Lessons From Jonkoping 70.3

A week on from my body breaking down during Ironman 70.3 Jonkoping I took my first steps back, albeit gingerly and went for a jog. As I was moving ever so slowly through the beautiful fields behind the church in our village one of my favorite songs floated into my brain. Why did this happen at this moment and what is its significance?:

“Now the drugs don’t work

They just make you worse

And I know I’ll see your face again”

The Verve

As I jogged along I thought about it.

Well, I’ve always been anti drugs of any description and yet since the beginning of 2016 I’ve had to take a daily dose of Tamsulosin, a drug designed to manage my enlarged prostate . One tiny pill each day has not been much of an inconvenience and if it was going to prevent a recurrence of the agony of urine retention then I was prepared to swallow my pride and accept that I needed some outside help to keep my body functioning properly.

But here’s the thing. The drugs don’t work for me and they do make me worse as it appears that a relapse could happen at any time and in my case at the worst possible moment during the biggest race of my year. I’ve suddenly lost my confidence and belief in my body to do what I want it to. This sent me to a very dark place and it took a full week to get to the point where I was even prepared to risk something as simple as a jog.

So I’m determined to find a different solution and not simply accept the acknowledged step one (take the drugs and go away) of the medical profession in the management of this increasingly common middle-aged man enlarged prostate problem. I need to find a better solution for me that recognizes my circumstances and my hopes and dreams. I’ve been doing my own research and as a result I’m seeing a Consultant tomorrow!

By coincidence over the last few weeks I’ve been reading a new book by Matthew Syed called “Black Box Thinking”. Its all about high performance and its key message is that success happens as a result of learning from our mistakes and that the “growth mindset rather than fixed mindset” is absolutely critical for winners. I’ll be blogging some more about this soon as I think it’s a brilliant book with some excellent insights but for now I’ll reference it simply to highlight the importance of learning from each race.

So what can I learn from my experience at Jonkoping?

IMG_0685Was I right to chase that medal or should I have cashed in my chips when I was struggling? A week on I still believe it was the correct thing to do. By the time I knew I was suffering a recurrence of urine retention I would have needed medical intervention anyway. Therefore, carrying on did not compromise my health any further. My brain was telling me to stop, but by carrying on I learnt that my body was still capable of achieving my goal and so the real lesson here is that when I’m healthy again and simply on the edge of exhaustion I know that my body can deliver lots more for me than my brain probably wants to allow.

I’ve also learnt that health and fitness are not one and the same thing. They are certainly linked but they are very different.

Unlike fitness, health can change dramatically in the blink of an eye and can appear to some to be out of our control. I accept that there are factors of health that are gifted to us good and bad, but I do believe that there is lots that we can do to give ourselves the best chance of being healthy:

  • Don’t take it for granted. The fitter you are the better chance you have of being healthy (there is the connection). The doctors in Sweden were astonished at my ability to both deal with the condition that they treated and recover so quickly from their intervention. They recognized that this was down to my fitness levels.
  • Take personal responsibility for it. I think I’d abdicated my health to these drugs and assumed because a medical professional had prescribed them then they must be the right answer to my problem. Big mistake.
  • Be as informed as you can about anything that is affecting your healthy balance and keep upto date with new developments and research. The wonderful thing about science and medicine is that as a human race we are still learning so much and therefore, GP’s and even Specialists, can not be on top of everything and we mustn’t assume they are.
  • No one is as interested and curious about your own health as you and so you must influence it as best as possible by asking questions, encouraging reflection and rethinking. What was the best solution yesterday is not necessarily the best solution tomorrow.

I was guilty of failing to heed most of this insight and my body breakdown in Jonkoping has highlighted just how fragile health is and just how much we need to protect and nurture it ourselves. Given that this blog is all about how to achieve extraordinary things after the age of fifty I think the most powerful lesson I’ve learnt recently is that health is the foundation for success and that it should never be taken for granted.

I have never been fitter. Ever. Period. But without being healthy my fitness can not be put to my advantage.

Moving on, I’ve also learnt that despite my passion for life long learning and development I can have a tendancy to get into a fixed mindset without realising it. For example, over recent races I’ve struggled with my new wetsuit and was beginning to “believe” that it is difficult to remove in a race situation. Anecdotes from other people about Xterra wetsuits being tricky helped to confirm this new limiting belief and therefore I was becoming “fixed” around the wetsuit causing the problem rather than me! It was only through repeated conversations with my coach that I realized I was approaching wetsuit removal in the wrong way. Zip down, Velcro ripped, shoulders out works so much better than Velcro ripped, zip down, shoulders out because if the zip is down first then the Velcro will not reaffix itself as soon as its ripped apart, thus allowing the shoulders to pop out. Consciously following the correct steps resulted in a seamless wetsuit removal and brought a real moment of joy within the hurly burly of the race.

