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.

Welcome To The Sixty Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Clumber Finish time

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

Clumber prize giving

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

 

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

 

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

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”?

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.

Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Competing alongside the best.

This was it. 12 months of work, pain and training had been building to this race. The Ironman 70.3 World Championships. The simple thought of being part of it kept me motivated through what had been a difficult, injury hit season. But that’s all behind me now as I’d made it to South Africa.

I was ready to test myself against the best.

This was going to be only my 4th Ironman 70.3 race and the previous three had produced mixed results so I recognised that I was still relatively inexperienced at racing at this longer distance. Despite this, I felt confident in my ability to achieve a top ten finishing position. I’d studied past results and knew what time I was capable of delivering. I also knew that training had been building well so all that remained was the simple, if not easy, task of executing the perfect race plan.

A danger with big championship races is that it is easy to get caught up with thinking about the opposition and so to avoid this I decided to construct my plan exclusively around aspects of the performance that I could control and a plan that would focus me internally, something that is especially important at parts of the race where I could easily get distracted either by fatigue, errors or the performance of others.

So my plan was as follows:

Pre race: breathe slow and deep

Swim: think core rotation

Bike: 255w average power, stay aero, eat and drink every 15 minutes

Run: relax and be patient

It was a series of simple process thoughts that I could repeat to myself to keep me focussed. If I could execute this plan then the result should take care of itself and who knows that goal of a top ten finish may well come to pass.

My build up to the race was perfect. We arrived in South Africa over a week ahead to give me plenty of time to get over the travel, settle into the new surroundings of the southern hemisphere and finalise training. Everything went smoothly. Scaremongering bike-jacking stories of the danger of riding around on an expensive bike could not be further from my reality. From my personal “holding camp” an hour away from Port Elizabeth in St Francis Bay we were treated royally and my bike became the number one priority for our hotel manager. He gave it its own room, he cleaned it for me daily and got it ready for each of my training rides. Precious was his name and precious was his way. He looked after my bike like it was his most precious possession. He suggested the best roads for me to train on (as its very easy to end up on dirt tracks if you don’t know where you are going) and the bike drew admiring glances from all the locals as I rode past each day. At no point whilst we were staying out at St Francis Bay did I feel threatened. I must admit that once we moved to the big city I did heed the advice to join one of the organised group rides around the race route and after that my training was complete. All that needed to be done in the last few days leading to the race was deal with race admin, orientate myself around the whole race village and then relax. The sign on process was painless and even bike racking the day before took no time at all.

My previous experience of Ironman events is that they have all been huge. They are much bigger than a normal triathlon, with more of a carnival/festival feel. Well, this World Championships was a different scale again. 4500 athletes from over 90 countries gave it a real global flavour that created massive excitement and anticipation.

IMG_0177

Ladies and men raced on different days, with ladies going first on Saturday. I found this really helpful as I was able to watch how transitions worked and see how slickly the operation unfolded on race day. We could see that the tracker app worked in real time and so it was possible to get useful upto the moment information about athlete progress throughout the race. I was hoping this might be helpful for Kathy the next day.

Everything was coming together brilliantly. All that I had to worry about when I went to bed on Saturday evening was if the predicted thunder storms would emerge. Even that didn’t keep me awake as since arriving in South Africa we’d been going to bed early so my body clock was ready for sleep at 9pm, giving me a full 8 hours ahead of the dreaded 5 am race morning start. I woke to some pretty favourable race conditions. Very light winds, overcast skies with a light drizzle to keep us cool. What more could a Northern boy want on his big day of the year? The triathlon gods seemed to be smiling on me.

As it was the World Championships every AG got its own wave start. The pro’s went off first at 0730 with Age Groupers beginning from 0738. The 55-59 year old men were due off at 0846 and so I was able to watch the pro’s exit the swim and observe just how to take advantage of the surf. The pro field was stacked with quality and it felt a real privilege to be standing there cheering on some of the all-time triathlon greats : Ali Brownlee, Javier Gomez, Jan Frodeno, knowing that an hour later I’d be chasing them down the same course. They needed to get a wiggle on!

 

There were plenty of nerves and testosterone flying around in the holding pens as we edged closer to our start time. I focussed on staying relaxed, reminding myself that it was just another race, and mentally rehearsing my race plan. I did take the odd look around the holding pen and noticed that there were only lean looking athletes in with me. Unlike in the past, my reaction to this was not fear that I didn’t belong, but rather pride in this group of fine examples of what the human body can achieve after the age of 50. I knew I would need to bring my A game to bear today and I also felt a deep confidence that this was possible.

