Welcome To The Sixty Club

Turning thirty was life changing. I became a father for the first time.

Becoming forty was very traumatic. I was in denial about getting older and my body was failing me.

Reaching fifty seemed so much more positive. My body was in a better place and so was my mind.

Approaching sixty is weirdly exciting. That part of me that has always wanted to be different, to buck the trends, to be the exception to the rule, is working overtime right now. I really want to prove that at sixty I can still be physically improving. I’m keen to show that my mantra of FasterAfter50 can still be true beyond 60.

So on Saturday morning I had the chance to gather my first bit of evidence for 2019. It was the Clumber Park duathlon and it was to be my first race in my new AG 60-64. My big birthday comes later in the year but triathletes are classified by age on December 31st so I am now officially part of the 60 club.

The standard distance race was a qualifying event for the 2020 World Championships and I was hoping to give myself the option of competing there if I could earn a slot from this race. Clumber Park is an event I’ve done multiple times before so I knew the course, I knew the registration and transition set up so many of the typical unknowns that can create stress on a race day did not apply. It was a beautiful morning, pretty much perfect for racing. The weather was bright, dry and mild with fairly light winds.

So really the only cause for concern was how would my mysterious calf niggle respond to the intensity of racing? The fact that it was a qualifier for next year’s World Championships meant that I wanted to take the race seriously and yet in the context of this season I could not allow myself to jeopardise my two championships later in the year by pushing harder than my calf would allow.

As a result my plan was to run steadily, but keep the intensity in check so that I could manage the niggle and trust that my strong cycling could put me in a position to gain one of the four qualifying slots for 2020.

 

During the warm up I experienced the now all too familiar tightness and discomfort in my left calf but the good news was that it felt like it was going to behave as long as I was sensible.

My wave was due to start at 0905 and consisted of the 60 club plus the 40-44 young pups. I was very conscious not to get caught up in chasing the “youngsters” as the gun went off and instead focussed on finding a sustainable comfortable rhythm . The run course in Clumber Park is not easy as its essentially gently uphill for around 3km, turn back down for 2km and then repeat. My new Garmin watch was giving me split times every km and it seemed that I was making solid progress. Once the pain in my calf settled at around 3/10 I managed to push the thought of this discomfort to the back of my mind and simply enjoyed the feeling of racing again. With it being a two lap out and back course there were always plenty of athletes to observe and allow my coaching brain to wonder what they were all experiencing. Soon enough I had reached the top of the hill for the 2nd time and knew that I had about 3km largely down hill to reach T1. I was feeling really good and probably picked up the pace a little but was very surprised to complete the first run under 40 mins. Wow that was significantly quicker than I’d expected. In training over recent weeks I’ve only been running around 45min for 10k so was pleasantly surprised to realise how comfortable I felt at this much quicker pace.

 

T1 is the one aspect of racing thats easier in a duathlon as its simply a question of removing run shoes and putting a helmet on. There is no messing around with trying to remove a tight fitting wetsuit. So I was in and out in just over a minute. I gave myself a few minutes to adjust to the bike as we negotiated our way out of the park and then began to find a strong tempo. The roads were fairly busy and there were numerous occasions where cars were causing me to slow down as they were being very respectful and patient towards the slower cyclists in the field. I too decided that patience was required and didn’t allow these holdups to lead to poor decisions on my part. The bike course is a very rolling two laps and as I came to the end of lap one my legs were definitely feeling the effects of running 10km before jumping on the bike. I’d forgotten just how punishing on the body a duathlon is. I needed to ensure that I ate and drank on lap two so that I’d be ok for the 2nd run. The wind seemed to get up on the 2nd lap but I held a good position on the bike, stuck to my strong tempo and came into T2 with just 63 mins for the bike leg.

 

I dismounted and knew I was going to be ok. My legs felt good. I was aware enough of what was happening around me to notice that there were very few bikes in my area of transition. This is always an encouraging sign and I set off on the 2nd run thinking that I’d given myself a great chance of achieving the qualifying slot goal I’d set for myself. Our second run was one lap and I knew that I just had to work hard on the way out because at the turn point it would be pretty much downhill all the way to the finish.

 

I picked off a few athletes over the first couple of km and then as I turned to head back towards the finish I focussed on runners coming up behind me. I spotted a number that was very similar to mine and this suggested that I was being chased by someone in my AG. This ensured that I kept working hard despite the fact that I was now feeling pretty tired and I was pleased with the way that I kept my form well.