Where might you be limiting yourself with a fixed mindset?

My final piece of learning from Jonkoping is that I got my fueling strategy wrong. I drank too much electrolyte and not enough water on the bike and also took on board too many gels, especially caffeine gels. As a result my body couldn’t process it all and it came back on the run. I did this because after my only other race at this distance I totally bonked with one kilometer to go and so this time I think I went too far the other way. Next time I need to find a better balance.

So despite a deeply disappointing outcome at the race there is so much learning that I can take forward to make me a better triathlete in the future.

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“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”

Where to start?

I guess to reassure everyone that I’m ok. I’ll be out of action for a little while, whilst I try to get to the bottom of what caused my problems during the race but I’ll be back stronger and better prepared for having endured what I went through on the streets of Jonkoping!

I’d never been more excited in the days leading up to a race. It was going to be my first official Ironman 70.3 race and it was our first time in Sweden. The scale of the whole event dwarfed most other things I’ve been involved with for the way it took over the whole community. ITU and ÉTU championships are great and have brilliant atmospheres but the excitement around the town of Jonkoping for their first ever Ironman event was captivating and a privilege to be part of.

I felt ready and my performances over the previous couple of weeks suggested I was hitting a peak level of fitness and form just at the right time. This was the race I’d been looking forward to all year and I had a well of confidence that was building inside.

We arrived in Jonkoping a couple of days early and had a chance to look around. It’s somewhere that we would never think of coming to unless it was for a race and I’m so glad that we’ve been. The setting on the enormous Lake Vattern is stunning and for a town of less than 100,000 it has amazing facilities for its people (and having visited the inside of its leading edge hospital it was like being transported into a very bright future compared to our overstretched NHS ). We enjoyed a relaxing day exploring the bike course which took us through some stunning countryside, stumbled across a fabulous restaurant for lunch and most importantly took even more confidence from the terrain. The toughest section was over the 1st 40km and so once I’d ridden this as practice I knew how hard to push to ensure that I could really go to town over the second half. Confidence was building even more.

2016-07-09 12.25.06Race day arrived and the conditions were pretty much perfect. It was cool, overcast and the high winds of the previous days had dropped to simply a steady breeze. It was going to be a memorable day.

The added complications of transition with red and blue bags and changing tents all seemed to be falling my way as I had the ideal slots at the end of racks and would have no problems finding my things. The stars were aligning beautifully!

2016-07-09 14.36.30A short warm up swim calmed me down and helped get me in the zone for the start. An enchanting rendition of the Swedish national anthem just before the Pro start brought a tear to my eye and reinforced what a special day this was going to be.

Ironman races seem to begin with a rolling start to minimize the washing machine effect and so the 2000 competitors slowly edged their way to the start line with 4 swimmers at a time being released down the ramp and into the water.

The swim course could not have been more straight forward. Up the lake for 900m, turn left for 100m, turn left again and swim back for 900m. Easy. I swam ok and did not get passed by too many others. The last 400m was hard as I was beginning to get a combination of tired, bored of swimming in a straight line with nothing else to think about and a tad anxious that my heart rate was a bit high. I was glad to reach the swim exit and pleased with my legs as they got immediately into a smooth run along the blue carpet towards transition.

My thoughts now turned to getting out of the wetsuit. Would I be able to execute this today or struggle as I’ve been doing recently?  Zip down, Velcro released, out popped my shoulders and my arms were out without any drama. Easy. “Can’t wait to tell Annie” I thought as I ran towards T1.

It must have been 800m to transition and so plenty of time to take stock of how I was feeling. My most over-riding thought was that my heart was still racing and this felt very odd and so I tried to breathe deeply and slowly to bring it down, without any joy.2016-07-09 14.35.15

Once into T1 I grabbed my bike bag and headed into the tent. Wetsuit was removed seamlessly, helmet on quickly, swim stuff put back into the bag and away I went, dropping the bag into the big bins en route to my bike. There seemed to be plenty of bikes in my area which is an encouraging sign of my swim progress and off I went. As I got into my riding I was still very aware of just how high my HR was and so I continued to focus on slowing down my breathing to get it more under control.

