Nailing My 2017 Goal

I’m not really sure why its taken me so long to capture my thoughts after Dublin 70.3  especially as it was my big race of the year. Given what happened, maybe I just needed time to process it properly before sharing. Anyway, here goes.

2017 has been about getting my head around Middle Distance triathlon racing with the hairy goal of achieving a qualification place for the 2018 70.3 World Championships in South Africa. There have been plenty of ups and downs this year and with Dublin being the first race in the Ironman 2017 calendar that was offering places for 2018 World’s my thinking was that if the race went perfectly to plan then I could be in the luxurious position of going into the winter knowing that I’d secured my place on the startline in Nelson Mandela Bay next September. I could then plan my whole 2018 really early and given all the other things going on in our lives this really would be a massive bonus. Simple, heh?

To give some context to the “other things” comment, Kathy is taking part in the Clipper Round The World Yacht race next year, taking on the two massive legs across Pacific and Atlantic and so I want to be able to support her as much as possible by being there on the quayside to wave her off and cheer her back in again at every stage. In addition we will be moving to Brecon Beacons to set up our new Cycling business. This is a huge project that will require energy, patience and clear thinking to navigate our way through the complex planning process.

So if I could, maybe, somehow please get qualification nailed in Dublin it would make next year so much easier to manage.

No pressure then!

Given all of that potential self induced stress it is so helpful to know that I have learnt to focus on the controllables and ignore the uncontrollables. I had to put “the other things” out of my mind and the more I race the more I’m realising that what I love about racing is the “all consuming mental” place that it takes me to. From the moment that I wake on race day until the moment I cross the finish line nothing else in the world matters. I can leave everything else behind. I’m in my own bubble, striving to eek out the maximum from my physical self and the only battle that takes place in my head is the inevitable one with my self doubting Chimp and this is a battle to which I increasingly look forward.

Back to the controllables. I knew I couldn’t control how others did so I simply had to focus on my race and look to execute another personal best. If I could do this, then who knows what might happen…..

I knew I was really fit as evidenced by my recent training volume and the excellent form I’d shown in my warm up race at Grafham Water. I also knew that I had solved my overheating issue by changing my cycle helmet. I knew I would be well looked after in Dublin as I was staying with Paul, my brother in law and his family on the other side of the City and this would also be keeping away from the stress of nervous athletes. I was travelling over by ferry so had my bike with me at all times and so didn’t need to worry about what might happen in the baggage hold of an aircraft. Everything that could be, was under control.

However, just when things seem to be coming together, life can give you a little reminder that things don’t always go smoothly. I picked up a slight injury in my final proper training session on the Wednesday before the race. My right calf tightened up so did the sensible thing, abandoned the session and went off to see Gemma my brilliant physio. She got to work and went really deep into the muscle, taped me up and told me I should be ok. That was good enough for me. Hearing this expert point of view was just what I needed to avoid getting too anxious about the impact this setback might have on my ability to race on Sunday. We agreed that it was best not to risk trying it out before the race so left home on Friday morning with only the slightest anxiety about whether the calf would hold up. Kathy wasn’t with me as The Clipper Race was beginning in Liverpool on the same day and I knew that she wanted to be there to support her crew mates as they set off on leg one.

I enjoyed a smooth journey across the Irish Sea and then had a seamless registration in the Ironman Village on arrival.

I then drove most of the bike course (to take away another of the possible unknowns) and was excited to discover that it should be fast with pretty good road surfaces. There seemed to be just one tricky section of 2-3km of speed bumps and I decided that I’d probably take no risks here by riding it all off the tri bars and mostly out of the saddle. On race day this proved to be a good tactic and gave me a bit of a breather before heading out into the countryside section.

Saturday was swim practice. Down in Dublin Bay the wind was howling and the water was very choppy.

Dublin swimSurely, race day conditions wont be this bad I kept telling myself as I summoned the mental courage to leap into the water on Northside. In I went feeling much trepidation. Out I came ten minutes later feeling total exhilaration. My swim demons had been well and truly dealt with as I now knew that I could cope with lots of chop and swell in the water. If I could enjoy swimming in those conditions then race day was bound to be a breeze I told brother in law Paul as we drove back to his house for a much needed hot drink and breakfast.

