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.

New Year, New Niggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep at it, its worth it!

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.

My achilles heel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Dealing with an Unexpectedly Difficult Period

It’s been a while since I last shared my thoughts.

I’ve found the last few months to be a very difficult period and this has surprised me, especially as I was feeling so positive after my marathon performance in Manchester.

It’s been difficult emotionally and more latterly physically and I’m pretty sure that one has led to the other.

From the outside it would appear as though I’ve been doing really well. I’ve not been injured, I’ve not missed any training sessions, warm up events have gone well and everything seemed to be building towards some outstanding race performances, but that just hasn’t happened yet. There is something not quite right and putting my finger on what, has proved challenging.

When things become difficult I tend to internalise my thoughts’ until i can work out what is going on. My crazy mixed up emotions and thoughts can contradict each other and so I need to allow them to percolate around inside me for a while before it makes any sense in sharing them. I’m now ready, so here goes….

 

The passing away of my parents has affected me much, much, more than I ever imagined it would. Their deaths were hardly a surprise, with both of them requiring 24 hour care for almost the last two years of their lives. Observing their decline and helping to care for them during this final life stage took much more out of me than I’d expected. My rational self understood that whilst the daily caring might be emotionally tough it does at least it prepare (or I thought it did) you for a future without them. Training everyday gave me the space to process all the emotion and get ready for the next session of caring for them. I really don’t know how I would have been able to cope without the gift of swim, bike and run sessions. When they died I knew they were ready, I knew they were at peace, I knew they had thoroughly enjoyed their lives and I knew they had passed on amazing values to their children and grandchildren. Their work was complete and this helped me to understand, accept and embrace their passing away. I thought I was at ease with it.

 

So why have I found the months since Mums death so difficult? I’m not quite sure is the honest answer. Maybe, it’s something to do with the responsibility of dealing with their will and tying up all the loose ends of their lives? I’m not good on admin at the best of times and this feels like an administrative task that is designed to file them neatly away. Hence I’m struggling with it.

How do you deal with a pair of lifetimes that have now ended? Why do we have to put a monetary value on it and create a set of “estate accounts” that summarises their lives? Surely it’s about more than this? Their home for the last 55 years, full of possessions accumulated along the way, nothing ever discarded because you “never know when it might be needed”, has had to be dealt with. How do you decide what to do? Some things have sentimental value and will be kept and distributed amongst the family as prized memories. That’s the really positive and rewarding part of this responsibility. Other things can be taken to the tip because they were never needed again (surprise surprise) but with a bit of luck they may get recycled. Wardrobes full of clothes can be taken to charity shops and may prove useful to others. Again there has been something mildly satisfying about these two functions. Then there is a whole mass of other stuff that has helped to define and colour their lives and makes the important difference between a house and a home. All the things from furniture, ornaments, bits and pieces that they accumulated along their journey, every piece chosen for reasons that will never now be known. Everything they possessed was hard earned and so they didn’t make any purchase decisions lightly. Whilst some of this stuff would still have been useful to them for the next twenty years it now seems that it has become redundant. When these things are taken out of the setting of the home they simply become a random collection of odd things. Its value to the world is seemingly minimal and yet to them it was priceless. Should I really be making the choice between a charity shop and ebay for the things they worked so hard to possess? Is that really all dismantling their home has come to? I realize I’m over thinking all this but maybe its part of my grieving process….certainly getting it all down in this blog is helping me to identify what has been going on in my subconscious.

 

Another factor in my emotional struggle recently has been the question of what next. We moved our lives three years ago to be close to my parents to help them adjust to a less independent lifestyle. This is now over and so we can choose to do something else and choose to go anywhere we like. Now that my parents have gone we feel that we want to move on and so we have spent lots of time discussing all the places we might like to move to. This is exciting, but also destabilizing at the same time. I think I’m realizing that unlike in the Paul Young song from 1980’s wherever I lay my hat is not really my home. I think I do need to have a physical base that I can call home in order to function at my best. Our decision to move on is crystalising for me that Chester is not going to be home, nor is Windsor where we brought up our boys but moved on from 3 years ago. So where will our home be? It’s too early to say yet but I know we’ll find the right place and when we find it, it will also prove to be the springboard for a new business venture for us both to share. That’s really exciting but currently not knowing where is proving a distraction to my current goals in middle distance racing as it destabilizes me when something doesn’t go to plan.