I then settled into a strong TT position for the first few kilometres as I headed out of town towards the 1st big climb. I’d practiced this climb and so was pleased to find that the gears I thought I’d need were the ones that I used. This race was going to plan. I reached the high point of the bike course in good time and then felt it was time to push on. I’d been taking plenty of fluid on board and swapped a bottle for a new one at the 40km feed station.

During the 2nd half of the bike things began to unravel. I was getting distracted by strong sensations of the need to pee and yet I couldn’t manage it. This was creating tension in my body and I felt an increasing need to get out of the aero position and stretch off a bit.

2016-07-10 19.33.53-1I was pleased to get back to T2 and get on my feet again as I thought this would unlock my ability to pee once I got going. I had a good transition and flew out onto the run course feeling momentarily invigorated. My legs felt great and I thought I was about to put in a strong run. However after 200m I suddenly felt odd and vomited in full stride. It seemed like the gels I’d been taking throughout the bike course had been rejected by my body. My stomach was churning violently and I had to slow down and hang on for the 1st aid station. I made it and felt a bit better after a visit to the toilets but was still concerned that I hadn’t really managed to pee properly. Despite this, I thought that I needed to get some water inside me to help dilute the gel concentrations that were probably still sitting in my stomach. I was now feeling pretty rubbish but concocted a plan to jog between the aid stations and walk whilst taking on bananas and water until i felt better. However, everytime I tried to increase my pace I felt the waves of nausea returning together with an increasing frequency and intensity of the need to pee ( but I simply couldn’t).

So I now had a choice. Do the sensible thing, pull out and accept its not my day or battle on and reach the finish line?

I kept hearing the voice of the race director in my head explaining that the finisher medal was the same for the pro’s as it was for the age groupers. I wanted that medal and the worse I began to feel the more I wanted that little bit of metal on the end of a yellow ribbon. Getting that medal drove me on, even though I was getting slower and slower.

As I passed Kathy on each lap I stopped to reassure her that I was ok, even though I was becoming increasingly aware of how much I was struggling. To her credit she didn’t once try to get me to pull out but just gently asked me to re-evaluate each time. To me this was a critical moment, a test of how well I understood my limits. I wasn’t going to put myself in danger but I did want to see how much I could suffer in the pursuit of something I wanted to achieve. I had plenty of time ( two and a half hours on that run, if you can call it that!!) to listen to my body and assess what was going on. I had a pretty good idea that this was a recurrence of a urine retention problem I’d had last year and it would probably end up with a visit to hospital but in that moment I just had to believe that I could reach the finish line.

On I went getting slower and slower. The encouragement from the crowds were overwhelming and small children almost brought me to tears with their words of support in perfect English.

I finally crossed the line 3 minutes short of 6 hours to proudly receive my finisher medal. I knew deep down that I needed to find a medic quickly but it took Kathy’s arrival to make me do it. I was put straight into an ambulance and taken to the hospital where a brilliant team were waiting to sort me out.

Total relief. Total admiration for the skills of these people.

2016-07-12 13.10.115 hours later, following a series of tests I was allowed to leave, still proudly wearing that Finisher medal. I feel huge gratitude to the whole team who helped me at Jonkoping Hospital.

Ironman 70.3 Jonkoping did not work out the way I’d hoped or planned but I loved the experience, loved the weekend in Sweden and it will most definitely rank very highly in terms of my most memorable races!

As ever, thanks for the continued support of Erdinger Alkoholfrei, thanks to Coach Annie for all the guidance and preparation and thanks to Kathy, friends and family for all the love shown to me.

I’ll be back!

Peak District Triathlon 3 July

 

What a cracker of a race!

The Chatsworth Estate is an inspiring venue for a race right in the heart of the beautiful Peak District, and when coupled with a still, sunny early morning it created a magical environment that more than made up for the fact that all bikes had to be racked and ready to go by 6:30am (despite my start time not being until 8:20am).

After the torrential rain of the previous day, the race village was pretty wet, but the roads had dried up nicely and the conditions were set for great racing.

Xtramile Events, the race organizer are very good at putting on a race and when it became clear that there was congestion trying to get 1000 competitors onto the site between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m they dealt with it all very quickly and put the start of the race back by 15 minutes. It’s not what they did, but the calm way that they did it that seemed to relax everyone and prevent any unnecessary stress so early on a race day. Well done Xtramile.

Today I was racing the sprint as a warm up and a bit of speed training before my next “A” race (Ironman 70.3 Jonkoping) in Sweden next weekend. This season I’ve used a similar strategy to prepare for my other “A” races and its proved successful so I was hoping to keep it going.

