the Great Park and being a former local I can confirm that this area is always likely to flood with a bit of bad weather!

As athletes began coming in and out of transition to set up bikes etc the whole area was quickly churning up and turning into a mudbath. These unique conditions were playing havoc with mindsets as experienced athletes were changing their normal bike set up regimes as whispers went around about whether the mud would make it more difficult to put bare feet into cycle shoes after running through the quagmire to the mount line. For a minute or two I even found myself questioning my normal strategy, but then quickly came to my senses and reminded myself to stick to what I know. I prepared my bike as normal, with shoes clipped in ready for my feet to slip into at the mount line. This was definitely the right thing to do.

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Race briefings are a mandatory part of every event and they are a bit like the safety briefing on an airline. Everyone is half listening and half focusing internally on what is about to happen. Right at the end of this briefing however my focus was brought fully back to the briefing as we were informed that the race was due to be held up at some point between 1030 and 1100 as the Queen and some Royal friends and family were going to drive across the course. Was I imagining this? Was it April 1st? No, it was real. The announcer went on to explain that a timing mat would be set up either side of the road that the Royal Party would pass through so that any athletes held up would have their timing chip stopped on one side of the road and restarted when they crossed the mat on the far side plus these affected athletes would be given a 20 second bonus for inconvenience! I can’t imagine a more bizarre set of circumstances for a race, but we were being given the treat of using The Queens back garden so I guess this was the price we were paying for getting access.

The race started at the foot of a stinging climb heading towards the “Copper Horse” with one mass wave of all male standard athletes jostling for a good position. The hill goes up in three steps and was a punishing way to begin. Once at the top we then had a fast flat section that led onto the beautiful polo fields. The first 6k was all on roads and then the terrain changed to footpaths and then a long downhill section on a sandy horse trail. This was the bit I was least looking forward to as it is normally loose sand but fortunately it had all been compacted and so was pretty good to run on. Once we emerged from this forested section it was then cross country across fields of mud before popping out onto the long walk for the final section back to transition. This was a tough first run and so I was pleased to have completed it in a solid time.

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The mud was definitely getting thicker as we approached transition, so I gave myself one tiny reminder to do what I normally do and before I knew it I was heading out after a fairly smooth transition. In hindsight I should have carried my bike “cyclo-cross style” out of transition as the tyres picked up lots of mud which caused a few issues over the first mile on the road but once this cleared I forgot about the mud.

The bike leg was four laps of an undulating technical course which was made even more tricky with the sheer volume of riders on the narrow Park roads. The first half of each lap was twisting with lots of short punchy hills, so very difficult to get into a rhythm. A few close calls with other riders who made unexpected lateral movements in front of me didn’t help to settle me down and I found the first lap very hard mentally. My legs didn’t feel good, I couldn’t get into a relaxed position and then I realised that my saddle had dropped. My “chimp” was now getting into overdrive and I spent the rest of the 1st lap battling with myself to think positively. By the time I got onto lap two I was in a much better mental place. This definitely relaxed me physically and I then began to enjoy the challenge of the two distinct halves of the course. The 1st half brought the twists, the changes of gear on the climbs, a few little moments out of the saddle, the chance to hydrate and take on fuel, whilst the back half of each lap was about sitting in the best aero position I could find given the lower saddle and powering a big gear. I felt I was performing better as each lap went on and once the sprint athletes had completed their two laps it was much easier to navigate the thinned out traffic and push on with confidence.

Turning right at the end of the 4th lap for the final mile down the Long Walk with Windsor Castle in the background was truly spectacular. This for me was possibly the best moment during any race. There did not seem to be anyone else on the road at this precise moment and I had this awesome view to myself. Maybe I got distracted by this because before I knew it I was at the dismount zone and misjudged my dismount by perhaps a quarter of a wheel length. Unlike most events there was not a line across the road so (in my defence!) it was really hard to know exactly where the line was. I should have dismounted a few metres earlier as this mistake cost me time. The official called me back and made me stand for what seemed an eternity before releasing me back into the trenches of transition. Fresh shoes were waiting for me and off I went, gingerly picking my way towards the timing mat at the edge of transition.

