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.

New Year, New Niggle

For the last few years January seems to have been the month of set backs in my training. I seem to greet a new year with a new injury or a recurrence of an old one. January 2019 has brought with it the gift of a new niggle, this one being a bit of a mystery.

I’ve been struggling with my left calf. It’s not like all the calf injuries of the past that have been straightforward tears or strains in the belly of the muscle. This one is on the inside of the muscle, very close to where it connects with the shin bone. It doesn’t feel like it’s about to tear, but rather it seems to get inflamed and create a significant area of tenderness down the inside of the calf/ shin or specifically the medial tibial periosteal region. It causes lots of soreness during the first 15 minutes of running and then as I warm up it seems settle down and the intensity of the pain dissipates. As a result, it hasn’t stop me from training but it is restricting the type of run sessions I can do and it does cause lots of discomfort between sessions. My massage therapist has been working hard on it to relieve the symptoms and I’ve been icing the whole area every day but it doesn’t want to go away.

Because its not been an acute injury, a moment in time where I can pinpoint something that happened that caused the injury and because it’s not been preventing me from training I’ve been guilty of ignoring its significance, or potential significance.

But as its a massive year for me I can’t afford to ignore the signals my body is giving me and run the risk of creating a really chronic injury for myself.

So after a full 4 weeks of being in denial I finally did the smart thing and reached out to some experts for help. Firstly I found an excellent physio, Kathryn Fishlock in Newport who gave me a thorough examination and then introduced me to a bit of funky kit called an anti-gravity treadmill. It works by pulling on a pair of sealed shorts that can then be inflated to hold the body above the treadmill in such a way that only a limited percentage of overall bodyweight is being put through the legs. Thus running can still be possible whilst carrying an injury. Kathryn wanted to assess how my running gait would change as more of my body weight was reintroduced. The good news was that nothing changed and she was happy with my running action. So she came up with a few exercises to try to help strengthen this area.

Anti-gravity treadmill running is amazing. Removing 10% body weight makes a massive difference. I felt like I was running on a cloud, it was effortless. For an experienced and competent runner like me it was such a revelation so I can’t begin to comprehend just how much of a difference it would make for others who are significantly heavier and less used to running.  For anyone who knows that they are carrying too much weight and wonders what it would feel like to run without these extra kilos then go and try one of these things. It is incredible. It is a powerful way of understanding just how much better you will feel once you have got the weight off and thus should provide an enormous boost in motivation for sticking with the process of shedding excess weight.

So I got stuck into the rehab exercises but frustratingly, two weeks on nothing had improved and so I decided to take up a referral from Kathryn to see an eminent sports doctor, Geoff Davies in Cardiff . Geoff examined my lower legs and decided that an MRI was required so a few days later I was back in Cardiff for the scan.

I think he was concerned that there may have been a stress fracture in my shin. The results came back really quickly and the good news was that there was no evidence of any stress fracture and the only anomaly was a build up of scar tissue in the area of pain. His report noted that the scarring was clearly a relic of previous calf injuries as at the area of maximal tenderness there is quite florid scarring and abnormal signal in the tibial origin of the tendon of the medial head of soleus. There is some ossification in the tendon at the origin with some low-grade oedema around it. The scarring of the central tendon extends distally in the calf. The tibia is normal with no evidence of stress fracture. There is also scarring of the myo-aponuerosis between the soleus and the medial head of gastrocnemius compatible with previous injury.

 Reassuringly there is no evidence of tibial stress fracture, which was my major concern. His symptoms appear to be related to chronic scarring of medial soleus / calf which does fit with his history.

However, the scarring was almost identical on the right leg and so it was confusing to me that it could be causing pain on the left leg but not on the right. But what do I know?

Geoff’s recommendation was to continue with physiotherapy and consider a formal biomechanical assessment with Podiatrist Tom Cooper at Ace feet in Motion in Cardiff.