We continued to edge closer to the start gate and at 0846 precisely the first 10 guys raced off down Kings Beach and into the surf of Indian Ocean. Every subsequent 15 seconds a further 10 guys were released and their races began.

 

 

I positioned myself fairly close to the front of my wave of 180 and got going in about the 7th group. I remember being anxious about how I would cope with the surf as I stood awaiting my turn to start but once I heard that “beep” my competitive side kicked in and I didn’t give any doubts about the surf and waves another thought. I just ran in as far as I could, then dived forward and started swimming. I don’t remember any breakers causing me problems. I just remember looking down and thinking just how clear the ocean was on race morning (this was very different to the other days when I had been practicing ahead of race day). The course was very simple. Swim out 800m to a big red buoy. Turn left and swim a further 300m parallel to the beach, turn left again at next red buoy and then its 800 m back to the beach. Because of the rolling start I didn’t experience any of those classic triathlon bunfights at the turn buoys and in fact I got into a nice rhythm, found a few similarly paced competitors to use for support and put together the swim of my life. I was around the second red buoy and heading back towards the beach before I really had to think about what I was doing, give myself positive thoughts or focus on specific technical aspects of the swim. I really was in that wonderful unconsciously competent territory that does not happen very often (if at all before) for me on the swim. With about 400m to go my perfect little bubble was burst by a fellow swimmer who insisted on slapping my feet with every stroke. This probably gave me a bit of extra impetus to push harder (and certainly to kick harder) to try and shake him off. Happily, I didn’t allow this irritation to grow and instead, kept my form, got to the shallow water and even tried to surf a wave into the beach. I was really encouraged that when I started to run back up the beach, my legs were happy to co-operate, and I didn’t get that jelly legged sensation that can happen after a long swim.

 

On the run through to transition there were a group of amazing volunteers working as wetsuit strippers waiting to assist. They were brilliant. Stop, stand still, allow them to pull the wetsuit down to your knees, sit on the floor, legs in the air, wetsuit is pulled straight off. They then pull you back to your feet and you are on your way again all within a few seconds. That’s what being in the World Champs is all about!

I was in and out of transition without any drama and away on the bike. The first 10km of the bike course was uphill, most of it very gentle but with a few steep little ramps. My plan was to try and ensure I kept a lid on my power efforts on these ramps to avoid burning too much energy too soon. So, I was watching my power numbers as I overtook a steady stream of competitors and controlled things really well. After the first 10k we were out of the city, heading down hill for the first time and out into the part of the course that I’d only driven in the car. The next part was pretty straight open roads that rolled along and the only surprise was just how bumpy and grippy the road surface was. At the back end of the course we entered the jaw droppingly stunning section along the ocean at Seaview that also involved tackling the hills called the Maitlands.

 

Again, I controlled my power numbers well and felt really good to get to the turn point in such good shape. I’d been drinking and eating in line with my “little and often” plan and this I’m sure was a huge contributor to how fresh I was feeling. The turn point wasn’t quite halfway but it did signify that most of the climbing was done. We just had to conquer Maitlands from the other-side and then it was a rolling ride home, aiming to keep the power up around 255w the whole way. The gentle drizzle continued to fall and this meant that the roads were wet but at no point did I feel that I needed to be careful. Perhaps if the tarmac had been smoother it would have been more of a challenge to corner in these conditions but the grippy surfaces helped.

 

Over the last 30km I remember thinking just how much harder work it was than I’d expected. With only 650m of climbing and fairly benign winds I think everyone had expected the bike leg to be less taxing but the bumpy road surfaces made it hard work to maintain speed. I kept eating and drinking and with about 10km to go, took my caffeine gel to give me a boost ahead of the run. The last 3km were back into town where the noise and support of the crowds gave an added boost and I arrived at T2 feeling excited to run.  After my last outing in London the thought did flash through my mind about whether I would cramp up as I dismounted ? No way.

 

I jumped off the bike and felt great. Immediately another of the brilliant volunteers rushed over to take my bike leaving me with the more simple job of locating my run bag and getting ready for the final part of what was shaping up to be a memorable race. I came out of T2 with my legs behaving. Still no sign of cramp and in fact I quickly settled into a really comfortable running rhythm.

