The perfect way to finish the season….a bit of championship Bling!

 

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My season finished on Sunday with the English National Duathlon Championships at Oulton Park.

Having achieved my goal for the year in Dublin in August by qualifying for World 70.3 Championships in South Africa 2018, I’d eased back in my training and came into this race feeling very relaxed. So relaxed in fact that I’d had a few too many drinks on Friday evening before the race with friends in our local. I’m not advocating this as pre race preparation and I’m certainly not suggesting that this led to my race result on Sunday, but every now and again its important to have a few drinks when the mood takes you.

I’ve always enjoyed racing at Oulton Park, partly because its really local and partly because the circuit is super smooth, giving me the confidence to attack it on the bike. It never ceases to surprise me though, just how much the undulating course takes out of the legs. By the 9th lap on the bike I’m always glad to see the back of Clay Hill for the final time (albeit there is still one last ascent on the 2nd run to deal with!)

This was an Erdinger Alkoholfrei sponsored event and so I went along early to help with handing out drinks to the Sprint competitors after the morning race. It was great to chat and share the finish line stories from everyone taking part. The highlight of my day, maybe even the highlight of my year in fact came towards the end of the morning just before I needed to go and start my race preparation. One of the final athletes to finish was an elderly gentlemen who came over to our bar, and whilst he stood there composing himself I asked him “Have you been racing duathlon for years?”. “No” came his reply. There was then a momentary pause before he continued “This is my first ever duathlon”. “ Would you mind telling me your age ?” I enquired. Again a pause and then he looked me squarely in the eyes and proudly confirmed he was 78 years old. He went on to confess that he’d been a bit wobbly on the bike, felt better running and that he’d definitely be back for more next year. I was truly blown away at his attitude and approach to life. Taking on new challenges is what life is about. He is a true inspiration. Looking at the results his name must be John Foord. I salute you, Sir.

I went into my race feeling very relaxed. I felt no pressure. I wanted to enjoy the race, avoid any incidents on the busy track whilst pushing hard on the bike and just see what I had left for the final run. As usual, I probably went too hard at the beginning. I can’t stop myself thinking that I’m 25 years old when the start gun goes off and I go chasing after all the young whippets. At Oulton Park it encourages this fool hardy behavior even more as it is a downhill start so after the first kilometer I realise I need to find a more sustainable rhythm. For a while I then appear to go backwards in the field, before settling down and running a solid 2nd lap. 33:56 is not my best time for 2 laps but it seemed to set me up well for the bike leg. I knew I needed to be lapping in under 7 minutes to knock out a good bike split and so as I came through the pit area each time I glanced at my garmin to see 6 something every lap. This was good. I took confidence from the numbers that reassured me that my body was accurately telling me I was working hard enough!

I came into T2 to find my area empty, bar one guy who arrived at the same time. He got out onto the run just ahead of me and I used him to pace myself into this difficult last leg. As we headed down hill towards the lake I went through my mental checklist. Shoulders relaxed, arms swinging freely, hands, keep them loose, core strong, hips forward, legs moving freely and calves nice and loose. Finally are those feet tapping away with a gentle mid foot strike? Yes, all was in order. Now, what about this fella in front of me, is he likely to be in my Age Group? It was hard to tell, so I told myself that he probably was and therefore I mustn’t let him get away from me. About a mile in the leading lady came flashing past me. She was really going well and I used her to close the gap on the fella ahead. I was now only 10 metres behind him and given that we were closing in on others ahead I felt we were moving pretty well. I didn’t need to be concerned about anyone coming up from behind. I felt a real catapult effect from the hairpin at the bottom end of the circuit and used this to cruise past him as we went up the first of the small hills on this backside of the circuit. Down the other we went went and I could sense him sitting in behind me so I prepared myself for a huge effort up Clay Hill. This is where I wanted to gain an advantage. I really dug deep, shortened my stride and pushed hard to the top. I felt I’d done the trick and more importantly I still felt good. The legs weren’t on the edge of collapsing. I was ok and so pushed on, rediscovering my rhythm. Only 800 metres to go and I was continuing to pass people. This felt good. I must surely have broken him. But then with 400m to go, he came past me. He was giving it everything and hed taken me by surprise. I responded and held him at about 5 metres. Could he sustain this? Not only sustain it, he stretched out down the final dip before carrying his speed into the last climb upto the finish. He beat me, fair and square. Well done, Mick Flaherty, you deserved your win.

