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.

 

2016 Race Year Review

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2016 has certainly been a year of highs and lows, but I’m relieved to finish the season with a strong performance and an encouraging result.

March

My race year began on a cold March morning with a Sprint Duathlon at Oulton Park, a favorite venue of mine. The Erdinger arm warmers certainly came in handy !

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This undulating circuit produces fast times and now that this event was draft legal the bike leg was even quicker than usual.

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I treated the race as a training session and was pleased with my finish position of 3rd in AG in a time of 69:56.

My next race was a week later with the Liverpool half marathon, again a great opportunity to test my run legs. As you can see I was delighted to run a new personal best time of 85:03. This got me very excited about my prospects for the season.

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Into April and it was the Windsor Duathlon that also doubled up as the British Championship. The race was a logistical disaster with competitors being held up on the bike course and after crossing the finish line in 2nd place in my AG I was later relegated to 4th place. I was not happy, despite the smiles!

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Working hard on the 1st run

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All smiles despite the result!

May saw my first international race of the year, a superb trip to Denmark for the European Long Course Duathlon Championships in Copenhagen. This was my 1st time racing at this distance and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and how strong the competition might be.

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Making new friends

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Despite carrying a niggling injury which forced me to take it easy on the 1st run, I was delighted to finish 3rd and pick up a bronze medal in a time of 2:56:43 over the 10k/60k/10k course.

At the end of May I had my first triathlon of the season at the Erdinger sponsored Nottingham Big Tri.

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I was delighted with my swim improvements and grabbed 4th place in the AG in a time of 66:59 and had a chance to celebrate with my son.

June

A week later and we are off to Spain for the World Duathlon Championships.

I had high hopes of winning a medal here and was determined to improve on my 4th place from last year.

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All set for a great race!

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The race did not go to plan and after a huge crash on the bike at 60kph, which left me shocked, battered and bruised I somehow managed to pick myself up and not only finish the race, but finished in 8th place. I was very proud of the determination I showed that day.

IMG_0067An unplanned stay in the medical tent after the finish line.

I then a few weeks of enforced rest to recover from the crash, before having a fun team triathlon at Cholmondely Castle near home in Cheshire.

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I was a bit anxious pre race, before testing out my body again!

Gauntlet finish line

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

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

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

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

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

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Anxiously clutching my Erdinger water bottle before the swim start

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

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Proudly holding my hard earned finisher medal on the hospital bed

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

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

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

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Here we are celebrating a great team effort!

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking strong on the run

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Not long to go now!

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One final sprint for the line.

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

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

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

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

Summary of Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/06     Leeds Triathlon                                       Injured, did not race

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

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

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

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

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

Picking Up The Gauntlet

Over a few drinks last Christmas the gauntlet was thrown down by my eldest son Jake and his girlfriend Becky. They wanted to join me in a team triathlon and so fittingly, we entered a race called “The Gauntlet”, a Middle Distance triathlon that formed part of the Castle Series. Cholmondeley Castle is only around the corner from where we are living in Cheshire and so it was the ideal venue for us to put together our scratch team.

Becky was to be our nominated swimmer, Jake our cyclist and I became the runner. Jake had done a few triathlons in the past, but nothing since 2013 when he decided to focus exclusively on cycling, and boy what a cyclist he is becoming.

Becky swam as a young girl but had not trained for a number of years and so this event was designed to be a huge goal for her to aim at. She clearly trained well as her performance on the day was outstanding, easily beating her target time for the swim.

June 26th soon came around for the team. Race day was a beautiful clear, calm morning. The contrast between the weather and emotional state of our swimmer was pretty evident and as Becky sat in the holding pen listening to the race briefing I could see the nerves and tension building on her face. Having never experienced anything like this before to have to listen to the full briefing for a Half Iron distance race must have been pretty terrifying. Thankfully I got the chance to reassure her before she headed off into the lake that she was ready and had nothing to worry about. “Let the fast guys go, position yourself out wide to minimize the start chaos and most all relax and enjoy”.

I’m delighted to report that at least someone listens to my wise words!