 

Kathy was there cheering me on as I entered the finishing chute. My time was 2:06:01.

Clumber Finish time

This was about 10 mins quicker than I’d expected to be and this was such a thrill. I won my new AG and would have won my old AG too. In fact I’d just delivered my best performance on this course ever and for someone who is driven by continuous improvement this is really satisfying. Faster after 50 is alive and well.

Clumber prize giving

When the results were published later in the day I was very proud to see that the 1st four finishers in the 60-64AG posted times that would have given them a top 3 place in the 55-59AG. So there is clearly strength in depth amongst my new cohort and I hope to encourage more of our age group to discover just how much pleasure can be gained from competing and pushing our bodies to their limits.

 

All the bike mileage I’ve been doing over the winter is clearly paying dividends and is benefitting my running as much as my strength of the bike. I also showed that by not starting too quickly I was able to remain relaxed and produce a sub 40 10k that I thought was way beyond me at this stage of my year.

 

I can now go into my next 6 week block of training with lots of confidence.

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.

Dealing with an Unexpectedly Difficult Period

It’s been a while since I last shared my thoughts.

I’ve found the last few months to be a very difficult period and this has surprised me, especially as I was feeling so positive after my marathon performance in Manchester.

It’s been difficult emotionally and more latterly physically and I’m pretty sure that one has led to the other.

From the outside it would appear as though I’ve been doing really well. I’ve not been injured, I’ve not missed any training sessions, warm up events have gone well and everything seemed to be building towards some outstanding race performances, but that just hasn’t happened yet. There is something not quite right and putting my finger on what, has proved challenging.

When things become difficult I tend to internalise my thoughts’ until i can work out what is going on. My crazy mixed up emotions and thoughts can contradict each other and so I need to allow them to percolate around inside me for a while before it makes any sense in sharing them. I’m now ready, so here goes….

 

The passing away of my parents has affected me much, much, more than I ever imagined it would. Their deaths were hardly a surprise, with both of them requiring 24 hour care for almost the last two years of their lives. Observing their decline and helping to care for them during this final life stage took much more out of me than I’d expected. My rational self understood that whilst the daily caring might be emotionally tough it does at least it prepare (or I thought it did) you for a future without them. Training everyday gave me the space to process all the emotion and get ready for the next session of caring for them. I really don’t know how I would have been able to cope without the gift of swim, bike and run sessions. When they died I knew they were ready, I knew they were at peace, I knew they had thoroughly enjoyed their lives and I knew they had passed on amazing values to their children and grandchildren. Their work was complete and this helped me to understand, accept and embrace their passing away. I thought I was at ease with it.

 

So why have I found the months since Mums death so difficult? I’m not quite sure is the honest answer. Maybe, it’s something to do with the responsibility of dealing with their will and tying up all the loose ends of their lives? I’m not good on admin at the best of times and this feels like an administrative task that is designed to file them neatly away. Hence I’m struggling with it.

How do you deal with a pair of lifetimes that have now ended? Why do we have to put a monetary value on it and create a set of “estate accounts” that summarises their lives? Surely it’s about more than this? Their home for the last 55 years, full of possessions accumulated along the way, nothing ever discarded because you “never know when it might be needed”, has had to be dealt with. How do you decide what to do? Some things have sentimental value and will be kept and distributed amongst the family as prized memories. That’s the really positive and rewarding part of this responsibility. Other things can be taken to the tip because they were never needed again (surprise surprise) but with a bit of luck they may get recycled. Wardrobes full of clothes can be taken to charity shops and may prove useful to others. Again there has been something mildly satisfying about these two functions. Then there is a whole mass of other stuff that has helped to define and colour their lives and makes the important difference between a house and a home. All the things from furniture, ornaments, bits and pieces that they accumulated along their journey, every piece chosen for reasons that will never now be known. Everything they possessed was hard earned and so they didn’t make any purchase decisions lightly. Whilst some of this stuff would still have been useful to them for the next twenty years it now seems that it has become redundant. When these things are taken out of the setting of the home they simply become a random collection of odd things. Its value to the world is seemingly minimal and yet to them it was priceless. Should I really be making the choice between a charity shop and ebay for the things they worked so hard to possess? Is that really all dismantling their home has come to? I realize I’m over thinking all this but maybe its part of my grieving process….certainly getting it all down in this blog is helping me to identify what has been going on in my subconscious.

