Listen to Coach not Chimp

I was a week out from running my 1st marathon for 8 years and the training plan told me to follow up my longish run on Saturday morning with a 2hour cycle on Sunday. Coach had described the cycle session as steady. Nothing more please!

It was a beautiful late March morning when I set off towards the Welsh Mountains with not a care in the world. My mind was wandering back to the same week 27 years earlier when our 1st son was born. Such amazing memories. The weather then was beautifully warm and sunny too and at that time I couldn’t wait to take our new son out into the world. I remember like it was yesterday showing him things for the first time. It truly was the most exciting thing that had ever happened and the memories of that momentous personal time are still as vivid today. And every year since during the last few days in March the weather seems to be unseasonably superb and this always has the effect of transporting me back to that wonderful time.

So I was in a very happy place as I got the legs and body warmed up over the first few miles heading towards Wales. My awareness was brought back to the present when I spotted a road I’d never been down before and thought I’d give it a go as it seemed to be heading towards the Mountains where I wanted to end up. Sure enough it took me directly to where I wanted, revealing the perfect long drag into the foothills that I’d hoped.

I reached the bottom of a familiar longish climb sooner than I’d expected and quickly calculated that I could probably afford to take it halfway and then peel off back towards home. That would give me a really good two hour circuit.

Off I set at a comfortable tempo, remembering the advice from Coach Annie to keep it nice and steady. My Chimp was woken up when I saw a group of riders ahead. Let’s just get to them, and then either sit in and take a ride the rest of the way or cruise past, I thought to myself. I added a few percent to my power and started to close them down but just as I was about to join them, a couple of cars came past me but couldn’t get around the group. I was now caught behind the cars and frustratingly found I was having to constantly brake going up hill to avoid running into the back of the cars. I knew it didn’t matter, it was a lovely sunny day, I’d only got to knock out 35 miles or so, so what was the problem. Just relax and go with the flow. Chimp however was getting irritated. I needed to get past these riders and show them the speed they should be going up the climb ( weird I know!). After a few minutes the road opened up, the cars went past and I was also able to cruise past. Having done this manoeuvre I now felt the need to settle into a slightly harder rhythm when bang, I got a shock, as two new cyclists came from nowhere, cruised around me as though I was stationary and with a jolly “good morning” sped off up the road.

This was the moment where my chimp truly took over. “Don’t accept that” he told me. “Get after them and show them whose a stronger rider. Is it you or them?” So that’s what I did. It was as though I had no control over myself. This horribly competitive side of me kicked in and wouldn’t let go. I latched onto the back of these two poor guys who were out for a pleasant Sunday ride and I’m convinced that very soon after this my chimp woke theirs up and the fun now started. I could sense that they squeezed a bit more out of their pedals to shake me off, but I wasn’t giving in. At times the power numbers were way over 300w and we were only half way up the climb. On and on we went. They pushing harder, I responded to hang on. As the minutes went by my thoughts turned to what must they be thinking. It’s hurting me, so it must be hurting them. They are putting in even more effort on the front so maybe it’s time that I should come around and do a turn. But I was hanging on. How could I possibly do this? A few more minutes went by and we had now settled into, what for me, was a top end threshold effort. It was uncomfortable but I knew I could hold it and I also felt like we had now imperceptibly formed into a group (rather than me simply sitting uninvited on their wheels). It’s weird how that happens without any words being spoken, but it did. This was the moment where it felt right for me to come to the front and take a turn at keeping the tempo up. As I came past I sensed that my effort was welcomed. Now I needed to dig in and hold on. There was still a mile or so to the top but I was beginning to enjoy the pain of being on the edge and knew that it was sustainable. Just before the very top there was one last junction on the right and the two strangers came past to tell me they were peeling off and acknowledged a good effort all round. Our chimps had a metaphorical group hug as the strangers headed off right and I was left to push on over the last few hundred metres to the top.

Wow where did that effort come from? That wasn’t part of the plan for the day, but it was such a buzz to push it with those apparently like minded lycra clad strangers. My chimp was now happy and for the next thirty minutes or so I cruised along recovering from the effort I’d put in. I realised I’d gone further than planned and the loop to get home would mean I’d be out for longer, but not to worry it was worth it for that blast up the climb.

By the time I got home I was now feeling fatigued but content that I’d got an extra 45 minutes in the legs. This would surely be helpful. But no.

The next day was an easy run day. Just 4 miles very gentle alongside the river bank in the sunshine was all that was required. Easy! My legs felt like lead weights, my body did not want to play. I can’t remember the last time I found it so hard to keep putting one leg in front of the other and all I was supposed to be doing was an easy jog.

I struggled home and posted my comments on the session for Annie on Training Peaks. Within an hour I got an email reply. “There was a reason why yesterday was supposed to be a two hour steady ride and not almost 3 hours with a 15 minute threshold blast in the middle. You have a marathon next week and you are supposed to be getting ready for it!” Oops. Sorry Coach. I got carried away. Or more to the point I allowed my chimp to run riot.