I think I ended up with my fastest ever result here, 1:55:20 so great news for my FasterAfter50 mission!

I was delighted to pick up my silver medal, resplendent in full Erdinger blue kit ! Thanks for all your support again this year guys. It is hugely appreciated.

DLorOz-WsAAPxEk.jpg-largeIt was a real bonus to end the season with a championship medal after the frustrations earlier in the year and a great little birthday present to myself.

I think its now time for a break in Northern Spain.

From Terror to Joy. The 60 minutes of a cyclocross race!

Its important to keep learning. Its important to keep taking ourselves out of our comfort zone. And its really important to keep doing it as we get older. Being the wrong side of 50 is no excuse for not experiencing the terror of not really knowing what you are getting yourself into.

Mold Cyclocross race

This happened for me yesterday. For a while I’ve been dreaming about doing some cyclocross racing, but not having a CX bike or even a mountain bike meant that it remained exactly as an idle dream. Most dreams remain just that because we don’t put a plan together to make it real.

So I bought a bike. A beautiful Merida carbon frame CX bike. I took it out a few times off road and loved the freedom and sense of adventure that it instilled in me. Next, I entered a race. North Wales CycloCross Group organise a series of races throughout the region each winter and the first in the new season took place yesterday in Mold. Mold is only about 15 miles away so I had no excuse.

I rocked up nice and early. Picked up my race numbers, got my bike out of the car and set off onto the field to have a bit of a warm up.

Oh dear. Within a couple of minutes I was experiencing total terror. Narrow woodland trails that could only be reached by heading down steep muddy slopes with 90 degree turns at the bottom. How was I going to control my bike down these? The answer was, I wasn’t. during my warm up laps I ended up in a heap more times than I can remember. I withdrew to the car park to get my thoughts together.

DLC50MgXcAAiLPq.jpg-largeIf pottering around slowly was creating challenges that were proving difficult then how would I cope in the heat of the race battle? I was very quickly realizing that riding offroad in deep mud was very different to my usual road cycling. I was way out of my comfort zone, deep in the land of the conscious incompetence and concerned that I may visit unconscious incompetence several times more before the day was out! But, heh I wanted a challenge. I wanted to test myself with some new stuff and it felt like I was being thrown in at the deep end, only this time it was deep mud rather than deep water.

In the hour leading upto the start I picked up a few tips from seasoned racers. “Take the air pressure in the tyres down as far as you dare as this will provide more traction through the sticky stuff” was the technical tip and “enjoy it” was the morale boosting tip. So I set off for the start with a simple goal. Enjoy doing something new.

The race began with a couple of laps around a field to stretch out the 120 riders before heading onto the narrow course. All went well around the field and then we were let loose on the brown stuff. The first 180 degree turn came up more quickly than I’d expected and in trying to get around I took out one competitor going into the corner, managed to stay upright myself for a couple of seconds before colliding with another wheel on the way out. I went down, bringing the wheels’ owner down on-top of me together with several other totally innocent, unlucky riders who just happened to be in the wrong place (ie in my vicinity ). We’d only gone a few hundred yards and I’d caused carnage. Luckily no one was hurt and more importantly nobody took much offence to my incompetence. After apologies all round and I was on my way again. Adrenalin was definitely pumping and we headed across the open field towards the next obstacle, a steep drop down a grassy bank. I think I got down this without incident before creating more mayhem on the next 180 turn. Crikey, this was the only the first part of the first lap and I hadn’t even got to the tricky technical wooded section yet. Simply surviving to tell the tale seemed like a more realistic goal at this stage.

Mold Cyclocross 2Somehow I got through the technical section without causing anymore damage to the other racers, but I did block the route a few times as I lost my balance and ended up in brambles and undergrowth. Once back out onto the open section we headed up hill and my strength became an advantage. I started to overtake people as the first lap ended and this gave me a bit of confidence. With confidence came the ability to assess what was happening. I broke the course down into sections, some of which I could attack full gas and others where I needed to take it steady. As the laps went by I also began to learn how to ride through the thick sticky mud. It needed to be attacked with a high cadence in a straight line. As each lap went by I went quicker and quicker and was definitely making my way through the field. 60 minutes went by in a flash and I could now hear the last lap bell. After a very tricky start I’d really enjoyed my debut at cyclocross and didn’t really want it to end.