 

Another factor in my emotional struggle recently has been the question of what next. We moved our lives three years ago to be close to my parents to help them adjust to a less independent lifestyle. This is now over and so we can choose to do something else and choose to go anywhere we like. Now that my parents have gone we feel that we want to move on and so we have spent lots of time discussing all the places we might like to move to. This is exciting, but also destabilizing at the same time. I think I’m realizing that unlike in the Paul Young song from 1980’s wherever I lay my hat is not really my home. I think I do need to have a physical base that I can call home in order to function at my best. Our decision to move on is crystalising for me that Chester is not going to be home, nor is Windsor where we brought up our boys but moved on from 3 years ago. So where will our home be? It’s too early to say yet but I know we’ll find the right place and when we find it, it will also prove to be the springboard for a new business venture for us both to share. That’s really exciting but currently not knowing where is proving a distraction to my current goals in middle distance racing as it destabilizes me when something doesn’t go to plan.

 

For example, my first A race of the year was two weeks ago in Sankt Wendel Germany. It was the European Middle Distance Duathlon Championships. Last year I performed really well and picked up the bronze medal for 3rd place in my AG and going into this years race I thought I was on top form. I’d had a really good block of training following on from my marathon achievement in April and I really believed I was ready for another outstanding performance. But it just didn’t happen.

 

The first run went perfectly to plan. I managed my effort faultlessly around two laps of what was a brutal run course and came into transition in 3rd place with two Dutch guys exactly where I wanted them. I thought I would be stronger on the bike and so would be able to build up a lead that would give me half a chance of holding them off on the 2nd run. However, to execute that plan I needed to bike well and deliver the power numbers that I knew I was capable of holding over the 60 km leg. To prevent me from going too hard up the climbs I knew the power number to stay below but frustratingly I couldn’t get anywhere near this number. I just didn’t feel right on the bike that day. My legs struggled to find the power and strength that was required. Over the first two laps I did at least manage to hold a respectable, if below par, level of output on the bike but as I went onto the climbs for the third lap my legs just died. I was suffering badly and almost cramping with the effort I was putting in to produce such a reduced level of power.

I couldn’t understand it as I had taken on board lots of fluids and fuel so I couldn’t be dehydrated or empty. Had the hills just sapped my strength more than I’d imagined they could?

I went out onto the 2nd run in 3rd place. A German guy had passed me on the bike and I’d got past one of the Dutchmen. The first part of the run lap was ok as it was slightly down hill but then I hit the hills for the first time. Bang, I could hardly lift my legs to keep them moving. My quads went into cramp immediately so I had to stretch and then walk. I was suffering, but determined to keep pressing on. It wasn’t long before the Dutch athlete came past and at that point I realized my medal hopes were gone. I just couldn’t get up those stinging hills to stick with him and on the way back down I had to be even more careful as my hamstrings were ready to pop into cramp if I went too quickly. I kept going and have taken a huge positive from the race that I did not become at all negative about my performance whilst I was in the middle of it ( I have certainly given myself an unnecessary and unjustified kicking about it since the race though!). I didn’t need to remind myself about how lucky I was to be doing this, I simply maintained focus on the task in hand which was to get to the finish as quickly as possible and I still managed a huge smile as I crossed the line in what proved to be 4th place. I was proud but hugely disappointed at the same time. I felt I was in shape to win a medal but for some reason I just couldn’t deliver on the bike and then suffered even more on that final run. I did under perform. It’s certainly not about fitness, but maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to take on such a brutal course. Or maybe it was one of those mysterious days that I hear elite cyclists talk about when they just didn’t have the legs? Or maybe, and this is what I believe its much more about, it was something to do with all of the stress I’d been unknowingly carrying since the funeral? Maybe the mental fatigue that is stress, converted itself into physical fatigue.

I now recognise that 4th in Europe is a great achievement, but with Jake, my eldest son alongside me for this race I so wanted to win a medal as I misguidedly felt that this would cap a really special weekend together. I now realise that I’d been unconsciously putting way too much emphasis on the result of this race whereas the really important thing to value is that we had a fabulous 5 day road trip together.

When I finished the race I knew it was the hardest course I’d ever competed on and the physical punishment that it created was still evident a week later. I normally bounce back pretty quickly but it took a week before my legs felt like they belonged to me again and almost two weeks on I’m still not feeling as though I’m executing my training sessions at the levels that I should be reaching. I think I can be assured that I pushed myself to the max in Sankt Wendel and have no regrets that I could have given more!