I often describe the sensation of running off the bike as being a bit like running through treacle. The legs are heavy, the blood seems to be in all the wrong places and the brain hasn’t yet worked out that you are now trying to propel yourself on foot again. Well imagine this normal sensation combined with actually running through a treacle like muddy field for at least 400 meters to reach the stability of the “Long Walk” metalled road. I almost lost my shoes twice in the mud but managed to navigate my way to safety and was given a real boost as the race commentator recognized me, and flatteringly mentioned me in his announcements. The second run was a dead straight out and back loop of 2.5 km. The first lap was agony as my legs were struggling but then on the second lap I began to feel stronger and think I picked up the pace a bit, although the time for this 2nd run was poor, so maybe I was imagining it!

The beauty of these out and back runs is that you can usually eyeball your competitors but the problem yesterday was that there were no distinguishing features such as colour or letter coding to identify the different age groups. Given that this was the British Championships I think it was a shame that this hadn’t been done.

I finally crossed the line feeling totally spent. I’d given my all and was totally satisfied with how I’d performed. I’d made a couple of errors but overall I’d done a really good job and was delighted to hear on the tannoy that I was across the line in a medal position (unofficially).

Now I’ve never done well in the British Championships so the thought of a medal was massively exciting. For a couple of hours I was elated until I was shown a copy of the updated results that revised my finish position to 4th. Its still unclear to me what happened but I can only assume that the guys who were finally placed 2nd and 3rd were caught up in the Queens crossing incident. If so, they must have been behind me at this point in the race as my wife told me later that I went through the crossing point just before the Queen arrived and so I was blissfully unaware of any disruption this may have caused behind. My split times for each leg of the race appear to add up to a faster overall time than the guys placed 2nd and 3rd and so I am assuming that their “finish time” is their actual chip time whereas the splits represent the times at each point from the start.  I hope that there is a clear explanation and the results can be adjusted to reflect the true reality of what happened. You can see below how the results are currently being shown.

I’ve spoken with BTF and they are going to get back to me.

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Whatever happens it was a great day. We caught up with a number of friends that we haven’t seen for ages, I got cheered on by, hopefully, the next generation of duathletes and I got another strong race in my legs. But, where was the Erdinger Alkoholfrei as we crossed the finish line to recover with? I missed you!

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So now its back to training to prepare for the next biggie, European Long Distance Championships in Copenhagen next month.

 

Stepping Up a Notch and a Return To Windsor

This weekend things step up a gear as it’s the first standard distance duathlon race of the season for me.

I did a sprint duathlon a month ago and I gave my run legs a good test over a half marathon three weeks ago. The body responded really well to both and I’m so happy with the way I’m recovering from these races. Much better discipline towards nutrition, massage and foam rolling is paying massive dividends as I’m not getting injured nor am I needing to take long periods of time to get ready to train hard again.I can’t emphasise enough just how much of a difference this makes to the way I feel about everything and how much belief it instills.

The last 3 week block has involved a few monster sessions and I love the challenge of completing these tough workouts. They are very different to racing as there are no distractions and it is all about how well the session can be executed. Even so, the physical challenge can be just as demanding. Not only that, but the mental benefits that come from training on the edge are always helpful assertions for me on race day. I just love training hard as it gives me a feeling of being so alive and testing myself.

I think I’m ready to step up another distance notch.

This weekend its back to racing and it is the Windsor Duathlon. Windsor is hosting the British Championships and it’s a few years since I’ve competed in the Brits. I’ve never done well in the past, so it will be interesting to see how I get on. I’m really excited to be going back to Windsor to race as its two years since we left the town and moved out of our home of over 20 years. There will no doubt be lots of fond memories swirling around in my head during the build up to the race and hopefully we will have a chance to catch up with lots of friends afterwards. Windsor Great Park is hosting the race and we are really lucky as it has been opened up for racing for the very first time and I know it will be a brilliant venue.

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What makes it even more special for me is that these roads and trails of the Great Park used to be my training venue of choice. The short punchy climbs that make up the bike course were where I started to take this sport seriously so hopefully my legs will remember how to smash it up them without going too far into the red until the last lap at least. And the run laps will be equally familiar as I’ve completed hundreds of sessions along these roads and trails. I can’t wait to get back there and compete.

I’ll let you all know how it goes!