 

For example, my first A race of the year was two weeks ago in Sankt Wendel Germany. It was the European Middle Distance Duathlon Championships. Last year I performed really well and picked up the bronze medal for 3rd place in my AG and going into this years race I thought I was on top form. I’d had a really good block of training following on from my marathon achievement in April and I really believed I was ready for another outstanding performance. But it just didn’t happen.

 

The first run went perfectly to plan. I managed my effort faultlessly around two laps of what was a brutal run course and came into transition in 3rd place with two Dutch guys exactly where I wanted them. I thought I would be stronger on the bike and so would be able to build up a lead that would give me half a chance of holding them off on the 2nd run. However, to execute that plan I needed to bike well and deliver the power numbers that I knew I was capable of holding over the 60 km leg. To prevent me from going too hard up the climbs I knew the power number to stay below but frustratingly I couldn’t get anywhere near this number. I just didn’t feel right on the bike that day. My legs struggled to find the power and strength that was required. Over the first two laps I did at least manage to hold a respectable, if below par, level of output on the bike but as I went onto the climbs for the third lap my legs just died. I was suffering badly and almost cramping with the effort I was putting in to produce such a reduced level of power.

I couldn’t understand it as I had taken on board lots of fluids and fuel so I couldn’t be dehydrated or empty. Had the hills just sapped my strength more than I’d imagined they could?

I went out onto the 2nd run in 3rd place. A German guy had passed me on the bike and I’d got past one of the Dutchmen. The first part of the run lap was ok as it was slightly down hill but then I hit the hills for the first time. Bang, I could hardly lift my legs to keep them moving. My quads went into cramp immediately so I had to stretch and then walk. I was suffering, but determined to keep pressing on. It wasn’t long before the Dutch athlete came past and at that point I realized my medal hopes were gone. I just couldn’t get up those stinging hills to stick with him and on the way back down I had to be even more careful as my hamstrings were ready to pop into cramp if I went too quickly. I kept going and have taken a huge positive from the race that I did not become at all negative about my performance whilst I was in the middle of it ( I have certainly given myself an unnecessary and unjustified kicking about it since the race though!). I didn’t need to remind myself about how lucky I was to be doing this, I simply maintained focus on the task in hand which was to get to the finish as quickly as possible and I still managed a huge smile as I crossed the line in what proved to be 4th place. I was proud but hugely disappointed at the same time. I felt I was in shape to win a medal but for some reason I just couldn’t deliver on the bike and then suffered even more on that final run. I did under perform. It’s certainly not about fitness, but maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to take on such a brutal course. Or maybe it was one of those mysterious days that I hear elite cyclists talk about when they just didn’t have the legs? Or maybe, and this is what I believe its much more about, it was something to do with all of the stress I’d been unknowingly carrying since the funeral? Maybe the mental fatigue that is stress, converted itself into physical fatigue.

I now recognise that 4th in Europe is a great achievement, but with Jake, my eldest son alongside me for this race I so wanted to win a medal as I misguidedly felt that this would cap a really special weekend together. I now realise that I’d been unconsciously putting way too much emphasis on the result of this race whereas the really important thing to value is that we had a fabulous 5 day road trip together.

When I finished the race I knew it was the hardest course I’d ever competed on and the physical punishment that it created was still evident a week later. I normally bounce back pretty quickly but it took a week before my legs felt like they belonged to me again and almost two weeks on I’m still not feeling as though I’m executing my training sessions at the levels that I should be reaching. I think I can be assured that I pushed myself to the max in Sankt Wendel and have no regrets that I could have given more!

Ultimately all you can ask of yourself is that you gave it your best and this I certainly did. It didn’t work out how I wanted and I’ve accepted that it’s ok. Importantly, it’s not going to derail me from working towards the rest of my goals for this year and the next two years. I heard a helpful comment from Dave Brailsford of Team Sky after the Giro D’Italia finished when he said that what he’d learnt from the race was that even when things go wrong, if you keep knocking on the door and doing the right things then eventually the door will open and you will get your deserved reward. That’s exactly what I will keep doing, knocking on the door.

 

It’s now a triathlon door for the rest of the year, beginning this weekend with one of my favorite races, Deva Triathlon in Chester. It’s such a beautiful setting with the river swim and the natural arena of The Groves for the climax of the run. Lets hope this inspiring setting can kick me out of the lethargy I’m feeling and get me firing again towards my next A race in Denmark in a few weeks.

 

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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.