Given that I had 2 hours between racking my bike and my start I was under no pressure and took things very gently. It was great to catch up with Erdinger Pete and Cath and have a warm up with fellow Erdinger team-mate Garry. All was going well as I went back into transition to put on my wetsuit and get ready for the swim start. However, the zip on my trusty Erdinger tri suit jammed and wouldn’t zip up. Despite the help of the full Erdinger crew we couldn’t dislodge it and so had to improvise so that I could start. It’s amazing what a few safety pins and some packing tape can do!

CmbNn3EXEAEPrDgRelieved, I headed off to the swim start arriving just in time for my wave to enter the water. 12 degrees was mighty bracing and the 60 second wait for the start gun seemed like an eternity.

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Once we got going I forgot about how cold the water was as I was too focused on trying to find a small amount of it that I could swim in. It was so crowded and the River Derwent through the Chatsworth estate is fairly narrow and shallow at the edges so the swimmable channel was limited to say the least. The downside of improving my swim speed is that it takes a lot longer for me to find any clear water and it wasn’t until we got to the turn buoy at 375 m that it seemed to settle down. The good news though is that my improving technique now gives me the confidence to hold my lines and fight for my position in the water. I’m definitely getting there. I felt like I swam well on the return and was soon exiting the river to head back up the field to transition, dodging the sheep pooh along the way!

My new wetsuit has proved tricky to get off to date and today I probably had more challenges than before. During the run back to T1 I would usually have the upper part of the wetsuit off ready to kick it free from my legs as I get to the bike. Today however I didn’t manage to get it off my arms and ran into transition with both arms trapped. So I lost time doing my Houdini impression and then made things worse by getting the clasps on both my helmet and race belt stuck. 1:51 in T1 was not v impressive and probably cost me all the time I’d made up through swimming faster! Heh ho, at least this is something that should be easy to correct and then I’ll be really hunting down the fast swimmers.

Out onto the bike I went. Today, we were being given special access to the private drive of the Devonshire family which led us alongside the river and out onto the public roads. I don’t know what they have been doing on this road but it was covered the whole way with a thick layer of, what I assume were, animal droppings. By the time we reached the road my bike was coated in this thick slime….nice ( 1st job when I got home was to give my flying machine a good clean!).

After 3km we entered the village of Beeley and headed up the 3-4km steady climb to the top of Curbar Edge. This was my kind of climb as it was not too steep and by tapping out a nice cadence I went past dozens of fellow competitors. Over the top I went and slotted straight back into the big ring and found a superb rhythm that powered me all the way back to Chatsworth. Even the section of road on the return that had its top layer skimmed off didn’t cause me any issues as I decided to take my lead from the Paris-Roubaix boys who talk about going hard to skim across the cobbles. It worked for me and I was soon arriving back at T2. There was a long run across the sodden fields from the dismount line and I was feeling very pleased with my decision to race sockless for the 1st time. Bare feet dealt with the mud and puddles very easily. A much quicker T2 got me back out and onto the run course. This was a brute. It’s all off road on a combination of muddy paths, fields and rough tracks. Its 2.5km up hill and then 2.5km straight back down again. The ascent is a leg burner, pace is irrelevant its just about getting to the top in one piece so that you can then let it all go on the way down.

With a thousand competitors on the course at the same time it created a great atmosphere on the run as friends and family generated lots of noise and encouragement.

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I crossed the line smiling from ear to ear in 1:19:34, after a 23:14 run which is the slowest 5km time I’ve recorded for a long time. But this is not a fast course. Its got long transitions and each of the 3 legs has its own special challenges. So the time doesn’t matter here, it’s the experience that counts and this is what makes it a very special race. I had a real buzz and spring in my step.

As I helped out pouring Erdinger for all the finishers I could see that it wasn’t just me that thought this was such a special race. Everyone was smiling, exhilarated, swapping stories of their own race and their own interpretations of the brute of the hill at the end, the shock of the river, the challenge of the bike course. I think they’ll all be back again.

Well done XtraMile for putting on such a great event. Huge thanks to Erdinger for their continued support to me and especially today for the running repairs that got me to the start line.

Oh, and I later found out that I finished 2nd in my AG and given that this was a 2017 European Champs Qualifier and therefore attracted a pretty high quality field it shows just how much I’m improving as a triathlete.

Chuffed!

What great preparation for next week. If I can get my wetsuit off (and wear a trisuit that works), who knows what I might be able to do !