So off I went to meet Tom. This was another fascinating experience. Tom also works with lots of elite sports people and so I knew I was in good hands. He got me to walk barefoot over his sensor pad that built a digital picture of how my feet were striking the ground, especially where the pressure points were throughout the process of making a forward step. Again, good news in that there was nothing dramatic that was going on that could be contributing to my discomfort. He did identify a minor flaw in my big toe ( the same on both left and right foot) that creates a slight restriction in the drive phase of a step, but felt that this was not creating the pain and was concerned that if he tried to correct it we may cause problems elsewhere and so it was best to leave it be. Everyone is different and very few of us have perfect biomechanics and we don’t require perfection to perform consistently well.

We then moved into his run studio where a larger sensor mat is set up. Run shoes were put on and then I was asked to run up and down over the matting. Tom observed and built a similar footstrike profile using the data that was coming from the sensor mat. The result was consistent with the barefoot walking. Apparently, I have good biomechanics and have a very consistent, efficient and balanced run pattern. I strike the ground with my midfoot, am not overstriding and thus put very little weight through my heels. All in all, excellent feedback.

So my third expert is telling me that all the essential ingredients to effective running are in place and looking good. This is obviously great to know, but frustratingly doesn’t mean that the pain in my medial tibial periosteal region is any less!

So Tom suggested three possible routes for solving my problem. Firstly I could try orthotics, but I’ve been down this road before and found that whilst it helped in the short term it created much bigger problems in the longer term, so I am really adverse to going this route again. Secondly he is having some positive results with shock wave therapy that fires sound waves into the tissue to accelerate blood flow and healing. He has been using it for achilles and plantar fasciitis injuries and thinks it could help. I’m thinking this through right now.

The third route is a strength and conditioning programme for the Tibialis Posterior region.

My instinct told me to go with the strengthening programme first and see if we can deal with it that way.

So I’m now having to spend time, several times a day rigorously executing these tiny exercises that hopefully will help to rebuild my muscles so that the pain will disappear.

The good news is that I get feedback every time I run. Encouragingly, the length of time that I am experiencing pain at the start of every run is shortening and so this gives me motivation to continue with the rehab programme. I’m now confident that I’ll overcome this latest niggle and that it wont derail my season.

So whilst I haven’t yet resolved the problem and I haven’t discovered the definitive answer to the question about what is causing the pain, I’m really glad that I didn’t just ignore it as I’ve learnt so much by meeting these three experts over the last month.

And, importantly, I’ve now got an even wider team that I can turn to when I need help in the future.

I’ve learnt that the human body is a complex and sometimes contrary being. It can flummox experts and often there isn’t a simple linear answer to what may appear to be a simple problem. Thus, we need to be open to a test and learn approach to problem solving. Furthermore, niggles are often a result of a slight imbalance that requires a disciplined dedicated time consuming programme of dull exercises to remedy. As we get older we ignore the basics of strength, conditioning and balance at our peril.

Keep at it, its worth it!

Why am I here?

Today is 7th December. I’m sat in the sunshine in Bahrain reflecting on what feels like a very long year.

Why am I here? Well that’s a big question….the straightforward answer is to compete in one last race of the season. After the euphoria of Ironman70.3 World Champs in September I really wanted another hit of the world championship buzz and so decided to try and secure my place as quickly as possible for 2019 by finding a race somewhere in the world that could give me that all important qualification spot. Bahrain provided the first opportunity so here I am.

 In the days after the race in Port Elizabeth in September it all seemed so simple. Take a few weeks off then put together a solid block of ten weeks training, travel out to Bahrain five days before, adjust to the warmer climate, relax, put in another performance like South Africa and fly home with the 2019 place in the bag. What could possibly go wrong?

I guess the next 24 hours will provide the answer ….

Back to the big question….why am I here?

