Nailing My 2017 Goal

I’m not really sure why its taken me so long to capture my thoughts after Dublin 70.3  especially as it was my big race of the year. Given what happened, maybe I just needed time to process it properly before sharing. Anyway, here goes.

2017 has been about getting my head around Middle Distance triathlon racing with the hairy goal of achieving a qualification place for the 2018 70.3 World Championships in South Africa. There have been plenty of ups and downs this year and with Dublin being the first race in the Ironman 2017 calendar that was offering places for 2018 World’s my thinking was that if the race went perfectly to plan then I could be in the luxurious position of going into the winter knowing that I’d secured my place on the startline in Nelson Mandela Bay next September. I could then plan my whole 2018 really early and given all the other things going on in our lives this really would be a massive bonus. Simple, heh?

To give some context to the “other things” comment, Kathy is taking part in the Clipper Round The World Yacht race next year, taking on the two massive legs across Pacific and Atlantic and so I want to be able to support her as much as possible by being there on the quayside to wave her off and cheer her back in again at every stage. In addition we will be moving to Brecon Beacons to set up our new Cycling business. This is a huge project that will require energy, patience and clear thinking to navigate our way through the complex planning process.

So if I could, maybe, somehow please get qualification nailed in Dublin it would make next year so much easier to manage.

No pressure then!

Given all of that potential self induced stress it is so helpful to know that I have learnt to focus on the controllables and ignore the uncontrollables. I had to put “the other things” out of my mind and the more I race the more I’m realising that what I love about racing is the “all consuming mental” place that it takes me to. From the moment that I wake on race day until the moment I cross the finish line nothing else in the world matters. I can leave everything else behind. I’m in my own bubble, striving to eek out the maximum from my physical self and the only battle that takes place in my head is the inevitable one with my self doubting Chimp and this is a battle to which I increasingly look forward.

Back to the controllables. I knew I couldn’t control how others did so I simply had to focus on my race and look to execute another personal best. If I could do this, then who knows what might happen…..

I knew I was really fit as evidenced by my recent training volume and the excellent form I’d shown in my warm up race at Grafham Water. I also knew that I had solved my overheating issue by changing my cycle helmet. I knew I would be well looked after in Dublin as I was staying with Paul, my brother in law and his family on the other side of the City and this would also be keeping away from the stress of nervous athletes. I was travelling over by ferry so had my bike with me at all times and so didn’t need to worry about what might happen in the baggage hold of an aircraft. Everything that could be, was under control.

However, just when things seem to be coming together, life can give you a little reminder that things don’t always go smoothly. I picked up a slight injury in my final proper training session on the Wednesday before the race. My right calf tightened up so did the sensible thing, abandoned the session and went off to see Gemma my brilliant physio. She got to work and went really deep into the muscle, taped me up and told me I should be ok. That was good enough for me. Hearing this expert point of view was just what I needed to avoid getting too anxious about the impact this setback might have on my ability to race on Sunday. We agreed that it was best not to risk trying it out before the race so left home on Friday morning with only the slightest anxiety about whether the calf would hold up. Kathy wasn’t with me as The Clipper Race was beginning in Liverpool on the same day and I knew that she wanted to be there to support her crew mates as they set off on leg one.

I enjoyed a smooth journey across the Irish Sea and then had a seamless registration in the Ironman Village on arrival.

I then drove most of the bike course (to take away another of the possible unknowns) and was excited to discover that it should be fast with pretty good road surfaces. There seemed to be just one tricky section of 2-3km of speed bumps and I decided that I’d probably take no risks here by riding it all off the tri bars and mostly out of the saddle. On race day this proved to be a good tactic and gave me a bit of a breather before heading out into the countryside section.

Saturday was swim practice. Down in Dublin Bay the wind was howling and the water was very choppy.

Dublin swimSurely, race day conditions wont be this bad I kept telling myself as I summoned the mental courage to leap into the water on Northside. In I went feeling much trepidation. Out I came ten minutes later feeling total exhilaration. My swim demons had been well and truly dealt with as I now knew that I could cope with lots of chop and swell in the water. If I could enjoy swimming in those conditions then race day was bound to be a breeze I told brother in law Paul as we drove back to his house for a much needed hot drink and breakfast.

After a quick spin on the bike, I was ready to head back across the city to deal with dropping kit in transition. Everything was done. I was ready to go.

At 5.15 the next morning my Taxi arrived, bang on time and we were soon speeding through the sleeping city following the first section of the bike course. I was feeling good, excited and calm. I could sense that it was going to be a great day.

Conditions in Dublin on race morning were perfect. The wind and swell from yesterday had gone. The sea was like a mill pond. Just how I like it. The sun came up with a smile and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. This was not typical Dublin weather! It really was going to be a great day.

My head was clear and positive. I knew that there was no benefit to me in having a warm up jog as I would be risking filling my head with doubts that may come from any calf twinges. So instead I just had a good stretch and made my way down to the swim start area early.Dublin pre race

When the race began at 0710 I watched closely as the swimmers were released 4 at a time every 6 seconds into the bay. There seemed to be lots of space. There seemed to be no chaos. The mass of triathletes shuffled their way towards the start chute. Nerves and anxiety was rapidly being translated into excitement. I wanted to be in there. Soon enough it was my turn.