Listen to Coach not Chimp

I was a week out from running my 1st marathon for 8 years and the training plan told me to follow up my longish run on Saturday morning with a 2hour cycle on Sunday. Coach had described the cycle session as steady. Nothing more please!

It was a beautiful late March morning when I set off towards the Welsh Mountains with not a care in the world. My mind was wandering back to the same week 27 years earlier when our 1st son was born. Such amazing memories. The weather then was beautifully warm and sunny too and at that time I couldn’t wait to take our new son out into the world. I remember like it was yesterday showing him things for the first time. It truly was the most exciting thing that had ever happened and the memories of that momentous personal time are still as vivid today. And every year since during the last few days in March the weather seems to be unseasonably superb and this always has the effect of transporting me back to that wonderful time.

So I was in a very happy place as I got the legs and body warmed up over the first few miles heading towards Wales. My awareness was brought back to the present when I spotted a road I’d never been down before and thought I’d give it a go as it seemed to be heading towards the Mountains where I wanted to end up. Sure enough it took me directly to where I wanted, revealing the perfect long drag into the foothills that I’d hoped.

I reached the bottom of a familiar longish climb sooner than I’d expected and quickly calculated that I could probably afford to take it halfway and then peel off back towards home. That would give me a really good two hour circuit.

Off I set at a comfortable tempo, remembering the advice from Coach Annie to keep it nice and steady. My Chimp was woken up when I saw a group of riders ahead. Let’s just get to them, and then either sit in and take a ride the rest of the way or cruise past, I thought to myself. I added a few percent to my power and started to close them down but just as I was about to join them, a couple of cars came past me but couldn’t get around the group. I was now caught behind the cars and frustratingly found I was having to constantly brake going up hill to avoid running into the back of the cars. I knew it didn’t matter, it was a lovely sunny day, I’d only got to knock out 35 miles or so, so what was the problem. Just relax and go with the flow. Chimp however was getting irritated. I needed to get past these riders and show them the speed they should be going up the climb ( weird I know!). After a few minutes the road opened up, the cars went past and I was also able to cruise past. Having done this manoeuvre I now felt the need to settle into a slightly harder rhythm when bang, I got a shock, as two new cyclists came from nowhere, cruised around me as though I was stationary and with a jolly “good morning” sped off up the road.

This was the moment where my chimp truly took over. “Don’t accept that” he told me. “Get after them and show them whose a stronger rider. Is it you or them?” So that’s what I did. It was as though I had no control over myself. This horribly competitive side of me kicked in and wouldn’t let go. I latched onto the back of these two poor guys who were out for a pleasant Sunday ride and I’m convinced that very soon after this my chimp woke theirs up and the fun now started. I could sense that they squeezed a bit more out of their pedals to shake me off, but I wasn’t giving in. At times the power numbers were way over 300w and we were only half way up the climb. On and on we went. They pushing harder, I responded to hang on. As the minutes went by my thoughts turned to what must they be thinking. It’s hurting me, so it must be hurting them. They are putting in even more effort on the front so maybe it’s time that I should come around and do a turn. But I was hanging on. How could I possibly do this? A few more minutes went by and we had now settled into, what for me, was a top end threshold effort. It was uncomfortable but I knew I could hold it and I also felt like we had now imperceptibly formed into a group (rather than me simply sitting uninvited on their wheels). It’s weird how that happens without any words being spoken, but it did. This was the moment where it felt right for me to come to the front and take a turn at keeping the tempo up. As I came past I sensed that my effort was welcomed. Now I needed to dig in and hold on. There was still a mile or so to the top but I was beginning to enjoy the pain of being on the edge and knew that it was sustainable. Just before the very top there was one last junction on the right and the two strangers came past to tell me they were peeling off and acknowledged a good effort all round. Our chimps had a metaphorical group hug as the strangers headed off right and I was left to push on over the last few hundred metres to the top.

Wow where did that effort come from? That wasn’t part of the plan for the day, but it was such a buzz to push it with those apparently like minded lycra clad strangers. My chimp was now happy and for the next thirty minutes or so I cruised along recovering from the effort I’d put in. I realised I’d gone further than planned and the loop to get home would mean I’d be out for longer, but not to worry it was worth it for that blast up the climb.

By the time I got home I was now feeling fatigued but content that I’d got an extra 45 minutes in the legs. This would surely be helpful. But no.