I started this blog a few years ago with the grand ambition of providing inspiration to others to follow their dreams. I’d always wanted to be a sportsman and not just a weekend warrior or Sunday footballer. I wanted it to be what I did. Its taken me over 50 years but I’m now living that dream. Sport provides my focus and influences what I do, how I do it….. Its completely changed my life to the point where I feel so much more confident, I have self belief ( although I still struggle with self doubt in the days leading up to races!!) and has allowed us to make such radical steps in our late 50’s that we have bought an old farm in the Brecon Beacons with the intention of creating a cycling business from it. This really is living the dream.

Living the dream though is never a bed of roses. Over the last few years both of my parents have passed away following tragically slow painful journeys to the end. Dementia is a cruel condition that slowly strips away everything from those that are unfortunate enough to suffer with it. Currently there is so little that can be done to arrest the onset once it has taken hold and I feel a little traumatised still by the emotional pain that I could sense both of my parents struggling with as the condition stole from them even the most basic human skills that enable us to exist independently. Having observed, experienced and helped care for them through this awful process I have tried to learn more about it. Through reading and asking questions I’ve developed my own view on what we can do to try and prevent dementia from attacking our own brains. “Constantly challenging ourselves in new ways” is my over-riding view of how we can improve our chances of beating dementia.

That means learning new things ( languages are ideal as its really difficult especially as we get older but that’s what makes it ideal), keeping fit, really fit, eating healthily, avoiding becoming set in our ways. Avoiding becoming set in our ways is a really big one in my view. We learn as humans when we are on the very edge of our comfort zones, that place that makes us uncomfortable, makes us nervous, makes us awkward or painful, makes us question why we are bothering and in order to force ourselves to repeatedly go to this uncomfortable place we need a really strong reason or purpose for doing it. Often the difficulty in identifying a purpose leads to that comfortable outcome of unknowingly getting set in our ways. Avoiding dementia seems to me to be a negative reason to fight against inertia and I always encourage people to frame their goals and ambitions around positive thoughts. So this is why I hark back to dreams. What did you dream you’d achieve when you were a child or what do you wish you could make happen now? Use this as your powerful motivator to constantly challenge yourself.

Back to that question, why am I here?….because I want to be world champion. I know my Mum and Dad would be so proud, I know I am gaining so much from the process of learning how to be the best triathlete I can be and I’d love to think that through my trials and tribulations I could inspire a few more people to make their own dreams come true. If this helps in some small way to derail the juggernaut that is dementia then that seems like a really good thing to me.

I’ll take this thought with me into the race tomorrow. Wish me luck.

My achilles heel

Where did the 1st 5 months of the year go? How has time flown by so fast when at times its also felt like ground hog day?

Well I guess that time will fly by when massive things are happening in life. Moving house, starting up a new business, my wife taking part in Clipper Round The World Yacht race, sadly losing my wife’s father have all been pretty massive events that have been all consuming at times. They have each created a rollercoaster of emotions that have distracted me from the groundhog day sensations connected to the recurrence of my old Achilles injury that has been lingering around since the end of 2017.

I’m not very good at being injured. Injuries get me down, especially the ones I’ve had before that I know take lots of patience and commitment to heal. Injuries challenge my belief in myself and my ability to achieve the goals that I’m working towards. The recurrence of this old injury has been particularly difficult to deal with mentally and physically so I’m just so grateful that I’ve had these massive things going on that have stopped me from becoming too self focused.

As it was an old injury I thought I knew what I needed to do to sort it out. So whilst it was frustrating to not be able to do any quality run work around Christmas I didn’t think it was a big deal as I’d spotted it early and I could focus on swim and bike improvements instead. However it didn’t respond how I’d imagined it should.

It crept up on me and then before very long was no longer that 5 minute irritant at the start of each day as I got out of bed and struggled to get off my heels until a bit of blood started flowing and the tendons warmed up. A 3/10 pain whilst running slowly became a 7/10 and despite lots of ice, manipulation, rest and strengthening work I couldn’t shake it off. So towards the end of January I decided that a 200 mile round trip for a consultation with my brilliant physio Adam Eustace of Modus Physiotherapy in Crowthorne was required. He gave me reassurance that it shouldn’t derail my season as biomechanically everything was pretty good but I needed to rest it before beginning the rehab road. So that’s what I did. No running for 3 weeks, then aqua jogging, eccentric calf raises and once I could hop for 30 secs pain free I could then begin the return to running. At this point I cancelled my early season duathlon race programme and whilst this was disappointing I was very clear in my mind that this season was all about being in tip top form for the 70.3 World Championships in September, so it was definitely the right thing to do.

