Lockdown Lunacy

After 5 weeks in lockdown my brain began to play strange tricks on me. With all our upcoming tours postponed and the prospect of racing again in the near future looking unlikely my unconscious self clearly decided that a shock tactic was required.

Last Friday, 24th April I awoke on another beautiful morning in the Beacons with this really clear thought that I needed to get involved with the “Two Point Six Challenge”.

The Two Point Six Challenge is a brilliant initiative to help charities that are struggling with a lack of funding as a consequence of the big mass events such as London Marathon not happening due to Covid 19 risks. People are being encouraged to think up weird and wonderful 2.6 themed activities that can take place within a lockdown environment and inspire others to either donate or get involved themselves.

Now, we have a field behind our house that stretches up the valley side and so I awoke with this vision of me taking on a challenge of some description in our field. By 6am I was out in the field measuring the vertical difference in altitude between the bottom and top of said field. My watch confirmed it as 30 metres. A quick calculation suggested that around 90 laps of the field would achieve a vertical ascent of 2.6 km. Brilliant. This is what I was going to do. The 2.6km Vertical Ascent Running challenge was about to happen.

Sometimes I can tend to dwell on things, overthinking the pro’s and cons, the what ifs. Occasionally this approach leads to indecision and I knew that if I thought about this for too long I would come to the sensible realisation that it was nuts and therefore I shouldn’t do it. This time however, I knew instinctively that I couldn’t allow this rational side of me to dominate.

So I pinged off an email without any further delay to my long time sponsor Erdinger Alkoholfrei to tell them that I was going to join their initiative to support the Two Point Six Challenge. At 8:29 am that email was sent and by 8:50am I had the reply confirming that it was indeed a nuts idea and that I should definitely do it.

The next question was who should I do this crazy challenge for? Well, Lucy Gossage, an amazingly talented triathlete and more importantly brilliant cancer doctor is the founder of 5k Your Way, Move Against Cancer. This is a really small charity that has suffered a loss of funding from the consequences of social distancing and cancelations of events.
MOVE is all about encouraging cancer patients and their families to keep physically active as there is growing evidence that a healthy lifestyle during and after cancer improves both physical and psychological well-being. This aligns perfectly with my own personal philosophy and given that a number of my dearest friends and family have been battling different cancers over recent times it felt like the right charity to support.

I set up a fund raising page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/peter-s-2-6-challenge1467 and then spent the rest of the day contacting lots of people I knew to tell them what I was about to do. The reaction was just what I’d hoped it would be: lunacy, madness, nuts, crazy were the typical adjectives of support.

On Friday evening I felt energised and excited but then it dawned on me that I hadn’t actually done any training specifically for this. I was really fit and the impact of the 1st 3 weeks of lockdown doing Jake’s Giro on a turbo trainer had left me being stronger and having a significantly higher Threshold Power level than ever before so I knew I was in pretty good shape. But its not normal to take on such a mammoth challenge without doing at least a small amount of specific preparation. I’m 60 years old, I’ve had cruciate ligament reconstruction, I’ve got very little meniscus left in my right knee to act as a shock absorber and yet here I was planning to spend upto 8 hours going up and down a 20% gradient hill in just over 24 hours time.

Before I continue I just have to plug Jake’s Giro. Go check it out (https://grintacoaching.co.uk/jakes-giro/ ) it’s a brilliant activity for cyclists who are looking for something to focus on during this difficult period of lockdown and its an even better way of step changing your cycling performance. For example I moved my Threshold power from 269w to 292w during the 3 weeks. That is a remarkable progression.

Anyway, back to the challenge. I’m a really experienced triathlete so I know how to focus on the positives and I needed to trust in my ability to adapt and react to whatever the hillside was going to do to me.

I knew that 90 laps was going to create mental challenges as much as physical ones so we created a scoreboard that would allow us to tick off the laps and recognise progress as I got into the meat of the challenge. We also identified lots of Mountain passes that could be used as virtual milestones along the way:
Gospel Pass, the highest road in Wales came first at 549m, then Pen Y Fan, the highest mountain in Southern Britain at 886m. Ben Nevis is 1345m and then we got onto some iconic cycling cols with Alpe D’Huez 1803m, Ventoux 1912m Tourmalet 2115m, Pordoi in Dolomites at 2239m, where we take groups with our Compagnons Cycling business , Mount Teidi in Tenerife at 2356m and finally Galibier at 2642m.