I crossed the finish line, totally caked in mud, beaming from ear to ear. Cyclocross is such a buzz. I loved it. I’ll be back to do more of the series and can hopefully shake off my Captain Carnage reputation before the season is out!

Breakthrough Performance at Anglian Triathlon

I was back racing again this weekend after my mid summer break. Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire was the venue and I wanted to use this event as a warm up for Dublin 70.3 in two weeks time. My goal was to perform smoothly through each of the elements of the race, ensuring that I went hard but not so hard that I was empty on the run. I’m delighted to report that my race execution was pretty damn good. It was as good a triathlon race performance as I can remember.

The usual early morning start time for races meant that I needed to go down the night before. Premier Inn did themselves proud with a quiet clean room, comfy bed and TV to watch the World Athletcics champs. The whole evening in the Olympic Stadium was built around Usain Bolt’s last individual 100m and whilst I had a spooky feeling that he wouldn’t win I really did not expect his conqueror to be his old nemesis Justin Gatlin. I felt a wave of disbelief surge over me at the fnish. This was not in the script and whilst I disagree with gatlin being given the opportunity to compete I think his mental fortitude needs to be admired. The real villains in this in my view are the IAAF who fail to create a system where clean athletes can thrive .

My usual sense of outrage at this kind of hypocrisy passed fairly quickly as I settled down to sleep and prepare for my own race the next day.

I slept pretty well and awoke just before my alarm was due to go off at 5am. I like to eat my pre race brekkie upto 3 hours before the gun goes off and within 30 secs of opening my eyes I was tucking into my “Performance Chef “ bircher that i’d brought with me and kept in a coolbag overnight. This has become my staple start to most days and I never get bored of it. Varying the fruit does the trick to keep it interesting. By 6am I was out of the door and heading for Grafham Water.

Sunday was a beautiful morning. Blue sky, cloudless,  and a slight breeze over the lake. Perfect conditions for racing.DGhpte1XkAA-wIQ.jpg-large

By arriving nice and early I got through registration quickly, strolled back to the car where I put wheels on the bike, checked tyre pressures, gels on board and went through to transition. I had a flawless set up, went for a good warm up jog and was feeling very relaxed and ready for the start.

The only concern I had was that with 650 competitors going off in only 4 waves, the swim start could be carnage. I was in wave 2, all men over 40. This was by far the biggest wave. Mamils were out in force!

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I decided that with my new found swim confidence I was going to take my chances at the front of the wave. I positioned myself on the far left which was technically the outside of the group as we were swimming in a clockwise direction. I chose to go out as hard as I could for as long as I could and just hope that this would help me avoid too much of the human washing machine effect. I got away pretty well held my nerve, kept relaxed so that the stray limbs would slide off me and smashed it for as long as I could. My lungs were burning and fatigue was setting in after a minute or two but I did manage to find clear water. I then took my effort levels back a notch, slowed my breathing down and found a good sustainable rythmn . I’m a left sided breather so was reassured that I could see a few guys outside me and knew that if I could still see them then I wouldn’t need to sight the turn bouy too often as we headed up the lake for approx. 600m to the first bouy. Everynow and again I checked and was reassured to see plenty of orange hats around me. Soon we were heading back down the lake with only one more turn to make and from here it was approx. 150m to the swim exit. A really short run into transition gave me just enough time to get the wetsuit down to the waist ( this new Snugg suit is a joy to get on and off). I was pleased to see that my area of transition was still full of bikes so that suggested I’d had a pretty good swim. It certainly felt that way, but I’d forgotten to start my watch so could only guess at how long. Once out onto the bike I realised that it was just after 0830 and given that we’d started at 0805 that meant I’d flown round by my standards.