After 950 meters the swimmers emerged from the lake, ran back around to the start pontoon and began another lap. Becky came out smiling and celebrating as she heard that she had done the 1st lap in under 19mins. She was swimming really well and clearly enjoying herself. Knowing this, Jake visibly relaxed and headed off to transition to get himself ready for the bike leg.

2016-06-27 13.59.34The leading swimmer entered transition after only 25 mins and the leading lady was just 4 mins behind in 4th place overall. Becky continued to swim brilliantly and soon emerged from the lake and ran up the grassy slope to transition to hand over to Jake in just 38:59. We were the leading relay team and in 44th place overall. Becky’s joy at this news was great to see and we just had to take the opportunity to get her onto the podium at that moment!

2016-06-27 13.59.30Jake disappeared off into the Cheshire countryside settling into his textbook aero position on his Canyon Speedmax flying machine. He makes cycling look effortless, but he even shocked us by reappearing after lap one in 5th place. He had overtaken 39 competitors in 32km and had now got his sights set on the top 4 guys, all of whom were very tasty triathletes. At the end of lap two he was upto 4th and by the end of lap 3 he was only seconds down on Phil Murphy in 3rd place. Jake completed the bike leg in 2:25:03, an amazing 7 minutes faster than anyone else. Admittedly he didn’t have to save himself for the small matter of running a half marathon but it still represented a pretty impressive performance. So says a very proud Dad!

Jake GauntletAs he came past at the end of each bike lap, I found myself becoming more and more nervous. Both he and Becky were performing brilliantly and I didn’t want to let them down. As I warming up my legs felt like jelly and I needed to give myself a good talking to “ you are the experienced one, you know how to perform, so just go out, relax and run”.

2016-06-27 15.45.49We had the advantage over the individuals in the race of a much quicker transition as all we had to do was rack the bike and then transfer the timing chip from Jake to me. So, luckily I got out of T2 ahead of Phil Murphy. I’ve been getting to know Phil over the last few months as he has been helping me with my bike position and I know what a strong and talented triathlete he is. So I decided to go off quite hard to try and put a bit of distance between him and me and then see how long I could hold him off.

The run was three laps of 7km and each lap included an out and back section where you could eyeball the competition and then a stinging hill up and around the castle. As I came back down the out and back on lap one I could see that I was about 400m ahead of Phil and probably 1000m down on Chris Standidge in 2nd place.

By lap two I managed to lengthen my lead on Phil but was now approx. 1500m down on Chris. I was still feeling good and running with a strong rhythm. As I got onto lap 3 I knew that I’d be able to hold on and keep the pace up. All I had to do was tackle the castle hill for the final time and then it was downhill all the way to the finish shute. Jake and Becky were waiting and we crossed the line together, all delighted with our mornings effort. We finished 3rd overall and 1st relay team. 4:28:58 was our finishing time. I really didn’t imagine we could get close to 4:30:00 so to go under this barrier was a hugely satisfying achievement. My run time of 1:23:37 was also way faster than I’d expected and so this provided another little layer of pleasure.

Gauntlet finish lineCrossing the line together was very emotional for me. I felt really proud to have competed alongside Jake and Becky and to have Ben, my other son, Kathy and my sister Judith cheering us all on throughout the day made it really special.

2016-06-27 15.45.48I know that in many of the events that I race I become very focused, lost in my own bubble of concentration, sometimes unaware of the support and sacrifice that the family make on my behalf and so it was brilliant to experience racing in a different way this time. This felt like a real shared experience and one that I’d love to repeat again and again.

So, you can imagine just how delighted I was to be asked later in the day “When can we do that again?”

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it even more when I can see evidence of a dream coming true.

Yesterday I ran the Liverpool Half Marathon. It’s a while since I’ve run a big City race with many thousands taking part and there is something really special about the atmosphere of these events. This gathering of people of all shapes, ages and ambitions to celebrate health and fitness, to enjoy being alive, filling bodies with fresh air, cheered on by loved ones is an example of humanity at its best. If you haven’t been along to support or participate in one of these great events then you really must. With 6500 people in the field yesterday, there were 6500 different stories and probably 6500 different reasons for taking part. What a fantastically inspiring way to start a Sunday.

