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.

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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.

Pete’s got a “Problem”

It doesn’t matter how fit you are, how well you look after yourself and how positively you view life, sometimes stuff just happens to you. When it does you can’t ignore it. It won’t just go away as I found to my own cost.

So I thought I would share my story of what has become affectionately known this year as “Pete’s Problem”. Here goes:

It creeps up on you over time and because its so personal and invisible its something that tends to get ignored. Oh and blokes don’t like to talk about such things either. We might take the piss in the pub about the one in the gang who has to keep going to the loo but its perceived as weakness or a sign of failing masculinity to not be able to hold your beer and control your bladder. So playful mockery is a legitimate bloke reaction and seldom do we stop to ask if they are ok or try to help them to face the truth that there is an issue that shouldn’t be ignored. As I’ve found out to my cost, prostate problems don’t go away on their own.

During the day it tends to be ok. You can normally nip to the loo whenever you need and occasionally things can get critical when there doesn’t seem to be a loo when you need one. But its at night that things start to change. At first you are getting up half way through the night to answer the call of nature and slowly but surely you can find yourself getting up every hour. This is when it really has an impact (even though you don’t realize it) as a full nights sleep becomes a thing of the past. Strangely though your body adjusts to being permanently tired and a part of your brain kicks in to tell you that everything is ok.

Little by little we accept the new normal and we ignore the fact that this new normal isn’t ok.

Then something dramatic happens that changes everything.

For me that dramatic event happened last December when I was meeting up with a few old mates in a pub in London. It was busy, it was great to see them again, we had lots to catch up on and it wasn’t easy or convenient to keep nipping to the loo (and I probably also didn’t want to run the risk of being the butt of the weak bladder jokes). When I did go I found something unusual happened. I couldn’t go at first and then it only came out in a dribble. This was not good. Each time I attempted to leave the loo I knew I needed to go again but thankfully with multiple repeats I emptied my bladder. Shortly after it was time to get the train back up north to Chester and I was now unable to urinate at all even though I was desperate. It felt like I was having contractions for the whole two hour journey. It was so painful. Somehow I got home and my wife suggested a hot bath would ease things and also that I should drink more water to try and flush out whatever was causing the problem. We had no idea that this was the worst thing we could have done at this moment!

We were ignorant about urine retention which is a condition that is caused by the bladder going into spasm and therefore preventing any fluid from leaving the bladder. The only way to deal with it is to have a catheter inserted to drain the bladder and then leave it in there for multiple days to allow the bladder to recover from the trauma. As my contractions got more frequent and more intense we ended up in A&E where I was rushed to the front of the queue to have the catheter procedure which thankfully, brought instant relief.

My prostate was seen as the cause of the problem as an internal inspection suggested that it was large but smooth and therefore probably benign. I was prescribed a drug called tamsulosin to relax the prostate and bladder to minimize the risk of going back into retention. I was told that I’d now need to take this drug indefinitely and whilst this news depressed me at first,as I do not like to feel that my body needs to rely on drugs to function effectively, once I adjusted my way of thinking I realised that it was a simply a tiny daily inconvenience to prevent further significant breakdowns. Over the next few months I had various other tests to check my flow rate and capacity to empty my bladder and whilst I didn’t score perfectly I was seen to be well within the acceptable range and so I continued to take the medication every day and settled into a new normal.

I got back into training hard, the early part of the race season began well and I put the retention episode behind me.

But then it happened again, only this time in the middle of a race.

I was in Sweden competing in my 1st Ironman 70.3 Triathlon and unknowingly went back into retention during the bike leg. I went from feeling that I could soon do with a loo visit to the dark realization that it was too late and I had now tipped over the edge into retention in such a short space of time. Having suffered retention once before I knew deep down what I was facing, but just couldn’t bring myself to confront it during the race and so decided to complete the run in the bizzare hope that my body would miraculously resolve it. I stopped at every aid station over the half marathon distance to try and urinate to relieve my growing discomfort levels. It was futile as I was already in retention. Eventually I crossed the finish line in agony, was put straight into an ambulance and rushed to the local hospital. To the shock of the medical team more than 3 litres of fluid was drained from me ( a normal full bladder is approximately one litre) and so lots of blood tests were quickly carried out. Thankfully, everything came back clear and so I was allowed to return to UK the next day.