So at 7:30am on Sunday 26th April, just 49 hours after dreaming up the challenge I began the first ascent of our field. The first 3 hours flew by. It felt very comfortable as I was running well within myself. My HR was under control, never getting above 130bpm and coming right down on every descent to around 90bpm. The laps were being ticked off with ease and I reached “Ben Nevis” around 3 hours in. Kathy was doing an amazing job in support, keeping me well fed and watered and jst as importantly keeping me updated with fundraising progress.

We were posting pics and videos throughout the morning and this helped us to gather some interest in the challenge that converted into donations. I found it really inspiring to know that as I was running up the hills it was translating into cash for MOVE.

Around three and half hours in things changed. It went from a crazy idea that was comfortable in its execution to feeling like utter lunacy with each lap becoming increasingly more difficult. The 20% gradient still felt ok on the way up but the steepness of the descent was creating massive microtears in my quad muscles. When I tried to minimise the gradient by zig-zagging the hillside it didn’t help as I was risking achilles irritation through uneven foot placement. So I decided to put up with the quad soreness and continue returning straightdown the hill.



I shot a little video as I went over Alpe D’Huez. This was when things were feeling really tough and I still had 800m of vertical ascent to go. I remember wondering how it will feel if and when I get to do the AlpeD’Huez triathlon. This is due to be one of my big race goals for this year and whilst it is still officially on I’m not sure if it will happen. This “not knowing” is making training very difficult at the moment, so having the madness of this challenge is a really positive distraction for me.

By the time I went over Tourmalet at 2115m I had convinced myself that I was now struggling because of the thin air at altitude! The Tourmalet is one of my favourite cycling climbs and the day I rode it as a very inexperienced cyclist will remain a treasured memory. I used this memory to help me through the laps of our field, visualising the ski stations that you pass on the way up, the way that the valley opens up and the road snakes its way towards the final brutally steep section before arriving at the summit and the monument of a cyclist gasping for air.

Once over the Tourmalet I knew I would make it, even though each lap was taking longer. Teidi at 2356m was another significant milestone. A few years ago I rode from sea level up into the crater of the volcano and remember being proud. I think it’s the longest climb in Europe but its certainly much easier to ride from sea level to 2356m than it is to run that vertical ascent on a hillside in Brecon Beacons.

As the target distance of 2600m approached I got Kathy to walk up to the top of the field to mark our finish line. 6 hours, 34 minutes and 22 seconds had passed when I finally arrived at 2.6km of ascent. I had run 20.74 miles. I was completely exhausted and ready to stop. The Galibier, just another 42 meters higher could wait. I will take a group of cyclists there one day soon and experience it for real, rather than as part of my near hallucinogenic state.

Whilst I was exhausted I was also really happy. It felt like I’d done something useful. And I didn’t quite realise at that time just how appreciative the team at the charity were going to be for my fundraising effort. In just over 48 hours we’d gone from nothing to completing the challenge and raising over £1200 and if anyone reading this feels like adding to the total then I ( and I know the team from MOVE also) will be truly grateful.

My thanks to Lucy Gossage for her inspiring work, to Erdinger Alkoholfrei for prompting this madness, to The Gaffer ( http://www.grintacoaching.co.uk) for his coaching and sage advice and of course to Kathy for her selfless support. Its just another normal day for her!

Sometimes it’s amazing what can happen when you just act on instinct.

Dreams Really Do Come True

5 years ago I went to bed wondering how I would feel the next morning. I had just won the Duathlon World Championships in my Age Group in Pontevedra, Spain and literally felt on top of the world. As a 50 something man I had been inspired by my inner 8 year old who had always dreamt of being the best in the world. Through a process of hardwork, commitment and perseverance despite lots of injury setbacks I had achieved it. As I went to bed that night, I wondered if I would awake the next morning, proud yet satisfied and ready to kick back now that my Everest had been overcome?

What happened was quite the opposite. During that night of fitful sleep I visualised a new dream. I wanted to repeat the achievement but this time at triathlon. I had focussed on duathlon because I was such a poor swimmer and had convinced myself that there was nothing I could do about it… old dogs, allegedly can’t learn new tricks. But I wanted to use this truism as the ammunition to drive the next stage of my evolution as an athlete. I wanted to show that old dogs can learn new tricks and this one would relearn how to swim.

So 5 years ago I set myself a new goal and that was to win a medal in a triathlon world championships. And just to set the bar that little bit higher I wanted to show that I could be competitive at all distances from sprints through to long distance racing.

Why make it easy? Always aim higher that became my new mantra. 5 years of even more hardwork followed and with every completed training session a growing sense of belief developed inside me. I began to define myself as a triathlete and I began to achieve race performances that suggested that maybe, just maybe, I could deliver on that dream that emerged in the glow of euphoria that came after that sensational victory on the streets of the beautiful old town of Pontevedra in May 2014.