For me, the reason for taking part was to test out my run form.

A year earlier I’d run a more low key half marathon near Wrexham with only around 10% of the field size and I had stunned myself by running a new Personal Best of 1 hour 26 mins and 59 seconds. I’d gone into that race hoping to run under 90 minutes and I chose that word “hope” very deliberately, because for years I’d felt that I had the potential to run under the 90 minute barrier but had never succeeded. I knew I’d trained well leading into that race, but proving I could do it created an uncertainty, a doubt about whether I had what it takes to convert potential into performance. Not only did I go under 90 mins ( I’d have been overjoyed with 89:59 ) but I truly smashed it by going more than 3 minutes under my target time.

So I’d done once, but could I do it again? Another year had gone by. I’d trained really well. Consistency has been excellent. I’ve not missed many sessions and I’ve completed them all in line with Coach Annie’s plan. I was ready to test out where I’m at ahead of another big season where I’ll be running many more half marathons, but just to make them a bit more of a challenge, they’ll be at the end of Middle Distance triathlon races.

Conditions were ideal. It was cool, bright and just a gentle breeze. Just before race began I got a message from Coach Annie. “Smash it” read the message. “Better do as I’m told”, thought I.

The race began at 9am sharp and runners filtered slowly across the start line. I took the first couple of miles easy as I had not been able to warm up ( 20 minute queues for the loo had put paid to that) and then at around 3 miles I caught up with the 90 minute pacer who was accompanied by a huge group of runners. As I approached them I was deciding whether to tuck in alongside them for a few miles as I was clearly going more quickly than might be sensible or go past straight away. My own pace felt comfortable and so I went past and didn’t give them another thought for the rest of the race.

We then entered Sefton Park and for the next 4 miles I enjoyed discovering what a beautiful public space this is. At 8 miles I decided it was time to take a gel. Last week in the duathlon I’d made the mistake of forgetting to have one with me and so this week I was better prepared. Fatigue was just beginning to kick in as a few little things were starting to bother me. The running surface suddenly seemed more uneven, the odd runner was now getting in my way( they weren’t it was just my interpretation ) the heavy “breathers” sounded louder in my head. I was mentally tired and starting to get irritated. It’s interesting though that physically I was still knocking out the miles as consistently as earlier. This tells me that I get mentally fatigued way before I get physically fatigued and my brain can easily trick me into slowing down if I let it.

Fortunately this didn’t happen. The gel worked its magic over the next mile or two and as I entered the last 3 miles I was once again sharp and focused on maintaining form to the finish. This was actually the trickiest part of the course. The riverfront promenade was twisting and turning with long sections of cobbles to deal with. It was definitely beginning to hurt but I was thinking straight and knew that I was heading for a special finishing time and so I just kept it going. I didn’t once try to calculate what my time might be. This felt unnecessary. I had the mindset that if I just focused on what I was doing which was staying relaxed, ensuring that I safely navigated each of the twists and turns, then the result would take care of itself. This worked as the last 5k was my fastest of the race. I entered the finishing straight and saw the clock had only just passed 1 hour 25 minutes.

One hour 25 minutes and 3 seconds was my finishing time. I was so happy. I’d well and truly smashed it! Kathy came rushing over to the finish and she knew straight away that I’d done something special. I could see in her eyes that she was delighted for me.

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Once again I’ve set a new personal best. I thought 1:27 was pretty good, but to take a further 2 mins off and set a new best of 1:25 is really exciting. Who knows where my limit will be? I’m just really enjoying the process of discovery and putting into practice my belief that we can be faster after 50.

I don’t know which part of the brain confidence comes from but the tap inside me is definitely wide open right now and confidence is flooding my body. Knowing that I am going faster than ever is such a powerful sensation. Hard evidence that proves that at 56 years of age I’m running faster that at any other moment in my life gives me such a boost of belief to keep chasing that dream of winning at Kona one day.

This race has been so important for reinforcing the power of benchmarking progress to build confidence that I know will help me as I prepare for my “A” races this season.

I’d better get back to training then!