It was a beach start so I took it very gently, mindful of where I was placing my feet and careful not to run too hard. I didn’t want to risk irritating my calf so early in the race. In I went. The water was perfect. Temperature was ideal, no waves nor chop and the Irish Sea was as benign as could be possible. I had an amazingly clear swim. There was no agro at any point, even around the turn buoys and I was soon heading towards the exit pontoon on the final leg. I had thoroughly enjoyed my swim and had even had time to reflect on just how much I had improved. 1900m in race conditions now feels normal. 36:04 was a solid start for me.

Onto the pontoon I climbed and headed up the jetty towards transition. My focus immediately went to my troublesome right calf. There were a few odd sensations rumbling through it as I trotted towards the changing tent but nothing to cause concern.

Wetsuit off, helmet on, race belt on, goggles and wetsuit in bag, bag handed over and I was then moving cautiously through transition area for my bike. Encouragingly there seemed to be most of the bikes still here. That reinforced my perception that I’d swum well and I was excited to get out on the bike.

However, the bike leg didn’t start well as my chain came off and got jammed as I mounted. This was a new mistake for me. “Don’t panic this will only take a few seconds” I told myself and I was soon on my way again with some encouraging cheers from the crowds surrounding the bike exit area. Importantly I didn’t go too hard over those first few miles to make up for the time lost with my chain mechanical, instead focusing on finding a smooth rythmn, a strong sustainable cadence that would get me into my own zone. I did notice that I was passing lots of riders and no one was coming past me as the first 10km flashed by.

Into the city centre we went. The roads were closed off with Garda patrolling every junction and it was such a buzz to be travelling so quickly through this area that would normally be so busy with traffic and people.

Before I knew it I was out of the city, passing Pheonix Park and heading into the countryside to the west of Dublin. The route seemed exactly as I’d logged it in my recce. Other than that one nasty section of a couple of miles with speed bumps every 200m the roads were really good. I was clearly going well as I continued to pass lots of riders and there were only a handful of others travelling at a similar speed to me. At around 35 miles we turned back towards Dublin and there was a long section on the road towards Dunboyne where I did not see another competitor for miles. It felt as though I was the only person in the race. I had the road to myself. At first this was exhilarating but then my mind started to wander. I began imagining what it must be like to be leading these races. However, It wasn’t long before my prevailing feeling changed to exhaustion. With no one ahead to focus on I suddenly became much more aware that my body was beginning to fatigue. It was time for a caffeine gel. With this on board I was able to dig deep and rediscover the smooth cadence that enables me to stay in the present moment. “That’s better. Just keep cracking out those 75-80 revolutions each minute and the rest will take care of itself” I told myself. When I hit the speed-bump section again I knew I must be getting close to the end and as we got to the top of a nasty hill we turned sharp left and were into the park. This had come more quickly than I’d expected. It was time to prepare for the dismount. How would the calf react? I’d soon find out. The bike leg had been done in 2:27:47 which I’d later find out had put me strongly into 1st place.

I got my feet out of my shoes in good time, landed just before the dismount line and was jogging into transition. With every step I took I realized that the calf was sending signals to the brain that it wasn’t entirely happy. Was it cramp,was it muscle tightness or was it normal fatigue at this stage in a race? I wasn’t sure. Should I stop and stretch it out, should I ignore it and carry on or should I begin conservatively? I opted for the latter.

I lost a few precious seconds in the T2 tent as the racking was set up differently. In Dublin the two transitions are in totally separate areas of The City and the athletes only get to see the Start area transition. In T1 my bag had been on the bottom row of hooks but in T2 it was on the top row. In my state of exhaustion and concern for my calf I struggled to compute this information and was totally disoriented for a moment or two. Thankfully I eventually found my bag, put my shoes on and was headed out for the run. I could feel the calf tightening so slowed to a jog. At this pace it seemed happy. On a scale of 1-10 the pain settled at a 3 and so I was happy to crack on. Lets get to the 1st km marker and reassess. It felt like it took an age to get there but the positive aspect of this was that the tightness was not getting worse. Other than this I was physically feeling good and mentally I was determined and positive. With 20km to go it didn’t seem worth pushing on just yet. Once I got to 3km I tried to increase the pace, but got instant feedback that the calf didn’t like it. By slowing down the pain reduced immediately and so I took lots of confidence that I could manage this niggle and if necessary I could keep going at this pace. The run was 3 laps and during that 1st lap I seemed to be taking just under 5 minutes for each kilometer. Whilst this was slow I did think that it should be good enough to get me home. Once out onto lap two, the calf was beginning to behave. The longer I went the easier it was feeling. I stepped up the pace by about 15 secs per km and this felt better. I now knew that I would definitely finish and so my thoughts turned to the time. Using the finish line clock I did some crude calculations that suggested that I was going to set a new PB despite this calf issue. The last 5km was hard as I was tired. Its at these moments where its so important to maintain focus on the mechanics of the run action and ignore the growing fatigue. Keep it going. Don’t try anything silly in the last mile or so.Dublin703run

Making the final 180 degree turn and heading down the red carpet was brilliant. I felt so happy. I crossed the line and saw Paul, my brother in law. As usual at this moment a wave of emotion totally overwhelmed me.