The return to running was a real high point of my winter even if it simply meant one minute jog followed by one minute walk, ten times and then building very slowly from there. However, it wasn’t straightforward and after about a month of building slowly I got all the way back to running easily for 40 minutes when it went again. I was now back to square one, total rest followed by the same disciplined approach to rehab. Still no change and by end of April I was starting to panic a bit inside. Was I going to be able to run again? Adam had once told me that an Achilles injury is like a dog: its for life not just for Christmas and that it needs to be constantly looked after. Despite doing everything to keep it strong I was beginning to have real doubts about my body’s ability to bounce back again.

Taking the decision that I wouldn’t be able to compete in one of my favourite events, the European Middle Distance Championships in Denmark was really hard and it did begin to catalyse my doubts about whether I’d even be fit enough to take my place on the start line in South Africa in September. So I got back on the phone to Adam and through a few chats he both reassured me that there was nothing fundamentally wrong and also identified a possible hole in my rehab. The Achilles is supported by both parts of the calf (soleus and gastroc) and I had been focusing predominantly on exercises that would build the gastroc. Perhaps I’d still got a weakness in the soleus which was causing the continued pain? This seemed to make lots of sense and I couldn’t wait to get going. He set me some very specific exercises and every day after swimming I was straight into the gym to carry out these new strength building exercises. Within a week the Achilles was feeling very different with the key difference being that I didn’t notice it anymore. It felt normal for the first time in 5 months and I’d forgotten what normal felt like. No aches, no shooting pains, no stiffness, no tension. No nothing. It was brilliant. I got back to running and whilst this felt very wooden at first it is now beginning to feel natural again. Slow yes, but natural and I’ll take that for now.

Last week I managed to complete a 40 min run alongside my Coach Annie. Once we finished she told me that we’d begun at 8 min mile pace and finished the session with the last two miles at 7 min mile pace. This feedback gave me such a boost. I’ve now got 3 months to build a bit of speed before South Africa, but I’ve rediscovered my confidence as it feels like the Achilles is now healed. Sport like life can change so quickly. Its only a few weeks ago that I was beginning to question if I’d be able to compete at all this season and yet now I’m excited about pulling on my tri suit for the 1st time this season. This weekend I’ve decided to give it a go at the Blenheim Sprint triathlon. I plan to take it very easy but am so excited to be taking part again and I really want to just go there to enjoy the sensation of being healed, healthy and getting my heart rate racing again. Most importantly I want to savour a well earned Erdinger Alkoholfrei as I cross the finish line. Cheers.

Its time to renew my love affair with the marathon.This time its Manchester.

This weekend I will be running a marathon for the 1st time in 8 years and its 26 years since I ran my first one. Back then, I don’t remember using gels, nutrition was a few jelly babies being handed out in the crowd and a tray of bananas at about 18 miles. Oh how times have changed.

Manchester will be my 8th marathon, but the first where it hasn’t been the focal point of my sporting year and so it will be lovely to take part in a huge event where I’m not putting myself under any pressure to perform. I just want to relax and enjoy the wonderful human experience that marathon running provides.

Ever since my introduction to the marathon at London in 1991 I’ve been captivated by the way that these events bring out the best in people. Runners, spectators, volunteers all come together to support each other towards the achievement of some pretty amazing things. At its most basic level a marathon is a celebration of being alive, of health and general fitness. Beyond this its a brilliant way of inspiring people to achieve extraordinary feats, to encourage us out of our comfort zones and its also grown into an important occasion for charities with millions being raised for great causes.