Ultimately all you can ask of yourself is that you gave it your best and this I certainly did. It didn’t work out how I wanted and I’ve accepted that it’s ok. Importantly, it’s not going to derail me from working towards the rest of my goals for this year and the next two years. I heard a helpful comment from Dave Brailsford of Team Sky after the Giro D’Italia finished when he said that what he’d learnt from the race was that even when things go wrong, if you keep knocking on the door and doing the right things then eventually the door will open and you will get your deserved reward. That’s exactly what I will keep doing, knocking on the door.

 

It’s now a triathlon door for the rest of the year, beginning this weekend with one of my favorite races, Deva Triathlon in Chester. It’s such a beautiful setting with the river swim and the natural arena of The Groves for the climax of the run. Lets hope this inspiring setting can kick me out of the lethargy I’m feeling and get me firing again towards my next A race in Denmark in a few weeks.

 

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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!

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

Race Report. Aviles, Spain. June 5 2016. World Duathlon Championships

Race day arrived and I woke having slept relatively well, which I interpreted as a good sign. I felt calm and ready. It was almost time for the big test of the World Championships again. A pre breakfast jog confirmed that my legs were ready to race. No heaviness or fatigue. “Steal springs” perhaps, but I’d be deluded if I felt I’d be able to run at the speed of a leapord like that character in Gallipolli….maybe a 57 year old leopard though!

Our taxi arrived on time and he found his way around all the local road blocks easily, delivering me to the race start area in good time. All the variables that were out of my control were now behind me. Everything was going well. Surely it was going to be a brilliant day.

I checked my bike in transition, pumped up tires, fitted bike shoes and my set up was done. Warm-up was completed and I was ready to go. The usual nerves started to kick in as we were called to the holding pens but it was excitement rather than fear that I was feeling.

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The start gun fired and we were off. I felt alive and the huge crowds were inspiring as we ran through the main arena and out alongside the river. My stride pattern was good and it felt like I was running well but I think in the excitement of the event I went off a bit too fast, even though it didn’t seem that way at the time. After the first half lap (of two) a number of guys in my AG started to come past me and by the time we had reached about 8k I was down in 12th/13th place. This was not where I’d expected to be, but ok, I’ll have to fly on the bike to get back into contention.

IMG_0075During the last 2k back to transition I worked hard to hold my position and keep calm. Once I got out onto the bike I felt great. I got into my rhythm really quickly and began reeling in the faster runners. By the time I reached the foot of the one hill on the course after approximately 10k I had two quick Americans in my sights. I went past them with relative ease and felt this surge of excitement. I was now definitely back in the race and over the next 30k I could really impose myself. Down the other side of the hill I went, taking a moment to recover and then I noticed one of the Americans come past me again. Rather than letting him get into the sharp corner at the bottom first, I stupidly decided I wanted to show him who was in control and I pushed on and took a more aggressive approach into the corner.

Instantly I realized this was a mistake. I was coming into the corner too quickly and hadn’t given myself enough room. I hit the brakes hard to take some speed out before I needed to turn, but I hit them too hard, the wheels locked up and I was sent head first over the bars. I think I hit the ground first hard on my right hip and then somersaulted forward on my back before springing pretty much straight up onto my feet. At some point in this action my shoes came free from the pedals and the bike went in a different direction and thankfully didn’t cause anyone else to crash. I would have been even more disappointed if I’d ruined anyone else’s race.

My world stopped for a second or two. The huge crowd gathered at this corner took in a collective deep breath. I was dazed, confused, in a state of shock. I couldn’t understand what had happened and was frozen to the spot. As I turned around and saw my bike the crowd began to cheer. It was lying in the road and I went over and picked it up. The wheels seemed to be running freely. The handle bars seemed straight and aligned properly. The drivetrain was intact. The bike seemed ok.

My body was screaming in pain, especially my hip and back but I instinctively got back on and started gingerly peddling away. With this, the crowds went crazy. Under the direction of the local PA system they started chanting my name. “Hollins, Hollins, Hollins” was ringing out right along the waterfront and I was overcome with emotion as I slowly rode away, confused about what happened and what to do next.