So 5 years later I was back in Pontevedra to compete again. With a poetic sense of symmetry the ITU had scheduled their multi-sport world championships to return to this stunning corner of North West Spain, the hometown of Javier Gomez, arguably the worlds greatest male triathlete.  The long distance triathlon was to be the final race of this festival of multi-sport and amongst the entrants was me. Pontevedra had been good to me once, could it be good to me again? Over the last 2 years I have been competing in Middle Distance triathlon races and have enjoyed some great results around the world, but the long distance format involved a significant step up in volume and so it really was going to be a leap into the unknown.

I felt that I should be capable of handling the distance but my early season calf niggles had hampered my ability to get the requisite mileage in my legs that would have really added a new layer to the  inner core belief that I have been nurturing so effectively over recent years. I needed to trust in my coach Annie and take strength from the facts that each of the phases of the race held no fears for me. I just hadn’t put together a 3km swim, 120km bike and 30km run back to back in a race environment. It was likely to mean remaining focussed for around 2 hours longer than ever before. So the challenge was going to be as much mental as it was physical. I had to keep my old friend my chimp relaxed throughout a very long day. Did I have what it takes?

Race day began well with the much anticipated decision to shorten the swim due to cold water and air temperatures at 7am. So a new course of 1500m was confirmed. This decision clearly favoured the strong bike/runners and so I felt like I was already 1 nil up. Into the water I went. What I hadn’t expected was that the water conditions were going to be so different to the practice session I had done in the river only 24 hours before. The temperature didn’t bother me but on race morning the tides were going out and so this combined with the strong river current created swim conditions that were tougher than anything I had ever experienced before. Swimming upstream to the first turn buoy at 750m took an eternity and because the combined current was so strong the field remained tightly packed throughout, meaning the usual fist fight at the start continued for the full length of the upstream leg. Not a pleasant experience, and certainly one I’ll not forget in a hurry. Rounding the buoy I suffered a bout of cramp in my left calf. Sharp stabbing pains were the last thing I needed as I was trying to remain calm in the heat of the battle, but by repeatedly flexing my ankle I managed to shake the cramp out only for it to reappear in my hamstring. The consequence of focussing on getting rid of my cramp was that I took my eye off my direction of travel and was being dragged down stream by the very fast current rather than heading across the river to the next turn buoy. I had to adjust my course and head back upstream to get around the buoy before getting the free ride back down stream towards the swim exit. With the tide going out the river levels were much lower as we exited and so it was much more of an effort to simply drag my body out of the water and onto the pontoon. I’ve never been so happy to finish a swim leg and I was really encouraged by just how calm and centered I was as I began the long transition run back to the stadium where the change tent was located. I remember thinking that I’d done well to deal with the conditions and I was now set up to go to work on the bike leg, the part of the race that should play most to my strengths.

emerging from the water 4

Into transition I went and despite the cold early morning temperatures it felt like a furnace already inside this dark military style tent. I found a spot away from the rest of my competitors to get out of my wetsuit and then nipped down to my racking spot to grab my helmet for the bike leg. I’d anticipated that I would be shivering after the cold swim and so would need to add arm warmers and possibly a jacket to avoid a cold start on the bike but I recognised that my core temperature was good and my extremities felt warm so no extra clothing would be required . My transition was really efficient and I was soon settling into the long bike leg.

The key to a good bike leg was going to be management of effort. The course was really hilly. I’d done a recon of most of the lap and knew that with three laps and over 5000ft of climbing it was absolutely crucial not to go too hard too soon. Or more precisely not to go too hard at any time as the bike leg was only the prelude to the small matter of a 30km run. The race wouldn’t be won on the bike but it could certainly be lost by going too hard and having nothing left for the run.