A few days on I feel like I’ve recovered and not done any real damage, but I also now recognise just how every session is there for a reason. The lesson is to listen to Coach and not Chimp and the moral of this little story is to never lose sight of the bigger picture. This particular block of training is leading me into the marathon and if I want to perform well in it then I need to remain disciplined about how I prepare.

Fingers crossed for Sunday in Manchester.

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2017 Is Shaping Up Beautifully

Over the last couple of seasons my “A” race goals have been focused around Championships where I’ve been proud to represent GB AG team.

This year it’s a bit different.  The season is designed around 4 longer races as I begin to challenge myself towards an Ironman in the fairly near future. I’ll only be pulling on the GB tri suit on one occasion and that is for the European Long Distance Duathlon in May.

This race takes place in Sankt Wendl in Germany. Having initially been promoted as a true Long Distance race over 20/120/10 for some unexplained reason it has now been revised to more of a Middle distance event over 10/60/10. Whilst I’m a tiny bit disappointed that its been made shorter I do think this distance should suit me really well.

img_0062.jpgIn preparation for the original format I entered the Manchester Marathon in early April. Training for this would have given me the extra endurance base for this much longer race and I also felt it was important to get a marathon back in my legs again. Its 8 years since I last completed one and before I move up to full Iron distance racing I want to have dealt with my marathon demons once and for all. During my 30’s and 40’s when marathon running provided the primary purpose for my training I didn’t manage to get to the start-line in physically good shape for any of my previous seven marathons. My body kept breaking down around a sequence of chronic calf and achilles problems that meant long periods of rest leading into these marathon challenges. As a consequence I always found the distance harder than it should be and it has left a bit of a mental scar that needs to be removed. So even though Manchester is now unnecessary to prepare me for my 1st A race of the year I do believe that it will have massive psychological benefits for me over the next few years as I work towards the crazy Iron challenges.

So between now and Mid May it’s all about building for this European Duathlon with the goal of putting it all out there at my stronger disciplines of Bike and run.

In June my Tri season begins in earnest. This year I’m focused on Middle distance or 70.3 racing. I’ve got 3 “A” races coming up in Denmark, Ireland and Spain. On June 18 it’s the European Ironman 70.3 Championships in Elsinore, Denmark. A stupid admin mistake by me meant that I failed to secure my automatic place in GB AG team for the official ITU European Championships (also in Denmark the week before) and so I decided to take up a place in this Ironman organised event instead. The fact that it’s also given European Championship status has given this added importance for me. I’d love to go well here and so I’ll be targeting this as a race to be on super top form.

A couple of months later its over to Dublin for a 70.3 race. This provides qualifying places for the 2018 World Championships in South Africa so that is the dream outcome from this race. More importantly it will give me more experience at the distance.

Finally in October I’ll end the season in Majorca with a Challenge event at Peguera. I’ll be doing this simply to enjoy it and end the season with a bang. We might even tag on a week of “holiday” ( read on for what I mean by holiday) at the end.

Between these 3 “A” races I’ll be competing in various other triathlons in UK including, Leeds ITU, Llandudno ( where we’ll put the team back together for a relay smash fest), Chester, Anglian Water and the Club Relays in Nottingham with the Erdinger team.

So its going to be a full and varied season.

To top it all, I’m also very excited about the development of our new cycling venture called “Compagnons Cycling Collective”. In July we will be taking a group out to Dolomites for a week of unbelievably beautiful, if challenging cycling. This will be our first tour outside UK and we are delighted to have a full complement of riders. The planning is all done and this should be a spectacular week. I’d also like to pull together another Compagnons Tour this year, around Majorca beginning on October 16th, to follow on from the race in Peguera. So if anyone fancies a week of supported cycling in the warmth of Majorca to end the season then please get in touch.

I couldn’t be more excited about this season. Bring it on.

1st Race of 2017: Clumber Park Duathlon 18th March

Another year older, another year more experienced and yet I still find myself getting ridiculously nervous in the days leading up to races and especially the first race of the season. This year it was even worse 48 hours out from the race. I was getting myself in a right state for reasons that I still can’t quite understand. Maybe it was a result of all the emotional stress of the last six months involving major operations and the death of my Mum. Maybe I was getting anxious to discover if the operations had done the trick and have given me a stronger, more robust body to push to its limits. I was soon to find out!

Since getting back into training just before Christmas I have been feeling great and building up a strong base of fitness. With Coach Annie’s guidance we have put together a really enjoyable, productive block of consistent training that has led me into this first race. My rational self knew that all was good, but my chimp does like to have his say and he was certainly playing tricks right up to the night before the race.

Thankfully on race morning, chimp had been well and truly exercised and so was now resting , enabling my rational side to takeover .