My first thought was that my race was now over. I couldn’t get back into contention after such an horrific crash and so I’d ride back to transition to retire. A motorbike came alongside me and the rider was concerned for my health. He tracked me for a few minutes before I reassured him that I was ok to make my own way back. I then remembered I had a gel on the bike and so I took it. This helped to calm me down and as I slowly rode the 7k back towards transition I took my awareness around my body, checking out the physical situation. Apart from my hip that was thumping with pain, the rest of the body seemed ok. Only a few months ago, id experienced a similar hip pain on the left side ( another bike crash!!) and knew that riding hadn’t caused any further problems on that occasion. So my thinking began to change. I decided to complete the bike course and then see how I felt when I tried to run. Its not everyday you have the honour of competing in a world championship and so I wanted to give my all.

I set off on lap two, with a view to simply enjoy the rest of the race. I might not win but I was going to relax and soak up the awesome atmosphere that was being generated by the combination of team supporters and locals who were out in their thousands to cheer on the athletes. Once I relaxed, I found I was riding strongly again and soon began overtaking lots of other competitors. As I approached the infamous corner on the second lap I went into it much more cautiously. To my surprise the crowd recognised me instantly and the cheering and chanting  “Hollins, Hollins, Hollins” began again. I was overwhelmed by their support for me and this certainly endorsed my decision to continue. I pushed on further. By the time I approached T2 I could see that I had re caught a number of guys in my age group that I had overtaken prior to crashing out. This gave me a renewed sense of purpose. I was going to finish, even if it meant walking the last 5k. The moment of truth arrived at the dismount line. Was I able to run? Good news, the pain through my hip did not stop me from running and so I went through the long transition with the bike, changed into my run shoes and set off.

As I came out of T2 I saw Kathy and decided to tell her that I’d crashed just in case she was concerned about why I’d been so long on the bike. The fact that I was running should reassure her that I’m ok, was my reasoning.

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I took it easy over the first kilometre or so and then realised that I was running ok and so pushed on. I think my 2nd lap was quicker than my 1st and as I ran back towards the finishing arena I could see a number of athletes ahead. I began to pick them off and managed to overtake at least one guy in my age group.

I crossed the line feeling hugely proud that I’d battled on to finish the race despite the crash. I thought I would perhaps finish in the top 15 after all the time I lost, so was totally chuffed to discover that I finished 8th. A top 10 finish in the world championships after crashing is probably as good a performance as in any previous championships when I’ve been lucky enough to win medals…..and its certainly a performance that I’ll never forget!

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What did I learn?

Its crucial to stay calm and “in the present” at all times when racing. I allowed myself to get overexcited by the fact that I was reeling in those competitors in my AG that had run faster than me. In less than 10k I’d gone past at least 6 and knew that I was capable of putting myself into a medal position by the time I got off the bike. However, I made a huge error and took too much of a risk going into that corner. I knew the corner was there, I knew it was a tricky one to negotiate and yet I simply failed to give it the consideration it deserved because I wanted to get through it ahead of one of my American rivals. The reward for doing this would have been negligible and given I’d already made up more than 30 secs on him in 10k, I was surely going to put much more time into him over the next 30k of the bike leg. But in the heat of the race, I didn’t think straight and was too aggressive going into that corner.

So the 2nd bit of learning is about risk-reward. The rewards for taking risks need to be significant to even consider taking them. If not, back off.

And finally. It’s never over until it’s over. To get 8th place finish, less than 1 minute behind 5th after all the time lost and the damage done seems pretty remarkable and acts as proof to me that I should never give up.

I’m going to take a week off racing now and give myself time to recover properly before building up to the next biggie of the season which is a trip to Sweden for Jonkoping 70.3 in July.

My thanks as ever to my amazing wife Kathy for her love, support, patience and selflessness. Also big thanks to everyone in Aviles and ITU involved with organising this wonderful event, Jez Cox and his team, plus the whole of the GB team for creating such a wonderful team spirit.

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!

Listening to the body is key to learning the ability to adapt

It’s been a challenging week, but such an important one as I’ve learnt more new lessons that I hope I can hold onto as I continue to develop as a triathlete.

I woke up on Monday morning feeling rubbish and for a couple of days continued to go downhill physically and mentally. I was struggling with an overwhelming lethargy, a grogginess as I wasn’t sleeping well, an aching body and a sense of not been in focus. Everything was fuzzy and the physical niggles that I’ve been dealing with in my right hip and left achilles just suddenly seemed to be much more intense (they weren’t, it just felt like it).

Now, over the weekend I’d decided that this week was going to be a big training week. I’d recovered (or so I thought from Windsor) and with no business deadlines to get in my way I was going to focus on putting together some strong training as I build up to the next part of the season which is going to be about racing longer. So waking up feeling rubbish wasn’t a great start. Not being able to put a label on it made it more difficult for me to accept that there was some real going on and that I wasn’t just making an excuse to forgo training.