 

I got settled on the bike quickly, was picking people off with ease and had to concentrate over the first section as the road was pretty full of athletes going at various speeds. Just as I was beginning to think I’d made it through the early rush hour traffic, someone about 20m infront of me seemed to go straight over his handle bars for no apparent reason. I swerved, missing competitors coming the otherway and took it a bit easier for a few minutes. Its amazing how quickly a slightly different intensity can begin to feel normal and I was jolted out of my comfort zone by a couple of atheltes going past me. I never like this and so it made me realize I needed to push on harder. It was really fast course, with good road surfaces and very few potholes ( but poor old fellow Erdinger athlete Garry hit one and blew his back tire…race over, sorry Garry). I was now working really hard and picking off riders with regurality. It was a pretty flat track so it was big gears all the way. I took on a second gel a few miles before the end of the bike leg to set me up for the run. I remember thinking at this point that my legs were tiring but my head felt pretty cool. I was triallng my new Scott Cadence helmet and it did seem to be regulating my temperature much better. I knew I’d gone hard and so wondered how the legs would feel over the 10k run. The answer was pretty good thanks.

As I came into T2 I scanned the area and noticed that it was totally empty. There did not seem to be a single bike in my section. “Maybe I’m leading” I thought. This would prove to be an important error. As I headed out of T2 I heard the announcer confirming that the 1st lady was just going out onto the run. She came alongside me as we headed up the reservoir and I remember thinking lets aim to stay with her for as long as I could. I got in front and began to tap out a really good cadence with short light strides. I imagined she was tucked in behind me and that was fine. At the end of the lake we turned and came back on ourselves so I was surprised to see that I’d put about 25m into her. Keep it going. I was passing people and none was coming past me and this made me think that I was going really well. At the next turn point after approx. 4 miles I”d really put more distance between myself and the 1st lady and managed to convince myself that I was flying. All the external cues were suggesting I was running really well. I was going quicker than the leading lady, I was passing lots of others and none were coming past me. I convinced myself that I was on my limit, but I’m not sure I realy was. I felt a stitch coming on but ran through it ok. With 400m to go I noticed a fella infront who looked like he could be a similar age to me, so despite thinking I could be leading I did pick up my pace to overtake him, just in case. It was a good job I did as he was in my AG and I managed beat him. I looked at the clock at the finish and saw that it was just coming upto 1013. By my calculation that would mean a sub 2 hours 10 time. Wow that felt good.

 

The Erdinger Alkoholfrei bar was just beyond the finish line, so I had jubilant chat with the team and then picked up my official finish time. I’d done a swim under 25 mins, a sub 60 min bike and a 41 min run for a total time of 2:07:56. I reckon this is my fastest ever Olympic distance race. I was buzzing with excitement. Even the discovery that I hadn’t won the age group but had finished 3rd didn’t bother me. This was a qualifier for 2018 European Championships so had attracted a quality field and this was triathlon and not duathlon where I am used to picking up the odd AG victory or two. In a quality tri I’d never finished so high up. I was hugely pleased and learnt that I mustn’t ever get ahead of myself thinking I might win. The only way to try and achieve this is to give absolutely everything throughout.

I finished my morning by jogging back to the finish area to help out with serving the Erdinger to all the deserving finishers. It was great to see so many satisfied, exhausted faces. The positive energy was intoxicating and it was a joy to chat to so many athletes about their individual race stories as we gave them a taste of the isotonic recovery juice, that is Erdinger Alkoholfrei.

 

After the frustrations of my first two “A” races this year it is a real confidence boost to head towards my 3rd biggie with such an encouraging performance. I’d put together probably my best tri race to date. Lets see if I can build on it in Dublin in two weeks.

The road to success is full of challenges

We were lucky enough to head over to Denmark recently for the European 70.3 Championships. This was the 1st time this event was being held outside of Germany and the local Ironman team were keen to ensure that this switch was seen as a success. In my view, this was an outstanding event. A challenging course with lots of twists and turns in each of the three disciplines, superb organization that was well thought through for athletes and a stunning venue based around the beauty of Elsinore harbour and Kronberg Castle. The local people were incredibly welcoming and helpful. The weather on race day was also perfect. Cloudless skies and the temperature rising with every hour, so all the more incentive to get to the finish-line as fast as possible!

It was also my first time to be involved in an Ironman Championship event. The scale of the production was huge, so much grander than an ITU sanctioned event and with 2500 athletes there was a fantastic buzz around the whole race village. It felt more like a festival than a race event. The build up to race day was full of excitement.