Run course was two laps. Transition and the finish was in the middle so we headed out in a northerly direction up past Kings Beach, looped back towards transition and the main crowds, then out to the south for second part of lap before coming back through to begin 2nd lap. So it great for runners and spectators. We got the thrill of the huge crowds 5 times and supporters got to see us 5 times during the run. The boost this provides is massive. Seeing a familiar face, hearing a particular voice, getting the support and encouragement from a special person makes such a difference. I love it when Kathy is there to cheer me on and when I can see that she is getting excited for me, the emotion ramps up even more.

 

Over the first couple of kilometres I remember thinking about Coach Annie’s advice about being patient. The half marathon is a long way and I wanted to ensure that I finished strong , ideally with a negative split. So as each kilometre ticked by I was monitoring my pace and started calculating what finish time this was likely to result in. After about 6km it seemed that I could go under 1:35 for the half marathon. If I could do this I’d be really happy I remember thinking. But its important not to get ahead of yourself so I gave myself a talking to about just being in the present moment. I kept relaxed, aimed to maintain an even pace until the last 4-5km and then would see what I had left. At each feed station I took a sponge to cool my head, a bag of water to drink and occasionally a mouthful of coke. I was like a metronome. The kilometres were being ticked off effortlessly and I was still feeling good. I did start to think about the finish as I went out on the final lap and Kathy was screaming encouragement from the sidelines about a top ten finish being a possibility (clearly the tracker app was doing its job!!) I still needed to remain patient as there was still 10km to go. The metronome kept going in the same relaxed manner until I came past Kathy again. There was now 4km to go, her info was telling her that I was in 11th place and I was desperate to get a top ten finish. It was now I needed to work hard. Adding that extra level of effort which might only be 3 or 4% seems to take an extraordinarily greater amount out of the body. Relaxation goes, stride length gets longer, leg turnover probably stays the same or maybe even reduces, and whilst it feels like speed increases the reality is that this doesn’t seem to be the case. My final 5km which was without doubt the hardest I was working didn’t translate into the fastest section. In fact it was the slowest. Maybe I should have focussed on remaining relaxed, its certainly something to work on in training over the coming months. Another indicator that effort doesn’t result in speed is that those last few kilometres seemed like the longest! As I went into the final right turn and headed for the magic red carpet I was giving it everything. Because of the rolling start there could be someone who had finished or someone behind who could be within a few seconds of me and I didn’t want that feeling of if only id given it a bit more up those last 200metres.

I crossed the line empty of energy but overwhelmed with happiness and pride. I’d executed my perfect race. Irrespective of finish position I was delighted.

World Champs 703 finish line

Kathy was there looking so happy. The tracker confirmed my finish time was 4:49:00 and that I was in 10th place. I felt so pleased but had to remind myself again that someone could come in over the next few minutes and beat me if they had started at the back of our wave. So over the next 5 minutes I was constantly reloading the tracker page and much to my delight it soon adjusted the final positions to place me in 9th. Wow, 9th in the world championships. I think I can now call myself a triathlete as much as a duathlete. I was on cloud nine and didn’t even care that the heavens had opened and the threatened thunder storms had now arrived. I had put together the best 70.3 race of my life so far and felt such pride in proving that all the hard work was worth it and the setbacks couldn’t derail me. I’d nailed a 34 minute swim ( I’d have been happy with 34 mins for 1500 metres a couple of years ago), ridden a controlled 2:33:50 bike leg so that I could then run 1:33:53. Irrespective of my race position this was an outstanding performance for me. I’d shown what the best of me looks like and this time would have won the race in 2017. The race had also inspired me as 8 other guys from around the world in their late 50’s were even quicker than me on the day. Now that’s something to focus on for next year!

 

A few reflections since the race:

1          limiting assumptions. I did not think I was capable of running under 1:35 after a bike leg and this race proved that I can. So the question for the future is how much quicker could I go now that I don’t have this limiting assumption holding me back?

2          The link between relaxation/form and speed. For 17 km I ran very relaxed and then over the last 4km I increased my effort level, knew that my form was suffering but felt that I was going quicker because I was working so much harder. The reality is that I slowed down over these last 4 km. so I’ve learnt that its quicker to hold form and stay relaxed. I look forward to putting this into practice in my next race.