Unlike the normal me, I made the smart decision, took the day off and replaced training with rest but this only seemed to make things worse. A chat with Coach Annie the next day helped and she reassured me that taking a few more days to let my body heal itself was what I needed. Now, getting Coach’s approval to ease back is crucial for me to get my head right and in doing this it freed me up to reframe the way I saw the week. I was still going to train hard but rather than these sessions being swim, bike, run sets my training was now going to be based around lying down, stretching, foam rolling, reading. The time I had planned for training was still going to be used but in a different way.

One of the things I read was this brilliant article by Brett Sutton and it really resonated with me. http://trisutto.com/?s=ability+to+adapt

Brett really understands the Age Grouper psyche and in his article he identifies the very common challenge for successful people of juggling multiple important balls that include career, family, friendships, sport. (Maybe its part of the appeal of triathlon that it involves yet more juggling). We do often fall victim to the delusion of wanting it all,  thinking that we can fit it all in and that is probably the driver behind the 3.30am turbo session that Brett alludes to. He is quite right to point out the madness of it as it will have a negative impact down the line. We probably all know this, but need reminding of it so that we can change our behavior when its getting out of control. Hence the importance of a coach.

However, there is something else that is going on inside the Age Grouper psyche, I think, and this relates to the misguided view that we are supposed to be superhuman. Our contemporaries and colleagues admire us for our energy and invincibility and therefore we are not supposed to have bad days at work, at home, at play. We are not allowed to have days when we are off colour. We are supposed to set an example.

The dreaded “Man flu” is one thing and being injured is part “badge of honour”, part “comes with the territory”, but having a non specific sense of not being right is seen as not an excuse for not continuing to live our lives at 100 miles an hour, 24/7.

And that’s where we get it wrong. We wont be super humans unless we listen to our bodies and know when we are in danger of tipping ourselves over the edge.

There is a difference between the pleasurable fatigue the body knows when it has put in a block of hard training and the sense of lethargy, the aching deep in the bones and the general weariness that are signs that we are putting ourselves in danger. We need to learn to recognize this difference. If we can, then we will know when to step back and adapt and we can work towards being super humans rather than chasing the madness of superhuman status.

So, to build on Bretts mirror conversation. Lets really take a look long at that person reflected in the mirror and ask “what is my body telling me today and do I need to adapt my training ?”

By replacing swim bike run for a few days with lie, roll, stretch I’m now really alive again and enjoyed a lovely run along river this morning.

Long may I continue to listen to and trust in what my body is telling me!

Thanks Annie, thanks Brett.

72 hours on: Reflections from Windsor Duathlon

I thought I should follow up from Sundays Windsor Duathlon race report with a few reflections now that I’ve had a couple of days to process the event.

But first I would like to congratulate all the medalists from Sunday and especially Messrs Mahon, Wood and Pollitt who won the medals in the Mens 55-59 AG. Duncan Wood and Martyn Pollitt dealt with the disruption of being held up mid race brilliantly to come back and finish really strongly, thoroughly deserving to win their medals, thus knocking me out of the top 3 in the process. Here is the revised result:

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Now, when I crossed the line I was wonderfully knackered and experiencing that sense of exhaustion that comes from really testing yourself to your physical limits. It’s a pretty euphoric sensation and it can tend to distort your view of what’s real. When things have gone well then the feeling is total elation and when things have not gone to plan then the world can feel like its about to come to an end. Neither is rarely true even if it absolutely feels that way in the moment. But on Sunday I was experiencing a mixture of confused emotion. I thought I’d won a medal, which gave me such a high for several hours, but on the other hand I knew I hadn’t quite nailed the performance and at that time I was ready to blame external factors.

With the benefit of 72 hours to reflect, to gather more information relating to the results confusion and importantly to offload the unhelpful feelings I was experiencing, I’m now in a mental place to learn from the event.

Reflection is such a powerful performance tool as it can help to identify the important factors that have impacted on an outcome such that they can be built on or changed the next time, or if they are out of your control then they can be forgotten about.