We arrived on Thursday and had plenty of time to get our bearings, reccie the courses and ensure that registration was taken care of before the crowds arrived. At registration I had to make my first key decision of the race. Which of the swim waves did I want to start in? It was a self-selecting process with the fastest swimmers heading off first. The cut off for the 1st wave was 35 minutes and I estimated that I should be capable of completing 1900m in just about 35 mins, therefore I opted to start in this first wave. Anyone who has been following my blog will know that the swim has been my achilles heel over the years of triathlon and so to now have developed to the point where I can be classified as part of the fastest group of swimmers is a massive achievement for me. Before I’d even set foot in the water I’d accomplished something and was taking huge confidence into the race.

To minimize chaos at the start, Ironman are now using rolling starts whereby only a small number (in this race it was 4 people) will pass over the start mat every 10 seconds. This provides a bit more room to get into the swim at the beginning and find some rhythm. After a good warm up in the harbour, getting used to the water temperature of 15% the blue caps, (that included me), were called out and asked to head for the start funnel. My plan had been to try to position myself towards the back of the blue wave so that most of the really quick swimmers would be infront of me, but I seemed to find myself somewhere in the middle and once the mass of bodies began to move towards the start mats I simply had to go with the flow. Oh well, I’m sure it will be fine I told myself.

Pre race ElsinoreKathy found me as the mass of neoprene clad humanity inched forward towards the jetty, we had a little pep talk and a kiss for good luck and then I was off into the water. I felt really good as we headed for the first turn, enjoying the sense of rapid forward progress that comes from swimming in a pack. Early on I was holding my own and got around several more bouys without incident. Then things started to get messy. A flailing arm ( not mine I must add) knocked my new goggles sideways but somehow I managed to adjust them without losing too much momentum, but then an endless stream of faster swimmers used me as a kickboard and I found myself getting agitated and then angry. I was hurling abuse (in my head) and trying to hold my position in the water. I realised getting angry wasn’t helpful, refocused on relaxing again and decided to try to get a bit closer to the harbour wall where there might be a tad more room. A few more bouys to negotiate and then I could see the exit arch ahead. I was glad to get out of the water, still a bit shell shocked at the dogfight it had been, but at the same time feeling as though I’d coped pretty well. You can see from this picture at the swim exit just how discombobulated I look as I emerge from the water.

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Kathy was positioned by transition and shouted out to me that I’d been going 36 minutes and I assumed this was the time to where she had seen me rather than for the swim itself. Based on this information, I was reassured and set off on the 90km bike leg in really good spirits.

I’d ridden most of the bike course over the previous few days and knew that it was going to be fast, with a high numbers of tricky corners but no daunting leg stinging climbs. The first 10k or so was along the coast into the wind and with lots of similarly matched cyclists I was on high alert not to be seen as drafting. At times it is difficult, but with either a short sharp effort to overtake or a brief pause to take a drink I was able to maintain the legal 12m distance between myself and others. Distance markers were given every 10km and so early on I worked out that a sub 2:30 bike split could be achievable. As each 10km was ticked off I was still holding this pace.

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3_m-100767682-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1912_000318-8521799As we came back into town around 65km and headed out on the second part of the course I was starting to struggle with overheating. My head felt so hot, but frustratingly pouring water onto my helmet did nothing to provide relief.

29_m-100767682-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1912_063377-8521825My aero helmet only has minimal ventilation and over the last 30km my core temperature was probably continuing to rise. Despite feeling more uncomfortable I was able to hold my speed and got back into T2 well under 2:30.

I knew at this point that I was well on course to smash my pre race goal of going Sub 5. A half decent run around 1:35 would put me close to 4:45 finish time and the run is my strength so I grabbed a couple of gels, sunglasses and visor to keep the sun off my face and set off on the half marathon with much excitement. My plan was to take the first lap of 4 very steady and then build the pace as each lap went on. My legs felt good as I followed the route around the outside of bike transition, but after a few minutes I became aware of just how hot I was feeling and how high my heart race was getting. I needed to get to the first aid station to grab water and get it over my head. Having walked through the aid station I felt a bit better and set off again towards the castle but pretty soon realised that my temperature was shooting up again. In a quiet shady section of the course I took another sneaky walk before coming out into the crowded streets of Elsinore. The first lap was really difficult as I had to reassess my plan.