It was now clear to me that my medication was not working sufficiently well to prevent further episodes of retention. I found a new Urology Consultant and embarked on 3 months of intensive investigations to try and understand what was happening and why. I was given additional medication whilst we continued our investigations, the new drug being one that helps to reduce the size of the prostate over time.  But when I learnt that my prostate was “super sized” it did seem that even if these drugs could reduce it over time I would still be left with a monster that could cause retention at any moment of stress. After viewing things as a result of an endoscopy, my Consultant concluded that I was continuously on the edge of going into retention and so we made a decision to have surgery to significantly reduce the size of my prostate. However there was another complication. Increasingly high scores from repeated PSA tests together with some suspicious images from an MRI scan led to a recommendation to have series of biopsy’s taken before making a final decision about surgery.

The risk of cancer seemed to be growing with every test I was having and yet I was still totally confident that my prostate was benign. It was only as I was arriving at the hospital for the biopsy operation that it dawned on me that I could have cancer. I did my best to put this thought to the back of my mind, but have to admit that I was suddenly very scared and the next 5 days before I got the results back were pretty difficult. Thankfully all 30 biopsies were clear and I have to say that I have never been so relieved in my life to hear this news. I was now able to proceed with the operation to reduce the prostate.

A few weeks later I went back under anaesthestic and had 50 grams of tissue removed. 24 hours later I was allowed home and delighted to be catheter-less and no longer requiring any of the previous medication. The next three weeks were difficult and uncomfortable as the body was beginning to heal but slowly things started to settle down. At first, urinating was very painful, far too frequent, often blood stained and triggered intense nerve pains all down the backs of my legs, but as the healing progressed these symptoms eased. One month on, I now feel as though my bladder is much more relaxed, the nerves around my whole core area have recovered and I’m sleeping so much better than I can remember for years. My brain has taken a while to adjust to not needing to wake frequently through the night but I’m now enjoying unbroken sleep which feels like such a treat.

I’ve now had my post op flow tests which are showing that I’m able to fully empty my bladder again and am urinating  like an Olympian! The decision to have surgery was absolutely the right thing for me to do and I’m hopeful that this will have incremental performance benefits for me next year (as well as obviously eradicating the danger of further retention).

My Consultant has given me the green light to begin some very light exercise and you won’t be surprised to learn that I have taken him at his word. I have loved getting out for a gentle jog, raising my heart rate a bit and sensing the blood pumping around the body again. I should be fully healed and ready to resume proper training on December 1st. 2017 is going to be a great year.

So why am I sharing all this personal stuff that some might find awkward or embarrassing ? Well, its simply to help you to avoid what I’ve been through or worse, given that Prostate Cancer is the most common cancer in men and one in eight of us will get it in their lifetime. I know that I am lucky that my prostate is benign.

If you are experiencing any problems urinating whether that’s to do with reduced flow, increased frequency, sudden urges then don’t be shy or embarrassed and don’t ignore it as it will only get progressively worse. Go and see your GP and get checked out. The earlier you do it, the better chance you’ve got of avoiding what I’ve been through and I can categorically confirm that you do not want to experience this if you can possibly help it.

2016 Race Year Review

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2016 has certainly been a year of highs and lows, but I’m relieved to finish the season with a strong performance and an encouraging result.

March

My race year began on a cold March morning with a Sprint Duathlon at Oulton Park, a favorite venue of mine. The Erdinger arm warmers certainly came in handy !

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This undulating circuit produces fast times and now that this event was draft legal the bike leg was even quicker than usual.

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I treated the race as a training session and was pleased with my finish position of 3rd in AG in a time of 69:56.

My next race was a week later with the Liverpool half marathon, again a great opportunity to test my run legs. As you can see I was delighted to run a new personal best time of 85:03. This got me very excited about my prospects for the season.

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Into April and it was the Windsor Duathlon that also doubled up as the British Championship. The race was a logistical disaster with competitors being held up on the bike course and after crossing the finish line in 2nd place in my AG I was later relegated to 4th place. I was not happy, despite the smiles!

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Working hard on the 1st run

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All smiles despite the result!

May saw my first international race of the year, a superb trip to Denmark for the European Long Course Duathlon Championships in Copenhagen. This was my 1st time racing at this distance and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and how strong the competition might be.

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Making new friends

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Despite carrying a niggling injury which forced me to take it easy on the 1st run, I was delighted to finish 3rd and pick up a bronze medal in a time of 2:56:43 over the 10k/60k/10k course.

At the end of May I had my first triathlon of the season at the Erdinger sponsored Nottingham Big Tri.

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I was delighted with my swim improvements and grabbed 4th place in the AG in a time of 66:59 and had a chance to celebrate with my son.

June

A week later and we are off to Spain for the World Duathlon Championships.

I had high hopes of winning a medal here and was determined to improve on my 4th place from last year.

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All set for a great race!