The controllable factors for me from Sunday were:

  • Dealing with the conditions: I got most of it right in that I stuck to my normal transition bike set up routine but I should have carried the bike out to mount line “cyclo-cross style” to get my bike leg off to a faster start.
  • Dealing with my chimp factor: since my Gran Canaria camp with TriSutto I’ve been wrestling with what to do about my bike as its too small and I’m now just waiting for the new bike to arrive. In the meantime I should have been much more relaxed about the bike and used my past performances as evidence that I can ride strongly on it. Instead I think I was looking out for any indications that reinforced the negativity I’ve been feeling and on the first lap I found lots of examples to get my chimp agitated. This definitely cost me time on the bike.
  • Avoiding distractions on run two: as I get tired I must continue to focus on what enables me to run well and not get distracted by such things as the race commentary, the pace of others, what might be ahead etc. I need to stay in my bubble where I know what to do and how to get the most out of myself. On Sunday I forgot all this!
  • Run hard until the end. Ultimately its about getting the most out of yourself and if you do this then the result will take care of itself. I found myself scanning the other runners to see who was coming from behind to ensure that I held off others who may have been in my race rather than ensuring that I squeezed every last drop from myself.
  • Roll with the punches better. Things will always go wrong and often these are out of your control so I need to ensure that I don’t get bothered by things I can’t do anything about…..and on Sunday there were more of these than at most events!

Finally, given the theme of my blog “Faster After 50” and inspiring others to chase their dreams I can’t finish without giving huge respect to Gill Fullen who missed out by a mere 5 seconds on being crowned overall Womens National Champion whilst representing the 50-54 AG. Gill you are phenomenal and an inspiration to us all.

The Windsor Duathlon : Queues, Quagmire, Queen and Query

Wow that was one tough race. A stunning setting with challenging conditions.

My experience of the inaugural Windsor Duathlon, hosting the British Championships, left me with a battered set of legs, a memorable return to Windsor two years after moving away and a sprinkling of confusion over the results.

The executive summary would read: Queues to get into the car park caused the race to be delayed. The race delay led to The Queen’s plans to drive across the course to cause havoc with the race and this led to confusion over finish times that have left me considering querying the result. Oh, and the quagmire around transition added a whole new level of challenge to what was already a pretty tough mornings fun!

So, to my race report.

Race morning was bright and chilly. I only had a two mile ride down to the start so I didn’t have to endure the stress of many of the competitors who were stuck in traffic queues waiting to get into the race car park before 7:30am. Not a great start to their days, I can imagine and the queues just kept getting longer so ultimately the race organisers decided to delay the start of the racing by 30 mins. The heavy ground conditions were making it difficult to park cars safely.

Fun and games really began in transition which was sited in possibly the boggiest part of the Great Park and being a former local I can confirm that this area is always likely to flood with a bit of bad weather!

As athletes began coming in and out of transition to set up bikes etc the whole area was quickly churning up and turning into a mudbath. These unique conditions were playing havoc with mindsets as experienced athletes were changing their normal bike set up regimes as whispers went around about whether the mud would make it more difficult to put bare feet into cycle shoes after running through the quagmire to the mount line. For a minute or two I even found myself questioning my normal strategy, but then quickly came to my senses and reminded myself to stick to what I know. I prepared my bike as normal, with shoes clipped in ready for my feet to slip into at the mount line. This was definitely the right thing to do.

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Race briefings are a mandatory part of every event and they are a bit like the safety briefing on an airline. Everyone is half listening and half focusing internally on what is about to happen. Right at the end of this briefing however my focus was brought fully back to the briefing as we were informed that the race was due to be held up at some point between 1030 and 1100 as the Queen and some Royal friends and family were going to drive across the course. Was I imagining this? Was it April 1st? No, it was real. The announcer went on to explain that a timing mat would be set up either side of the road that the Royal Party would pass through so that any athletes held up would have their timing chip stopped on one side of the road and restarted when they crossed the mat on the far side plus these affected athletes would be given a 20 second bonus for inconvenience! I can’t imagine a more bizarre set of circumstances for a race, but we were being given the treat of using The Queens back garden so I guess this was the price we were paying for getting access.

The race started at the foot of a stinging climb heading towards the “Copper Horse” with one mass wave of all male standard athletes jostling for a good position. The hill goes up in three steps and was a punishing way to begin. Once at the top we then had a fast flat section that led onto the beautiful polo fields. The first 6k was all on roads and then the terrain changed to footpaths and then a long downhill section on a sandy horse trail. This was the bit I was least looking forward to as it is normally loose sand but fortunately it had all been compacted and so was pretty good to run on. Once we emerged from this forested section it was then cross country across fields of mud before popping out onto the long walk for the final section back to transition. This was a tough first run and so I was pleased to have completed it in a solid time.