I figured that my body temperature was out of control and so decided that the best way to get to the finish was now to treat this run as an interval session, with recovery coming at each of the aid stations where I would walk, get as much water over my head as possible, sip on electrolyte solution and generally try to get my heart rate down. Once I’d made this new plan it became so much easier to execute the rest of the race. I kept an eye on the clock and knew that my pre race goal of Sub 5 was still achievable. I knocked off the laps, focusing on getting from one aid station to the next as efficiently and relaxed as possible.

Soon I was going around the castle for the final time and within sight of the finish shoot. I saw my name come up and the timer ticking over towards 4:58. I’d done it, but wanted to see if I could cross the line before the clock got to 4:58. A last burst and I got there in 4:57:59.

It was great to know that I’d achieved my Sub 5 goal, but I knew that I’d run really badly. Kathy was waiting at the finish area and I was so pleased and relieved to see her. The physical effort of putting it all out there always seems to trigger tears and this race was no different. This time it was especially poignant as it was Fathers Day and I was suddenly overwhelmed with thoughts of my late dad who would have been so proud to know that I had achieved another significant goal.

As I recovered over an extremely well deserved Erdinger Alkoholfrei I started to reflect on what had just happened during the race.

Post race Erdinger ElsinoreI was really pleased with the way that I’d executed the race and dealt with the unforeseen challenges that it had thrown up. The dogfight of the swim, the constant adjustments on the bike to avoid drafting and my overheating on the run could all have been race wrecking situations, but I kept a really clear head and overcame them. More than that though, as I’d put together a PB swim of 35:23 and I’d banged out a bike split of 2:28:51 despite struggling with overheating over the last hour. That was worth celebrating.

However, as we sipped another Erdinger I couldn’t get beyond the fact that I had run badly. What had caused me to let at least 10 minutes slip away? The competitor in me was desperate to know just how crucial those 10 minutes would prove to be in the final race positions.

It wasn’t long before I found out. I was 10th. 10th in European Championship is good. 10th in Europe is a mark of real progress of how far I have come as a triathlete. But those vital 10 minutes made the difference between 10th and 2nd. This was a missed medal opportunity. But racing, just like life is not about could haves and should haves, its about what you actually do that counts.

Rather than dwell on the medal that might have been I can take away encouragement from the fact that I’m now a contender at this triathlon distance racing in Europe. I know there is more to come from me and that gives me lots of motivation to continue putting in the hard work in training. Two years ago I wouldn’t have believed it. I really am getting faster after fifty.

Kathy and I enjoyed a really chilled evening in Elsinore. We strolled back into town to watch the awards being given, visited the lovely Street Food market and then went back to our hotel to sit in their deckchairs and share a bottle of wine. As the sun began to go down over The Baltic we both agreed that we were so lucky to be able to do these wonderful trips. Elsinore is another one of the real gems of the world that we would never have come to if it wasn’t for racing. Life is good.

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.

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.

 

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

Where to start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be back!

Peak District Triathlon 3 July

 

What a cracker of a race!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chuffed!

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

Glorious, Glorious Copenhagen!

Its funny how things work out.

A week ago I was fretting big time about my troublesome hip after crashing on the bike 3 weeks earlier. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to start the race in Copenhagen, let alone come away with a bronze medal.

IMG_1998 In the build up to the race I was getting shooting pains through my left thigh every time I tried to run anything beyond a gentle jog. As a result, I reframed my goals for this particular race, the European Long Distance Duathlon Championships, and rather than putting huge expectations (and therefore pressure on myself) of a podium finish I decided that my aim was to enjoy the Championship race atmosphere, manage my way through both runs as well as possible and put in a strong performance on the bike leg. The most important thing was not to make the injury worse as there are three more “A” races to come this year. By acknowledging this change of plan I immediately felt better and I realized just how silly it is to put so much pressure on myself by setting such lofty, but ultimately uncontrollable goals. As a coach I know this, as an athlete I’m still as guilty as the next athlete of falling into the unrealistic goal setting traps. When will I learn?

So we set off for Copenhagen feeling excited about the weekend rather than anxious about how the injury might affect my performance. The journey was a joy, the world seemed to be in a happy place (or perhaps that was the filter I was viewing things through) and Copenhagen looked stunning for our arrival. The weather was glorious, beautiful sunshine for 5 days and not a single cloud to spoil the perfect blue sky. The locals were wonderfully welcoming everywhere we went and I can’t speak highly enough of what a charm there is about Copenhagen. And to top it all, it is a cyclists heaven. We cyclists are given priority throughout the city and everyone respects each other. Why cant all cities follow their lead?