3          The point of the bike leg is to set up the run. I deliberately held back on the bike by a small amount of effort to see if it would allow me to arrive in T2 feeling fresh for the run. This worked so well for me. I estimate that if I’d pushed harder and gone 2 mins quicker on the bike I would probably have been 5 minutes slower on the run.

 

What next ?

I’d love to be on the start-line for 2019 70.3 World Champs in Nice and so I’ve decided to do one more race this year to see if I can gain a qualification spot early. I’m heading out to Bahrain for the race on December 8th.

 

Thanks as ever to Kathy and my sons for their unwavering love and support. Thanks to Annie my coach for believing in me and getting me ready to perform. Thanks to Sarah Logan my new physio who puts me back together every week and of course thanks to Erdinger Alkoholfrei for rehydrating me, supporting me and encouraging me every step of the way.

Finally, thank you to the people of South Africa. You made us so welcome, were so genuinely warm and friendly and wanted us to have a great time. We certainly did and we will be back.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tunnel from Elsinore to Dublin!

During the first few weeks since getting back from Denmark I struggled a bit with motivation. I felt distracted by other things in my life and training wasn’t quite giving me the same sense of positive structure to my weeks. I was still putting in the hours, still completing the sessions, but it was all a bit flat and I didn’t feel that I was making any forward progress. I was still getting up and heading off to the pool, but I was lacking my usual zip first thing each day. There was definitely a period of going through the motions and even though I knew that this was simply a short temporary low phase I did need to give myself a good talking to on a couple of occasions to ensure that I stayed with the programme. I do believe that it is these difficult moments that define us. How will we react when things get tough? Will we remain focused on our long term goals when they start to seem so distant?

It felt like I was in a tunnel that was so long that I couldn’t see the light at its end and the darkness was disorientating me. Would I be able to find my way out, what would I find at the other end and importantly would I like whatever was awaiting me?

Good news. I have found my way out and I have found that I’m reinvigorated by my long term goals and they even look slightly more achievable than they did before I disappeared into that tunnel of self doubt and demotivation.

My next 70.3 race in Dublin is now around the corner. Its only just over 2 weeks away. This weekend I’ve got a warm up race at Grafham Water near Cambridge and I’m getting really excited again.

Training has been going well since returning from Italian Dolomites where I took a group of cyclists to ride the iconic climbs of this stunning area of natural beauty.

That week of pure cycling disrupted my routines in a really positive way, built new levels of leg strength and helped to remind me about the simple joy of riding for pleasure. At times I find my pursuit of huge goals to be overwhelming and so to get back to a really simple recipe of exercising for pleasure was pretty invigorating. Add the fact that during that week I was there to serve others, to ensure that a group of 8 cyclists had the perfect holiday. It wasn’t about me, my goals, my training during that week. It was about them and that was really healthy for me. Dolomites really helped me to find my way out of the tunnel.

The net outcome is that I’m buzzing again and looking forward to Dublin. I’ve even got hold of a new cycle helmet that I’m hopeful will make a difference to controlling my body temperature so I can run better off the bike. I opted for the Scott Cadence Plus that was used by Sebastian Kienle when he won Ironman World champs in Kona last year. If its good enough for him, then surely it must be helpful to me. I can’t wait to try it out this weekend and see how it compares with my Kask Bambino that I’ve been using for a number of years.

As I’m right in the middle of a block of training for Dublin, the race at Grafham Water will be treated more like a big training session, with no taper into it. I’m curious to see how I’ll perform after some pretty tough sessions this week.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

My Form Shows Improvement at Deva Triathlon

I have always loved the Deva Triathlon.

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Chester is where I spent my school years and the course visits many of the spots in this beautiful city that I used to love as a lad. Transition is in the park that I went through everyday on the way to school and the run course retraces the route of our old school cross country races. Happy memories.

So it seemed like the perfect race to re-energise me following the difficulties of recent months. After bearing my soul in my blog post last week ,I felt genuinely refreshed going into Sundays event.

A plan for the race was hatched with Coach Annie. We agreed that the way to approach it was to go as hard as I could in the swim, treat the bike like a 40km TT and then ease back in the run to find a comfortable sub threshold pace that would leave my legs feeling ready to train again early this week. Our thinking behind this was that I’ve got my next “A” race coming up in Denmark in two weeks and so Deva was to be treated as a strong training session in race conditions. The result didn’t matter, it was all about rebuilding confidence through showing improvement in the water and rediscovering my legs on the bike.