Back in 1991 I was naïve, young and very fit, being a footballer at the time and had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I breezed through the event in under 3 and half hours, soaking up the amazing atmosphere the whole way, comparing it with coming out of the tunnel at Wembley Stadium on Cup Final day, except the noise went on for 26.2 miles. All the sport I’d done until then had been highly competitive so I found the camaraderie of the marathon really refreshing.

IMG_0700I enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d like to see how fast I could go with some dedicated marathon training. Luckily I got a place in New York City marathon 6 months later. I spent the whole summer preparing, then only managed to shave what seemed like a miserly 3 minutes off my time. This seemed like a small reward for a huge amount of effort and a seed was sown in my head that I should be capable of going quicker.

Little did I realize though that 3 hours 25 minutes would remain my PB for at least a quarter of a century.

My 30’s almost disappeared in the blink of an eye before I was ready to try again. This was a period of working really hard to build my career and learn how to be a dad to two beautiful sons. Every minute was taken up with important stuff connected to these priorities and so my sporting ambitions took a bit of a backseat. Becoming 40 was on the horizon and whilst I reject (far too vociferously I can hear my wife saying!) that I had a problem with reaching this age I was clearly keen to prove that it did not mean that I was slowing down. Running a marathon again seemed like the perfect way to show that I was fitter and faster than ever.

Our best mates were living in New York and so we celebrated reaching 40 by heading out there again for the Marathon. Preparations were really frustrating as my body was letting me down. Calf and Achilles were the problem. I’d get over one niggle on the left and then because of overcompensating on the right, this would then go. Looking back and knowing what I now know about the importance of a disciplined recovery regime of stretching, foam rolling, massage I’m not surprised I had problems. Time seemed so precious that every minute was in demand, so I squeezed in runs around other stuff and simply didn’t ever see that recovery could be given priority for a single minute of my time (that is until it became chronic and I was rehabbing under the guidance of a physio). I couldn’t run for the last four weeks leading into the race, but there was never a question that I would pull out even though I knew I was underprepared as I stood on the start line. Surprise, surprise, I really struggled but was very proud of the way I dug in and somehow finished in just 30secs over 4 hours.

I was determined to come back the next year and give it another go when I hoped I’d be in better shape. 2000 was definitely an improvement as I crossed the line in 3hours 35minutes. Not bad, I thought, but I still felt there was a better performance inside me. Three years later in 2003 I was back again for one more shot at New York. Once again I struggled in the build up with the same injuries, tried all kinds of remedies, tried orthotics but couldn’t find a way of being able to train consistently. Frustratingly my calf failed during the race and I hobbled through the last 8 miles to cross the line in 3hours and 50minutes.

Despite all these frustrations, my love of the marathon grew stronger each time and I now wanted to try another of the Marathon Majors. I set my sights on Chicago in 2005. Consistency of training was still an issue due to these niggling injuries but I did manage to get around in one piece and showed some improvement with a 3hours and 37mins result. I loved Chicago and wanted to go back again.  We did, to celebrate my 50th in 2009. This time I knew I was in great shape, injury free for the first time since the days of 1991 and ready to set that PB. If I could do it I’d have been so chuffed to show that you could be faster at fifty than thirty. However, on the morning of the race I woke up with a terrible tummy bug that caused me to pay lots of visits to the portaloos dotted around the course. Despite this inconvenience I finished in 3 hours and 27minutes, beat my time from London all those years ago and only just missed out on my original NY time. So I was faster than the first time and this made me very proud, but I still left a tad frustrated that I didn’t have the new PB to show for it.

Since 2009 I’ve discovered duathlon/ triathlon and this has become my passion. As I head towards Ironman I’m aware that the challenge of the marathon is still there and I will need to be able to cope with the demands of this event at the end of a 2.4mile swim and 112miles on the bike.

So this weekend in Manchester it’s more about reassurance than it is about that PB of 26 years. I know I’m in good shape and I want to run a race that leaves me feeling really positive, knowing that I can execute this distance well and that my body will easily cope with it.