Everything was organized and I had removed some of the risks that can cause pre race stress. We were staying across the road from Clumber Park and so I knew it would only take 5 minutes to get there. I brought my own breakfast to ensure that I was eating exactly the right things for me. By the way, I’ve been lucky enough to be working with Alan Murchison of PerformanceChef since January on my nutrition and he has made some really valuable improvements to my diet. (if anyone wants to know more then please get in touch). My new favorite brekkie is bircher and its so easy to prepare. Just soak oats in your choice of liquid overnight (for me its either almond or coconut milk) together with some Greek yoghurt and then add fruit, nuts, seeds just before you tuck in. Delicious , highly nutritious and full of energy for racing. It certainly set me up well.

I got set up in transition early. I knew I was strong physically, I knew I’d put the right fuel in the tank and I knew my bike was set up right. I had a nice little warm up with fellow Erdinger Alkoholfrei athlete Tom Vickery and was now all ready to go.

The nerves had gone, I wanted to perform and gain a sense of where I was at this stage in the year. The gun fired and we were off. Unusually our AG was the first of the men’s waves to begin and so it was fun to be up near the front of the race. I started strongly and then settled into a smooth tempo as we headed up through the park. The 1st run was two laps of an out and back 5k route. The out section seemed to be pretty much all uphill and so I was looking forward to making the turn and coming back down with some relaxed speed but the course seemed to resemble an Escher Artwork as we still seemed to be going more up than down on the return section. Onto the second lap we went and I held my pace, kept relaxed as I tried to work harder over the last couple of kilometres. I took a glance at my watch as I approached transition and noted that it had just gone over 40 minutes. For a fleeting moment I felt a hint of disappointment as I had thought I’d been running slightly better, but I quickly dismissed this thought and focused instead on what lay ahead.

First I needed to execute the transition to the bike smoothly but sadly this did not happen. As I headed across the bumpy field towards the bike mount line the elastic bands that were holding my bike shoes perfectly in place, snapped. The shoes instantly inverted thus making it much more difficult to get my feet into. I had a very clumsy, slow mount but was pleased that I didn’t cause any disruption to any other racers or worse, end up crashing into anything whilst I was struggling to get the shoes the right way up and my feet into them.

I did not let this error affect me and stuck to my plan. The first mile on the bike was on a narrow road with leaves and branches all across it and so I’d decided to take it very easy through this section, allowing my body to adjust to the bike as I navigated this potentially hazardous part of the course. I was pleased that after the clumsy beginning I didn’t panic and try to smash it to catch up time. Once out onto the open roads I built through the gears and got into a strong rhythm, pushing a low cadence. When I race I like to go purely on feel, avoiding any potential opportunities for my chimp to get distracted by erroneous numbers. I could sense I was just below threshold and this seemed like a good place to be given I’d got 2 laps and 40km to power through. The course was rolling for the whole lap, meaning no opportunities to recover and free wheel down hill, but because our wave was an early starter I had clear roads and didn’t get caught up in much traffic. I felt good, was comfortable in the aero position and held my focus on what was directly in front of me. As I completed the first lap I had a quick glance at the watch and this suggested that I’d been going just over 30 mins. Wow, that was good, I was very happy. I just needed to keep it going.

Clumber Duathlon 2017I knew from the run that I’d been behind others in my AG and so on the second lap I was taking a keen interest in race numbers as I passed riders to see if I was making my way through my AG field. About half way around this lap I passed a coupe of guys with similar numbers to mine and I suspected that I now must be near the front. This gave me the encouragement to push harder, especially down the final section along Lime Tree Avenue, the most difficult stretch of the course. The road seemed much bumpier, the surface was like treacle and it was into the wind. The result was a leg sapping section that also tested the brain. “Ignore the pain and keep pushing” is what I was telling myself.

I got back to transition to find it looking empty, especially in lane 7 where my AG were located. I re-racked the bike, helmet off, shoes on and was away very smoothly. “I might just be in the lead” I thought as I headed out of transition. Again, I allowed the thought to drift away as quickly as it came and replaced it with a focus on what I was doing. Relax the shoulders, keep the head up, open the chest to suck in air, shorten the stride and quicken the cadence. Over the first few kilometres I just kept going through this sequence of mental checks. I reached the turn point and then could see who was chasing. Two guys in particular looked like they were in my race. These were the two numbers I’d passed on the bike and they did seem to be running faster than I was. “Don’t panic just run your race”, I told myself. Sure enough they picked me off over the last 2k and I just didn’t have it in my legs to keep with them. But this didn’t matter. I’d run a really good race and was delighted with my performance. I’d shown myself that my body was healed and capable of dealing with the intensity of a race again. This was a good sensation.

My finish time was 2:07:11 (more than 8 minutes quicker than the last time out here) and this placed me third in AG and should give me a qualification place for the 2018 European Champs. Job done.

In two weeks time I’ve got the Manchester Marathon and then once I’ve recovered from that I can start to get some speed sessions in that will help to bring down those 5 and 10k times so that I can be more competitive for the “A“ races later in the year.

Huge thanks as ever to Kathy for all her amazing support, to my nephew Matty who cheered me on, Coach Annie, Alan Murchison and of course to my brilliant sponsors Erdinger Alkoholfrei.

Its looking very encouraging for this season!