I felt no pressure at all in the hours leading upto the start and in fact, I felt real excitement at the pre race briefing on the banks of River Dee. I couldn’t wait to get into the water. I probably got into the river too soon as I had a good warm up swim and still found myself treading water for several minutes before the gun went off. I’m clearly gaining more confidence around the swim leg as for the first time I positioned myself at the front of the wave, rather than hanging about nervously towards the rear to let the fast swimmers get away. I sprinted off as fast as I could to avoid the typical “washing machine effect” of arms and legs everywhere and to my great surprise didn’t experience anyone swimming over the top of me.

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The first 200metres was full effort and then I settled into a good strong rythmn, holding a pretty good line as we went upstream. I even managed to get into a bit of a pack, with feet to swim on and others to my left to create a sense of pacing. This was a whole new experience and I remember thinking at the time that this was fun and must surely be helping me to swim faster. My new made-to-measure wetsuit, thanks to the guys at Snugg, felt exactly that, and gave me total freedom to swim without restriction through the shoulders. After 850metres we reached the turnaround point and now headed back downstream to the exit point. The 1500m went by relatively quickly and I must have emerged from the water in just over 27 mins as by the time I ran up the hill, up the steps, into the park and across the timing mat I’d been going for 28:34. I’m definitely getting quicker. My first objective of the day was nailed.

Deva swim exit

My new wetsuit is so easy to get out of. It almost slips off. So I was soon heading out of transition with my bike, ready to go hard for 40km. The first section is technical through town, with a number of tricky sharp corners before crossing the river and heading out of Chester. So I used these first few minutes to spin my legs and allow the body to adjust to being on the bike. Once clear of the city I clicked down the gears and set about holding my threshold power. Within the first ten minutes of the bike leg I could feel that my body was responding much better than in my last race. This gave me more confidence to push on and I was soon overtaking guys with turquoise numbers ( my age group).

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I know the course very well as I train on these roads regularly and so it was reassuring to discover from Strava after the race that I was setting new PB’s on each and every segment along the way. I checked my watch after 30km as I turned back north towards Chester and thought I had a good chance of getting close to 60 mins for the 40km if I could hold my form. However, the traffic was now starting to build up. The Sunday drivers were being extremely courteous to the cyclists on the road by not taking any risks in overtaking. As a result, a line of cars was occupying the road ahead, only travelling at the speed of the slowest cyclists. I found myself caught behind them all, unable to get through and for most of the last 8km back into Chester was going far less quickly than I wanted. At first I got really frustrated. I contemplated undertaking but there wasn’t enough room. I contemplated overtaking but thankfully dismissed this fleeting idea as madness. I reminded myself that this race wasn’t important and staying safe was much smarter than chasing a PB. (I really don’t know what I would have done if this had been my big race of the year. I fear I may have taken a huge risk and shot down the outside of the cars, but hope not!)

As we got back into town the traffic was being managed and we were given a dedicated lane and so for the last km it was back to balls out to transition. 65:34 was my spilt for the bike, which considering the delays over the last 8km was pretty good. I know I felt strong on the bike. So objective two was also nailed.

Now there was just the final run leg to negotiate and ensure that I didn’t get carried away and run harder than the plan. The danger for me was a turquoise number coming past. Would I be able to resist chasing after them? Thankfully, none of the turquoise boys and girls did come past and so I was able to run to the finish on my own terms. Lap one was taken very gently. I focused on relaxtion, giving the body time to adjust from the bike to running. Lap two I think I went a bit quicker as I was definitely feeling pretty chilled about this sub threshold tempo. Then on the final lap I thought I’d just stretch my legs a little and see if I could pick off a few more guys in turquoise. I crossed the finish line in 2:19:02, giving me a run split of 42:17. Given how easily I took it, I’m really encouraged by this performance.

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I finished 9th in the AG. This was a World Championship qualifier and so the race attracted a high quality field. To finish 9th without going hard on the run shows how much my form is coming back and perhaps more importantly how my swim is improving. There is still lots of room for further improvement but I’m starting to get there.

The finish area down by the river in The Groves is an amazing spot, with huge crowds. It creates such a memorable atmosphere. The only thing missing was a pint of my sponsor Erdinger Alkoholfrei. I had to wait until I got home to get my fix, but given that I only live 6 miles away that didn’t take long!