So my race goals are to run an even pace, to relax and enjoy the experience by chatting to as many other runners as I can. To achieve this I plan to join the 3:15 pace group and stay with them until around 20 miles when I can re-evaluate and decide whether I need to back off, kick on or hold firm.

Lets go do it.

Where does Inspiration Come From?

It’s been a very tough year and a half, but I’ve emerged on the other side with a new level of inspiration.

Both my parents have died after long, desperately difficult battles with dementia and strokes. I struggled with the prostate health problem that I’ve discussed previously. Racing didn’t go to plan either in 2016 and whilst I wanted to remain committed to my big long term goal of getting to Kona one day, I think deep down I have been questioning whether or not I’ve got what it takes to achieve this.

I am aware that through this difficult period I’ve been doing a bit of reframing. “Lets aim at 70.3 World Champs and see how I get on with that “ is a conversation that’s been going on in my head. This sounds like an athlete that is doubting himself and showing cracks in his commitment.

This is perhaps not surprising, given the context of the last year and a half. Helping to care for my parents and seeing them very slowly decline towards the inevitable end point of death has been hugely emotional. Without the distraction of training and racing, especially the opportunity to release all the painful emotions through hard exercise I’m not sure I could have kept being strong for them during the difficult final period of their lives. I also believe that my dedication to being fit and strong helped me get through the health scare. So on the one hand, my intensity and commitment to training has been a massive help to me, but on the other I have not been able to convert all the training into desirable performance outcomes that meet with my own expectations.

As a consequence, some disappointing 2016 results have been gnawing away at my commitment and belief to the big hairy goal. The clarity of why I want to go for it has been challenged, especially during those dark days of sitting with dying parents who have worked so hard all their lives only to see them apparently exiting the world so weak and helpless. What is the point of it all? It was pretty bleak at times.

However, out of all this pain and confusion a new level of inspiration has emerged. Inspiration that will be so significant that I’m convinced it will reinforce my commitment to my original long term goal. I started doing triathlon to see how good I could be and so I wanted to give myself the ultimate test by seeing just how good I can be at Ironman World Champs in Kona.

Where did this new found inspiration come from?

My Mum passed away on Jan 26th. She managed to eat her last bit of real food at our house on Christmas day. She was already extremely weak and tired. Her race was seemingly pretty much run. Despite being totally dependant on others for everything at this point, she showed such grace, dignity and joy for what little she had left. Everyday from then her physical condition took another step down and on 12th January she was declared as being in her end of life phase. All medication was stopped. She confounded everyone as she continued to live for a further two weeks with the same poise and courage. She was determined to show what real strength could achieve as she left this world.

I was lucky enough to be with her as she finally passed away and at that moment I realized she was leaving me with one last gift.

So, her parting lesson to me, that I will take as my inspiration for the enormous challenges ahead, was surely that when you think you have nothing left to give, there is still much more within you, if only you have the courage and grace to find it, and when you think that you have been dealt a bad hand, accept it with a smile and find a way of turning it to your advantage.

So when I’m racing in future and I get that inevitable feeling of being empty, when I feel as though I’ve given my all, when the voices in my head are screaming at me to stop, I know I can use my Mum as inspiration and dig deep for those untapped resources of strength and energy that exist within us all.

My inspiration has come from this period of personal sadness and I hope I can use it to drive me forward towards my goal. I know how proud my parents would have been.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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Anxiously clutching my Erdinger water bottle before the swim start

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

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Proudly holding my hard earned finisher medal on the hospital bed

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

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

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

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Here we are celebrating a great team effort!

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking strong on the run

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Not long to go now!

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One final sprint for the line.

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

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

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

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

Summary of Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/06     Leeds Triathlon                                       Injured, did not race

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons From Jonkoping 70.3

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

“Now the drugs don’t work

They just make you worse

And I know I’ll see your face again”

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As I jogged along I thought about it.

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

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

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

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

So what can I learn from my experience at Jonkoping?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where might you be limiting yourself with a fixed mindset?

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

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