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.

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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.