Having arrived on Thursday we had a really relaxed build up to the race and were able to combine course recce with other touristy type trips. My leg continued to give me shooting pains but not with the same frequency or intensity so I knew I’d be able to complete the race, but just didn’t know how quickly. Lots of the pre race prep was completed on Saturday and I went to bed the night before knowing the bike was safely racked and all I had to do on Sunday morning was check tyre pressures, set shoes up and ensure race nutrition was on board.

I woke feeling good. A positive mindset is always helpful, but strangely, can’t always be guaranteed, so I stood on the start-line ready and excited. Given my injury concerns I didn’t bother fighting my way to the front of the wave queue but put myself somewhere in the middle where I thought id be able to manage my pace without the threat of my race Chimp butting in and encouraging me to go too hard to keep up with the quick boys!

After the 1st kilometer where I experienced lots of shooting pains through the left leg, things settled down and I knocked out a fairly solid 10k, arriving in T1 in around 6th place.

IMG_1867 The start of the bike course was very narrow due to road works and so I treated this as a neutralized zone and used it to fuel up ready for the next 60km. Once onto the open roads I felt strong, powerful and importantly comfortable on my new bike and new position. Having only got the bike a week earlier this was its first test and it felt dreamy compared to my old bike that I’d struggled with over the last 4 years. 60km went by in a flash and I was back in T2 91 minutes later, having worked my way through the field, apparently into 2nd place. The new bike helped me to post the fastest bike split in the AG and whilst I didn’t know my position at the time I did have a sense that I was in contention given that T2 was pretty much empty of bikes as I arrived.

IMG_1885 Out onto the 2nd run I went and I was pleased to find that I wasn’t in danger of cramping even though I knew I was tired. I’d carried out my nutrition plan on the bike perfectly and knew I had enough fuel to get me through this last 10km. The unknown of course was how would my leg deal with it? The answer was pretty well. I couldn’t push hard but I did get into a bit of a rhythm and ground out the miles. As I headed down the final straight towards the finishing chute the crowd was creating a brilliant atmosphere and I remember taking it all in, despite the fatigue that was now bubbling under. I checked behind to ensure there were no national kits coming flying towards me and relaxed to really enjoy the last 100metres.

IMG_1926 I crossed the line with a huge sensation of pride in representing my country, knowing I’d given my absolute best on the day. On this occasion I wasn’t immediately anxious to know my finishing position. It was enough to know I’d put everything out there and I was really happy whatever the outcome. A Dutch athlete, Henry Dullink, came over and introduced himself. He’d won our AG and I was delighted for him. We struck up a rapport straight away and when I discovered I’d finished 3rd and won the bronze medal, I was overjoyed. It was a really special moment to go up and receive the medals together. He is going to be in Aviles next month for the World Champs so it will be fun to have another chance to race against him then.

IMG_1942 As always I owe a huge thanks to Kathy for being there for me and putting up with all my pre race nerves, to Annie for believing in me and helping to get me ready to race, despite the injury, to Charlie my physio for keeping my legs together and to the team at Erdinger Alkholfrei for their generous sponsorship.

On this occasion I also want to give special mention to Barron Mendelson the GB Team Manager who did a tremendous job for the whole team throughout the weekend. I also want to thank Phil Murphy from Total Tri Training in Chester who fitted my new bike for me and the new position feels powerful, aerodynamic and comfortable. Once I get used to the bike, I will be flying!

Winning this medal feels very special. Having won medals at Sprint and Standard distances, this is my first at longer distance racing and its given me a huge boost of confidence for the rest of this season, when I’ll be testing myself much more over the longer distances. Importantly, it’s also the next step towards my crazy dream of contending at Kona one day!

Dream big, work hard and you never know what might happen!

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it even more when I can see evidence of a dream coming true.

Yesterday I ran the Liverpool Half Marathon. It’s a while since I’ve run a big City race with many thousands taking part and there is something really special about the atmosphere of these events. This gathering of people of all shapes, ages and ambitions to celebrate health and fitness, to enjoy being alive, filling bodies with fresh air, cheered on by loved ones is an example of humanity at its best. If you haven’t been along to support or participate in one of these great events then you really must. With 6500 people in the field yesterday, there were 6500 different stories and probably 6500 different reasons for taking part. What a fantastically inspiring way to start a Sunday.