Somehow I held back tears but was probably blubbering all kinds of nonsense about how happy I felt. He told me I’d finished in 4:53 and that I was currently in 2nd place in my AG. This was great news. I was bursting with pride. Could I really have finished in 2nd place? Might I possibly earn a place in the 2018 World Champs? Might another step towards my dream be taking place?

I’d find out in a few hours. We had time to go back home to change before returning for the awards ceremony. The result was confirmed . I was 2nd in a time of 4:53:16 and that meant a place on the podium but not necessarily a place for South Africa as there was only one guaranteed slot in my AG. Picking up my first trophy for an Ironman event felt significant. I was really proud. Dublin703podiumIMG_5035-3Then came World Championship slot allocation. I waited nervously to discover if there was to be more than one slot for my AG. It was confirmed that there was just one slot available. Damn, maybe it wasn’t to be on this occasion as the slot is obviously offered to the winner. Liam Williams, my AG winner did not respond when his name was called. Three times they called him and still he didn’t respond. Wow, the slot was going to be offered to me. I didn’t need to be asked twice. Yes please I’d like to take it. Thanks Liam, I owe you one.

South Africa here I come in September 2018.

Over the next few days I walked around with my World championship coin in my pocket at all times. I kept showing it to people, whether they wanted to see it or not. I was so proud. A few months on I’m still just as proud and I’m still just as excited about what next year has in store. It really feels like a breakthrough and given that I’ve set a new PB whilst carrying a calf niggle I know that there is still so much more that I can do.

 

Faster after 50 is real. Just how fast though, is the exciting unknown. Bring on next year to find out.

Rolling with the rhythm of life

I was sitting on the turbo this morning warming up for an interval session, reflecting on the last couple of days. Things are good. I seem to have turned a corner physically and mentally. Getting some positive feedback from Brett Sutton on my latest blog gave me a boost also. Brett doesn’t hand out compliments lightly so to know that he appreciated the way I’d approached and executed the Deva Tri at the weekend meant a lot. He also summed up the key learning from the race for me and that is just how important it is to take satisfaction from the perfect execution of a race plan, irrespective of the result.

Back to the turbo. After the warm up I got straight into the main set which was 8 x 4min intervals at a strong tempo with 4 minutes steady between each one. Earlier in the year I invested in a set of Powertap P1 Pedals so that I could get some objective feedback from each session to support the all important and yet more subjective feelings of perceived effort that I had been using to judge most my sessions in the past. These pedals measure the amount of power that is being put through them and the numbers are especially useful when doing interval training. With this power data I find it helps me to squeeze out even more from a session. The numbers don’t lie. They simply give real time feedback about what is going on. It tells me exactly how much power in watts I’m produced. However, my little friend, my chimp, is ready to step in and make judgments for me about why, as soon as the numbers start to come through and today I noticed something really odd. When the numbers are low, as in the last few weeks, my Chimp interprets this as “you are rubbish”, “I told you, you’re no good”, never giving me a break around how fatigued I might be etc. On the other hand, when the numbers are high, just like today, my Chimps immediate reaction is that the numbers are wrong, the pedals are playing up and over estimating the power I’m generating! Thankfully, I am feeling really good right now and so I could laugh off the nonsense that was coming from my little friend inside my head. It was however, a great reminder not to take any notice of the negativity that comes from within.

IMG_1050

On I went with the session. Each of the intervals got better and I managed to nudge up the average power by 25 watts between the first and 8th interval. I was really happy with this. In between intervals I was riding steady and once my heart rate had come back down under control my thoughts turned each time to the rhythm of life and how it tends to flow in waves. If we want highs (and who doesn’t love them) then we have to accept that there will also be dips in form, motivation, energy etc. I’m learning that its important not to fret about the dips and instead to accept and embrace them. They are normal and necessary for improvement to take place. Objective feedback such as power data can be really helpful to pinpoint a dip and thus make more informed decisions with your coach about backing off for a while. If like me, you want to know why the dip has occurred I am finding that by embracing the process of backing off I can reflect more clearly on what has been happening, seek other opinions and then during this period of lighter training allow my brain to work out the reasons for it. In doing this, we can then adjust our plans or reset strategy so that we can be enjoying the sensations of being back on the way up again in the shortest possible time.

So, not only have I smashed out a great session this morning but I’ve also learnt the value of rolling with the rhythm of life.

My Form Shows Improvement at Deva Triathlon

I have always loved the Deva Triathlon.

PeteDevaTri

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.

DBdi1ubXUAAMoL1.jpg-large

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).

IMG_1105

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.

PeteDevaTri

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!

DBZ_5qGWsAEP6Ot

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.