The next day was an easy run day. Just 4 miles very gentle alongside the river bank in the sunshine was all that was required. Easy! My legs felt like lead weights, my body did not want to play. I can’t remember the last time I found it so hard to keep putting one leg in front of the other and all I was supposed to be doing was an easy jog.

I struggled home and posted my comments on the session for Annie on Training Peaks. Within an hour I got an email reply. “There was a reason why yesterday was supposed to be a two hour steady ride and not almost 3 hours with a 15 minute threshold blast in the middle. You have a marathon next week and you are supposed to be getting ready for it!” Oops. Sorry Coach. I got carried away. Or more to the point I allowed my chimp to run riot.

A few days on I feel like I’ve recovered and not done any real damage, but I also now recognise just how every session is there for a reason. The lesson is to listen to Coach and not Chimp and the moral of this little story is to never lose sight of the bigger picture. This particular block of training is leading me into the marathon and if I want to perform well in it then I need to remain disciplined about how I prepare.

Fingers crossed for Sunday in Manchester.

2017 Is Shaping Up Beautifully

Over the last couple of seasons my “A” race goals have been focused around Championships where I’ve been proud to represent GB AG team.

This year it’s a bit different.  The season is designed around 4 longer races as I begin to challenge myself towards an Ironman in the fairly near future. I’ll only be pulling on the GB tri suit on one occasion and that is for the European Long Distance Duathlon in May.

This race takes place in Sankt Wendl in Germany. Having initially been promoted as a true Long Distance race over 20/120/10 for some unexplained reason it has now been revised to more of a Middle distance event over 10/60/10. Whilst I’m a tiny bit disappointed that its been made shorter I do think this distance should suit me really well.

img_0062.jpgIn preparation for the original format I entered the Manchester Marathon in early April. Training for this would have given me the extra endurance base for this much longer race and I also felt it was important to get a marathon back in my legs again. Its 8 years since I last completed one and before I move up to full Iron distance racing I want to have dealt with my marathon demons once and for all. During my 30’s and 40’s when marathon running provided the primary purpose for my training I didn’t manage to get to the start-line in physically good shape for any of my previous seven marathons. My body kept breaking down around a sequence of chronic calf and achilles problems that meant long periods of rest leading into these marathon challenges. As a consequence I always found the distance harder than it should be and it has left a bit of a mental scar that needs to be removed. So even though Manchester is now unnecessary to prepare me for my 1st A race of the year I do believe that it will have massive psychological benefits for me over the next few years as I work towards the crazy Iron challenges.

So between now and Mid May it’s all about building for this European Duathlon with the goal of putting it all out there at my stronger disciplines of Bike and run.

In June my Tri season begins in earnest. This year I’m focused on Middle distance or 70.3 racing. I’ve got 3 “A” races coming up in Denmark, Ireland and Spain. On June 18 it’s the European Ironman 70.3 Championships in Elsinore, Denmark. A stupid admin mistake by me meant that I failed to secure my automatic place in GB AG team for the official ITU European Championships (also in Denmark the week before) and so I decided to take up a place in this Ironman organised event instead. The fact that it’s also given European Championship status has given this added importance for me. I’d love to go well here and so I’ll be targeting this as a race to be on super top form.

A couple of months later its over to Dublin for a 70.3 race. This provides qualifying places for the 2018 World Championships in South Africa so that is the dream outcome from this race. More importantly it will give me more experience at the distance.

Finally in October I’ll end the season in Majorca with a Challenge event at Peguera. I’ll be doing this simply to enjoy it and end the season with a bang. We might even tag on a week of “holiday” ( read on for what I mean by holiday) at the end.

Between these 3 “A” races I’ll be competing in various other triathlons in UK including, Leeds ITU, Llandudno ( where we’ll put the team back together for a relay smash fest), Chester, Anglian Water and the Club Relays in Nottingham with the Erdinger team.

So its going to be a full and varied season.

To top it all, I’m also very excited about the development of our new cycling venture called “Compagnons Cycling Collective”. In July we will be taking a group out to Dolomites for a week of unbelievably beautiful, if challenging cycling. This will be our first tour outside UK and we are delighted to have a full complement of riders. The planning is all done and this should be a spectacular week. I’d also like to pull together another Compagnons Tour this year, around Majorca beginning on October 16th, to follow on from the race in Peguera. So if anyone fancies a week of supported cycling in the warmth of Majorca to end the season then please get in touch.

I couldn’t be more excited about this season. Bring it on.