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.

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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.

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.

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!

Where does Inspiration Come From?

It’s been a very tough year and a half, but I’ve emerged on the other side with a new level of inspiration.

Both my parents have died after long, desperately difficult battles with dementia and strokes. I struggled with the prostate health problem that I’ve discussed previously. Racing didn’t go to plan either in 2016 and whilst I wanted to remain committed to my big long term goal of getting to Kona one day, I think deep down I have been questioning whether or not I’ve got what it takes to achieve this.

I am aware that through this difficult period I’ve been doing a bit of reframing. “Lets aim at 70.3 World Champs and see how I get on with that “ is a conversation that’s been going on in my head. This sounds like an athlete that is doubting himself and showing cracks in his commitment.

This is perhaps not surprising, given the context of the last year and a half. Helping to care for my parents and seeing them very slowly decline towards the inevitable end point of death has been hugely emotional. Without the distraction of training and racing, especially the opportunity to release all the painful emotions through hard exercise I’m not sure I could have kept being strong for them during the difficult final period of their lives. I also believe that my dedication to being fit and strong helped me get through the health scare. So on the one hand, my intensity and commitment to training has been a massive help to me, but on the other I have not been able to convert all the training into desirable performance outcomes that meet with my own expectations.

As a consequence, some disappointing 2016 results have been gnawing away at my commitment and belief to the big hairy goal. The clarity of why I want to go for it has been challenged, especially during those dark days of sitting with dying parents who have worked so hard all their lives only to see them apparently exiting the world so weak and helpless. What is the point of it all? It was pretty bleak at times.

However, out of all this pain and confusion a new level of inspiration has emerged. Inspiration that will be so significant that I’m convinced it will reinforce my commitment to my original long term goal. I started doing triathlon to see how good I could be and so I wanted to give myself the ultimate test by seeing just how good I can be at Ironman World Champs in Kona.

Where did this new found inspiration come from?

My Mum passed away on Jan 26th. She managed to eat her last bit of real food at our house on Christmas day. She was already extremely weak and tired. Her race was seemingly pretty much run. Despite being totally dependant on others for everything at this point, she showed such grace, dignity and joy for what little she had left. Everyday from then her physical condition took another step down and on 12th January she was declared as being in her end of life phase. All medication was stopped. She confounded everyone as she continued to live for a further two weeks with the same poise and courage. She was determined to show what real strength could achieve as she left this world.

I was lucky enough to be with her as she finally passed away and at that moment I realized she was leaving me with one last gift.

So, her parting lesson to me, that I will take as my inspiration for the enormous challenges ahead, was surely that when you think you have nothing left to give, there is still much more within you, if only you have the courage and grace to find it, and when you think that you have been dealt a bad hand, accept it with a smile and find a way of turning it to your advantage.

So when I’m racing in future and I get that inevitable feeling of being empty, when I feel as though I’ve given my all, when the voices in my head are screaming at me to stop, I know I can use my Mum as inspiration and dig deep for those untapped resources of strength and energy that exist within us all.

My inspiration has come from this period of personal sadness and I hope I can use it to drive me forward towards my goal. I know how proud my parents would have been.