bike aero working hard 2

So I knew the power range I needed to operate within and I was also monitoring my HR, aiming to keep it close to 130bpm on the climbs, bringing it down on the technical descents at the far end of the course. I broke the course into three parts. The biggest section was a long climb out of town which went up in steps and sweeping bends. This led to the technical section which was a fast, descent with lots of switchbacks to a dead turn and then back up the same road to meet the road we had come up. There was a short section of descending before another dead turn to retrace steps to the point at which we descended all the way back into town along the same sweeping road. This was scarily fast, no brakes required and trying to get as aero as possible as speed ramped up over 70kph. I loved it. Towards the bottom, the road surface became a bit bumpy and broken and so concentration was key to find the smoothest way through. This led into section 3 which I treated as a bit of recovery as it was in town, it felt quite intense, the road seemed narrower, the crowds were large and more bikes around. So I stayed off the skis and had my head up to be able to react quickly if anything appeared in the road in front of me. We went over the river a couple of times, through an industrial estate with lots of lefts and rights and then weaved our way back to the start of the next lap. Laps one and two went really well. I was controlled, felt great and simply stayed in the moment. On lap three I was beginning to fatigue, but kept to my nutrition plan which involved eating every 15 mins, drinking my super strength betafuel energy fluid, plus grabbing water at every feed station. As I took each water bottle I gave myself the challenge of taking a few huge mouthfuls, squirting lots over my head and shoulders and then discarding it before the end of the litter zone approximately 100m down the road.

By lap three I noticed more cyclists starting to come past me. I knew that they were the quick racers in the aquabike event that was also going on at the same time and I recognised that I shouldn’t be affected by how quickly they were going. Afterall they didn’t have to run 30km once they’d dismounted from their bikes. They weren’t in my race and so I knew I needed to ignore them or use them to help focus me back on the managed effort I was working to, but there were the odd moments when I allowed myself to get distracted with negative thoughts, especially during the long ascent of the first section. This was the hardest part as the hill seemed steeper the third time up, there was nothing new to observe and the power numbers were harder to hold onto. It’s at these crucial times in the race where it’s even more important to retain focus and dig in. I seem to be getting better and better at this and I came through this little wobble well. Once onto the technical section for the final time I was buzzing again, relishing the fact that I’d nailed it three times and was now just one long fast descent from T2. I attacked this final section before arriving back in town, mentally preparing for the long run. Enjoyment was my goal. Taking it one kilometre at a time was my challenge. Ok lets get ready.

Into T2 I came. As it was a world championship there were bike catchers ready to take our bikes and allow us to head straight to the change tent where we would find our final bag of kit for the run. The downside of the bike catchers is that you don’t see how many bikes are back in your AG and therefore getting a sense of your position in the race. It was much quieter in the tent this time. That had to be a good sign and I was really happy with my performance so far. I put my run shoes on, visor on, grabbed a caffeine gel and was about to exit when I noticed a Danish guy coming in. His number was very similar to mine and so that suggested he was in my AG. Ok I thought this means he’s going to be chasing me.

I set off out of transition feeling good, mentally checking in with all parts of my body. My head felt good. I wasn’t overheating. My shoulders were ok, not tight, arms were relaxed, hands loose, core strong, glutes firing nicely and legs felt surprisingly light.

I hadn’t done a recon of the run course but knew roughly where it was going. It consisted of two parts a bit like a figure of eight with the stadium in the middle. The first section was out along the river and through a park and the second part was a climb up through the old town and back to the stadium. Each lap was 7.5km so we had to run 4 laps. Lap one went in a flash. I was cruising along at an easy tempo that I knew that I should be able to sustain. It was a slightly slower pace to that I’d held throughout the 70.3 World Champs last September and so I hoped this should be sustainable. Onto lap two and I was still feeling good. Kathy had been trying to get information about my position in the race. She thought I was in 3rd position as I went out onto the 2nd lap and so I felt that pretty good about this but had not seen anyone around me that was in my AG. So where were they? Towards the end of lap two at a dead turn I noticed the Danish guy I’d seen coming into transition and he was definitely catching me. I couldn’t control what he was doing and was aware that I still had another 15km to go and so needed to simply focus on managing my own effort. I was feeling really composed and thinking clearly.

run relaxedAs we went onto lap 3 he came past me and he seemed to be going so much faster that I didn’t even contemplate trying to go with him. Suddenly the race became really hard. The air temperature seemed to rise significantly, the sun was really strong and there seemed to be no shade. My body started to hurt. My legs were screaming and my old friend, my chimp got out of his box. It was almost like he was running ahead of me, taunting me. “Stop, take a walk, you’ve had it. Use those aid stations to recover and refuel”. Every step became a battle against myself and I just refused to stop. I knew that if I walked through one aid station then that would become the new norm (and with 5 aid stations per lap that would be a lot of walking). At this stage I was confused about where I was in the race. If Kathy was right that I had been 3rd then surely now I must be 4th and I really didn’t want to come 4th again in a world championship. I had to battle on. I had to find a way of coming through this bad patch. I had to believe that the Dane could blow up, given the pace that he went past me, but every time I saw him on the third lap his lead was increasing. But there was still another lap to go and rather than thinking that this was more potential danger to me, I viewed it as the opportunity I needed to get into a medal spot. As I went onto the final lap Kathy had some new news. I was in 2nd place. The initial information she had been given was wrong as I came off the bike in the lead and had held this for the first 15km of the run.