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The mud was definitely getting thicker as we approached transition, so I gave myself one tiny reminder to do what I normally do and before I knew it I was heading out after a fairly smooth transition. In hindsight I should have carried my bike “cyclo-cross style” out of transition as the tyres picked up lots of mud which caused a few issues over the first mile on the road but once this cleared I forgot about the mud.

The bike leg was four laps of an undulating technical course which was made even more tricky with the sheer volume of riders on the narrow Park roads. The first half of each lap was twisting with lots of short punchy hills, so very difficult to get into a rhythm. A few close calls with other riders who made unexpected lateral movements in front of me didn’t help to settle me down and I found the first lap very hard mentally. My legs didn’t feel good, I couldn’t get into a relaxed position and then I realised that my saddle had dropped. My “chimp” was now getting into overdrive and I spent the rest of the 1st lap battling with myself to think positively. By the time I got onto lap two I was in a much better mental place. This definitely relaxed me physically and I then began to enjoy the challenge of the two distinct halves of the course. The 1st half brought the twists, the changes of gear on the climbs, a few little moments out of the saddle, the chance to hydrate and take on fuel, whilst the back half of each lap was about sitting in the best aero position I could find given the lower saddle and powering a big gear. I felt I was performing better as each lap went on and once the sprint athletes had completed their two laps it was much easier to navigate the thinned out traffic and push on with confidence.

Turning right at the end of the 4th lap for the final mile down the Long Walk with Windsor Castle in the background was truly spectacular. This for me was possibly the best moment during any race. There did not seem to be anyone else on the road at this precise moment and I had this awesome view to myself. Maybe I got distracted by this because before I knew it I was at the dismount zone and misjudged my dismount by perhaps a quarter of a wheel length. Unlike most events there was not a line across the road so (in my defence!) it was really hard to know exactly where the line was. I should have dismounted a few metres earlier as this mistake cost me time. The official called me back and made me stand for what seemed an eternity before releasing me back into the trenches of transition. Fresh shoes were waiting for me and off I went, gingerly picking my way towards the timing mat at the edge of transition.

I often describe the sensation of running off the bike as being a bit like running through treacle. The legs are heavy, the blood seems to be in all the wrong places and the brain hasn’t yet worked out that you are now trying to propel yourself on foot again. Well imagine this normal sensation combined with actually running through a treacle like muddy field for at least 400 meters to reach the stability of the “Long Walk” metalled road. I almost lost my shoes twice in the mud but managed to navigate my way to safety and was given a real boost as the race commentator recognized me, and flatteringly mentioned me in his announcements. The second run was a dead straight out and back loop of 2.5 km. The first lap was agony as my legs were struggling but then on the second lap I began to feel stronger and think I picked up the pace a bit, although the time for this 2nd run was poor, so maybe I was imagining it!

The beauty of these out and back runs is that you can usually eyeball your competitors but the problem yesterday was that there were no distinguishing features such as colour or letter coding to identify the different age groups. Given that this was the British Championships I think it was a shame that this hadn’t been done.

I finally crossed the line feeling totally spent. I’d given my all and was totally satisfied with how I’d performed. I’d made a couple of errors but overall I’d done a really good job and was delighted to hear on the tannoy that I was across the line in a medal position (unofficially).

Now I’ve never done well in the British Championships so the thought of a medal was massively exciting. For a couple of hours I was elated until I was shown a copy of the updated results that revised my finish position to 4th. Its still unclear to me what happened but I can only assume that the guys who were finally placed 2nd and 3rd were caught up in the Queens crossing incident. If so, they must have been behind me at this point in the race as my wife told me later that I went through the crossing point just before the Queen arrived and so I was blissfully unaware of any disruption this may have caused behind. My split times for each leg of the race appear to add up to a faster overall time than the guys placed 2nd and 3rd and so I am assuming that their “finish time” is their actual chip time whereas the splits represent the times at each point from the start.  I hope that there is a clear explanation and the results can be adjusted to reflect the true reality of what happened. You can see below how the results are currently being shown.

I’ve spoken with BTF and they are going to get back to me.

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Whatever happens it was a great day. We caught up with a number of friends that we haven’t seen for ages, I got cheered on by, hopefully, the next generation of duathletes and I got another strong race in my legs. But, where was the Erdinger Alkoholfrei as we crossed the finish line to recover with? I missed you!

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So now its back to training to prepare for the next biggie, European Long Distance Championships in Copenhagen next month.