For me, the reason for taking part was to test out my run form.

A year earlier I’d run a more low key half marathon near Wrexham with only around 10% of the field size and I had stunned myself by running a new Personal Best of 1 hour 26 mins and 59 seconds. I’d gone into that race hoping to run under 90 minutes and I chose that word “hope” very deliberately, because for years I’d felt that I had the potential to run under the 90 minute barrier but had never succeeded. I knew I’d trained well leading into that race, but proving I could do it created an uncertainty, a doubt about whether I had what it takes to convert potential into performance. Not only did I go under 90 mins ( I’d have been overjoyed with 89:59 ) but I truly smashed it by going more than 3 minutes under my target time.

So I’d done once, but could I do it again? Another year had gone by. I’d trained really well. Consistency has been excellent. I’ve not missed many sessions and I’ve completed them all in line with Coach Annie’s plan. I was ready to test out where I’m at ahead of another big season where I’ll be running many more half marathons, but just to make them a bit more of a challenge, they’ll be at the end of Middle Distance triathlon races.

Conditions were ideal. It was cool, bright and just a gentle breeze. Just before race began I got a message from Coach Annie. “Smash it” read the message. “Better do as I’m told”, thought I.

The race began at 9am sharp and runners filtered slowly across the start line. I took the first couple of miles easy as I had not been able to warm up ( 20 minute queues for the loo had put paid to that) and then at around 3 miles I caught up with the 90 minute pacer who was accompanied by a huge group of runners. As I approached them I was deciding whether to tuck in alongside them for a few miles as I was clearly going more quickly than might be sensible or go past straight away. My own pace felt comfortable and so I went past and didn’t give them another thought for the rest of the race.

We then entered Sefton Park and for the next 4 miles I enjoyed discovering what a beautiful public space this is. At 8 miles I decided it was time to take a gel. Last week in the duathlon I’d made the mistake of forgetting to have one with me and so this week I was better prepared. Fatigue was just beginning to kick in as a few little things were starting to bother me. The running surface suddenly seemed more uneven, the odd runner was now getting in my way( they weren’t it was just my interpretation ) the heavy “breathers” sounded louder in my head. I was mentally tired and starting to get irritated. It’s interesting though that physically I was still knocking out the miles as consistently as earlier. This tells me that I get mentally fatigued way before I get physically fatigued and my brain can easily trick me into slowing down if I let it.

Fortunately this didn’t happen. The gel worked its magic over the next mile or two and as I entered the last 3 miles I was once again sharp and focused on maintaining form to the finish. This was actually the trickiest part of the course. The riverfront promenade was twisting and turning with long sections of cobbles to deal with. It was definitely beginning to hurt but I was thinking straight and knew that I was heading for a special finishing time and so I just kept it going. I didn’t once try to calculate what my time might be. This felt unnecessary. I had the mindset that if I just focused on what I was doing which was staying relaxed, ensuring that I safely navigated each of the twists and turns, then the result would take care of itself. This worked as the last 5k was my fastest of the race. I entered the finishing straight and saw the clock had only just passed 1 hour 25 minutes.

One hour 25 minutes and 3 seconds was my finishing time. I was so happy. I’d well and truly smashed it! Kathy came rushing over to the finish and she knew straight away that I’d done something special. I could see in her eyes that she was delighted for me.

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Once again I’ve set a new personal best. I thought 1:27 was pretty good, but to take a further 2 mins off and set a new best of 1:25 is really exciting. Who knows where my limit will be? I’m just really enjoying the process of discovery and putting into practice my belief that we can be faster after 50.

I don’t know which part of the brain confidence comes from but the tap inside me is definitely wide open right now and confidence is flooding my body. Knowing that I am going faster than ever is such a powerful sensation. Hard evidence that proves that at 56 years of age I’m running faster that at any other moment in my life gives me such a boost of belief to keep chasing that dream of winning at Kona one day.

This race has been so important for reinforcing the power of benchmarking progress to build confidence that I know will help me as I prepare for my “A” races this season.

I’d better get back to training then!