This news was such a boost. It didn’t stop my legs from screaming but it did give me the belief to relax and enjoy the final few kilometres. I’d set out on the run with the intention of enjoying the occasion and apart from the very dark corridor I found myself in on the third lap I’d managed to do this. My 4th lap was quicker than my third but sadly I didn’t manage to close down on my Danish foe. After the climb up through town for final time I knew that I was going to hold on. Kathy was running alongside me, excitedly affirming the news that I was second and then I turned into the stadium to head down the home straight. The announcer called my name, confirmed that I was in 2nd place and I crossed the line feeling absolutely spent but totally elated. I was completely overwhelmed. It was amazing to know at that moment that I was indeed 2nd in the world championship. In every other race I’ve done there has always been a delay between finishing the race and discovering finishing position and I have to say that there is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing it as you cross the line. I had won a silver medal in the world championships. My dream of winning medals in both triathlon and duathlon at distances from sprints to long distance was real. I’d done it. I was overjoyed.

Once I’d composed myself I found Kathy and we shared an emotional embrace. I remember telling her that id pushed myself to my absolute limit. I knew I could not have given more nor converted that effort into a better performance on the day. I also remember commenting that 7 hours is a long time to be racing. I’m sure she must have been thinking, yes and 7 hours is a long time to be supporting too. The extra two hours really did take its toll. My body felt truly battered and the couple of steps onto the podium later that evening really did feel difficult, but what a moment. I was so proud, and you can see from the look on my face just what it meant to me.

PodiumPontevedra2019

I’ve done it. I’ve made my dream come true. Thank you to everyone for supporting me to become a triathlete. I could not have done it without you.

Goals For 2019

It’s going to be a big year.

2019 sees me moving up into a new Age Group.

Now, in most other areas of life a reminder of aging, especially reaching the mighty milestone of 60 would be seen as a depressing thought with only the promise of 10% discount at B&Q on a Wednesday or 2 courses for £4.49 at Hungry Horse ( Monday -Friday only) seen as meagre compensation for taking a further giant leap away from youthful nirvana.

Well, its not like that for triathletes. We are reborn every 5 years as we move into a new Age Group wherein we are given the gift of being the young kids on the block once again. So 2019 sees me entering the giddy heights of the 60-64 AG and to celebrate I would love to take advantage of this by going “bling hunting”. Becoming 60 this year is very exciting!

I’m setting myself some very challenging goals and am extremely motivated to try and achieve them.

  • Nail my first long distance triathlon. Naturally I’m aiming high and will be taking part in the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in Pontevedra Spain on 4th My dream is to get on the podium so the next four months is about building up an even bigger base of endurance to be able to race for upto 50% longer than I have ever done before. I know from what I’ve achieved over the last 5 years that if I can stay healthy then I will be able to put together the kind of consistent block of training that will get me ready to convert that dream into a realistic chance.
  • Get on the podium in Nice in September for the Ironman 70.3 World championships. I’ve earned my spot on the start line already, I achieved a top ten in the last AG as the oldest in the category in 2018 and I know that my commitment to executing every training session will move me one step closer each day. The mere thought of achieving this goal sends a tingle down my spine and I know this thought will be sufficient to get me out of bed on the cold dark mornings that lie ahead.
  • Domestic bling. I’m targeting two UK races: British Duathlon Championships in April and England Middle Distance Triathlon Championships in June. I’d love to grab a medal in one of these two races.

So my race season is shaping up like this:

March 23        Clumber Park Duathlon

April 7              British Duathlon Championships

May 4              ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships

June 2              England Middle Distance Triathlon Championships

July 21             Wales Middle Distance Triathlon Championships

September 8   Ironman 70.3 World Championships

To give myself the best possible chance of achieving these goals I need to focus on the following process objectives over the winter as I build up towards my 1st A race in Spain

  • Increase weekly swim volume to 13k. By the end of 2018 I was consistently executing 3k swim sets and so my objective is to push this upto 3.5k by the end of March
  • Improve 100m swim speed to under 1:40
  • Increase length of weekly winter long bike session to 120k + with 2nd half of rides being strong tempo
  • Improve FTP on the bike by 10w
  • Increase length of regular long runs to 30k+
  • Run off the bike at least once per week through the winter

I can’t wait to get stuck in.

Should my mantra “Faster After 50” now become “Swifter after 60”?