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Thanks as usual to Coach Annie, Erdinger Alkoholfrei and to my wife Kathy for all their ongoing support and tolerance. Special thanks to everyone at Chester Tri for putting on such a great event, surely the best on the circuit. Also thanks to my physio Gemma, from Anatomy in Chester, not just for keeping my body in one piece but for her wise words over the last couple of sessions. Finally, thanks to Alan Murchison, Performance Chef for all his knowledge and nutrition advice over the last four months.

 

PS its now 48 hours since the race and my body feels totally recovered. The race plan worked. I’m now ready to kick on for the next couple of weeks and prepare really well for Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Denmark.

Reflections from Manchester 48 hours on

I woke up this morning, now 48 hours on from the marathon, still basking in that warm glow of satisfaction having dealt with my demons and delivered a perfectly executed plan in the race.

The recovery swim and bike sessions from yesterday have done the trick and my legs are feeling much better already. I feel that I’m well on the way to recovering from the battering that the marathon inevitably gives the legs.

I’ve recently been doing some work with one of my clients about what it takes to be a winner and the thing that stands out amongst many success factors is the focus that these winning people have on looking forward. As soon as a victory has been secured they are onto the next thing. Every success is simply a stepping stone towards the next goal.

So I was fascinated to notice that whilst I was in the pool and on the bike yesterday my mind started to whirl again. “I wonder how much faster I really could run the marathon in the future?” Clearly a new goal is forming in my head as I now believe that more is in me than I dared to imagine only a few days ago.

Before moving on though, its important to learn a few lessons from what happened on Sunday. Why did the race go so well? As this blog is all about inspiring the achievement of extraordinary things I thought it may be useful to share why and how I believe I achieved my own extraordinary thing in Manchester.

A huge part of endurance sport is mental. I’ve talked at length about my marathon demon of self doubt that has been festering for many years and it was so important that I’d dealt with it ahead of race day. Standing on the start-line hoping it would be ok is not a recipe for success. For me, having a very explicit conversation about my concerns and doubts with someone that I trusted and whose opinions I valued on this subject was a key step. This conversation clarified that there was much more evidence against the limiting belief that “my body can’t cope with the punishment of a marathon” than there was to support it. As a result of that conversation with Annie I was able to go through a process of reframing for myself. Here are just some of the facts that I used in that exercise to rid my brain of the demon:

  • I am now an experienced endurance athlete
  • I regularly complete and succeed at equally/more demanding events than the marathon
  • I have been clocking up some huge weeks of tri training since the beginning of 2017
  • I have been bouncing back really well from some heavy sessions

I used these facts (importantly, not opinions) to form a new positive belief that I took with me to the start line: Tri training is the best way to prepare my body to perform a marathon.

With this inspiring thought firmly positioned at the front of my head I then set about creating a plan for the race. There is that old saying that “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and nothing could be truer in relation to the marathon.

You have to go into the race with a very clear plan of what you want to happen. This plan needs to be controllable. Mine looked like this.

  • Go into the race well rested, hydrated and nourished. Eat lots of green veg, good carbs and fats, plus protein during the days leading upto the race. Eat a bowl of my favorite bircher 3 hours before the race. Sip on water with electrolytes during the last few hours pre race.
  • Be disciplined to run an even paced race, know exactly what the mile splits need to be and ensure you don’t get carried away with the euphoria of the early stages. Adjust your pace, even if it feels too easy.
  • Be disciplined about hydration and nutrition. Take advantage of every water station so that you are drinking little and often. Take on board a gel after 45 minutes and then one every half an hour from then on. This keeps the energy levels topped up and avoids hitting the dreaded wall.
  • Stay in the moment. Soak up the atmosphere. Enjoy what is going on around you right now. Avoid thinking ahead. Allow thoughts to appear and drift away again. Consciously run through a technique checklist every mile or so to ensure you remain relaxed. Think hands, arms, shoulders, head, core, foot placement. Relaxation is key.

That was it. There was a physical, mental and nutritional aspect to it. Keep it that simple. Have a plan that is realistic and controllable, and then during the race all you have to do is execute it. However, just because its simple doesn’t make it easy. That in a nutshell is the challenge of the marathon!

This time I was able to execute the plan almost perfectly because I understood what was within my control and I remained focused on the 3 dimensions of it throughout. Also I was fortunate that nothing outside of my control affected me. Sometimes this happens and if so we need to accept it and adjust the plan accordingly.

Reflecting on why things went well is powerful learning for me and I’ll take this forward into my next set of challenges. I hope it can be helpful to others too.

 

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.