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The race did not go to plan and after a huge crash on the bike at 60kph, which left me shocked, battered and bruised I somehow managed to pick myself up and not only finish the race, but finished in 8th place. I was very proud of the determination I showed that day.

IMG_0067An unplanned stay in the medical tent after the finish line.

I then a few weeks of enforced rest to recover from the crash, before having a fun team triathlon at Cholmondely Castle near home in Cheshire.

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I was a bit anxious pre race, before testing out my body again!

Gauntlet finish line

Together with my son and his girlfriend we won the team event over half iron distance. As you can see we are pretty pleased with ourselves!

Into July and I had a great race in Chatsworth Tri, after a kit malfunction, where I finished 2nd in AG in a time of 79:34.

I was feeling good again and ready for the next big challenge.

The following week it was back into Europe again for my debut at 70.3 distance in Jonkoping in Sweden. This was a beautiful venue for such a huge step up in my development as a triathlete. Frustratingly, the race didn’t go to plan. I was taken ill during the race, but was determined to finish and struggled through to the end to claim my finishers medal in 5:57:13.

2016-07-09 08.27.24Excited the day before my 70.3 debut

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Anxiously clutching my Erdinger water bottle before the swim start

img_0236Just about to head out on the run. Little did i know what was just around the corner, as 200m further on I was vomitting and went into retention

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Proudly holding my hard earned finisher medal on the hospital bed

After crossing the finish line I was put straight into an ambulance and rushed to the local hospital.

Much of the rest of the summer was spent in and out of hospitals having tests to find the reason for my body breaking down so dramatically during the 70.3 race. I continued to train throughout, albeit with the worry that my body might let me down again. I was determined to finish my season on a high.

The national relay championships at Nottingham in August became a fun distraction from all the tests I was going through. Racing as part of the Erdinger Alkoholfrei team was really cool and we put in a good display.

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Here we are celebrating a great team effort!

This race gave me the boost I needed ahead of my final race which was always planned as my “A” race of the year, The European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships in Austria.

After all my health scares over the summer I was so excited going into the race and really wanted to enjoy it. I adjusted my goals for the race to reflect everything that i had been through and set myself the challenge of ensuring that I reached the finish line healthy, that I appreciated just how lucky I was to be there and that I simply enjoyed the processes of swim, bike and run. If I did this the result would take care of itself.

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The venue was magical, the conditions were almost perfect (it was too hot for a Brit!) and I loved every moment of the race.

img_0367Swim start went smoothly and I came out of the water really happy with what I’d done

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Here I am working hard on the bike leg. It was the most spectacular course I’ve ever raced.

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Looking strong on the run

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Not long to go now!

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One final sprint for the line.

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On the day I could not have done any better and was delighted with my performance. I finished 7th in my AG and just missed out on breaking the 5 hour barrier with a time of 5:02:34.
That 5 hour barrier gives me something to aim at next season.

Its been a tough year. The highs have been winning another European Championship medal for the third year in a row, setting new PB’s in the water and over half marathon, plus finishing the season so positively in Austria.

The lows have been crashes on the bike, the body breakdown in Sweden and then a summer of hospital visits. After my final race I went back into hospital for an operation to deal with my health problem and allow me to come back even stronger next season.

Thanks so much to all my family and friends for their love and encouragement everyday, to my Coach, Annie Emmerson for believing in me and rolling with all the challenges of the year and to Erdinger Alkoholfrei for all the support they have given me throughout the season.

Summary of Results

06/03   Oulton Park Duathlon                             3rd AG     1:09.56

13/03    Liverpool Half Marathon                       4th AG     1:25:03

03/04   Windsor Duathlon ( GB Champs)       4th AG     2:16:28

08/05    European Long Duathlon Champs    3rd AG    2:56:43

28/05    Nottingham Triathlon                           4th AG    1:06:59

05/06    World Duathlon Champs, Spain        8th AG    2:20:18

12/06     Leeds Triathlon                                       Injured, did not race

26/06    Cholmondely Tri                                     1st team 4:28:58

03/07    Chatsworth Tri                                        2nd AG     1:19:34

10/07    Jonkoping 70.3                                        17th AG    5:57:13

27/08    Nottingham Relays                                3rd team  3:30:21

04/09   European Middle Dist Tri Champs    7th AG      5:02:34

Lessons From Jonkoping 70.3

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

“Now the drugs don’t work

They just make you worse

And I know I’ll see your face again”

The Verve

As I jogged along I thought about it.

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

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

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

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

So what can I learn from my experience at Jonkoping?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where might you be limiting yourself with a fixed mindset?

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

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

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

Where to start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be back!