After a quick spin on the bike, I was ready to head back across the city to deal with dropping kit in transition. Everything was done. I was ready to go.

At 5.15 the next morning my Taxi arrived, bang on time and we were soon speeding through the sleeping city following the first section of the bike course. I was feeling good, excited and calm. I could sense that it was going to be a great day.

Conditions in Dublin on race morning were perfect. The wind and swell from yesterday had gone. The sea was like a mill pond. Just how I like it. The sun came up with a smile and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. This was not typical Dublin weather! It really was going to be a great day.

My head was clear and positive. I knew that there was no benefit to me in having a warm up jog as I would be risking filling my head with doubts that may come from any calf twinges. So instead I just had a good stretch and made my way down to the swim start area early.Dublin pre race

When the race began at 0710 I watched closely as the swimmers were released 4 at a time every 6 seconds into the bay. There seemed to be lots of space. There seemed to be no chaos. The mass of triathletes shuffled their way towards the start chute. Nerves and anxiety was rapidly being translated into excitement. I wanted to be in there. Soon enough it was my turn.

It was a beach start so I took it very gently, mindful of where I was placing my feet and careful not to run too hard. I didn’t want to risk irritating my calf so early in the race. In I went. The water was perfect. Temperature was ideal, no waves nor chop and the Irish Sea was as benign as could be possible. I had an amazingly clear swim. There was no agro at any point, even around the turn buoys and I was soon heading towards the exit pontoon on the final leg. I had thoroughly enjoyed my swim and had even had time to reflect on just how much I had improved. 1900m in race conditions now feels normal. 36:04 was a solid start for me.

Onto the pontoon I climbed and headed up the jetty towards transition. My focus immediately went to my troublesome right calf. There were a few odd sensations rumbling through it as I trotted towards the changing tent but nothing to cause concern.

Wetsuit off, helmet on, race belt on, goggles and wetsuit in bag, bag handed over and I was then moving cautiously through transition area for my bike. Encouragingly there seemed to be most of the bikes still here. That reinforced my perception that I’d swum well and I was excited to get out on the bike.

However, the bike leg didn’t start well as my chain came off and got jammed as I mounted. This was a new mistake for me. “Don’t panic this will only take a few seconds” I told myself and I was soon on my way again with some encouraging cheers from the crowds surrounding the bike exit area. Importantly I didn’t go too hard over those first few miles to make up for the time lost with my chain mechanical, instead focusing on finding a smooth rythmn, a strong sustainable cadence that would get me into my own zone. I did notice that I was passing lots of riders and no one was coming past me as the first 10km flashed by.

Into the city centre we went. The roads were closed off with Garda patrolling every junction and it was such a buzz to be travelling so quickly through this area that would normally be so busy with traffic and people.

Before I knew it I was out of the city, passing Pheonix Park and heading into the countryside to the west of Dublin. The route seemed exactly as I’d logged it in my recce. Other than that one nasty section of a couple of miles with speed bumps every 200m the roads were really good. I was clearly going well as I continued to pass lots of riders and there were only a handful of others travelling at a similar speed to me. At around 35 miles we turned back towards Dublin and there was a long section on the road towards Dunboyne where I did not see another competitor for miles. It felt as though I was the only person in the race. I had the road to myself. At first this was exhilarating but then my mind started to wander. I began imagining what it must be like to be leading these races. However, It wasn’t long before my prevailing feeling changed to exhaustion. With no one ahead to focus on I suddenly became much more aware that my body was beginning to fatigue. It was time for a caffeine gel. With this on board I was able to dig deep and rediscover the smooth cadence that enables me to stay in the present moment. “That’s better. Just keep cracking out those 75-80 revolutions each minute and the rest will take care of itself” I told myself. When I hit the speed-bump section again I knew I must be getting close to the end and as we got to the top of a nasty hill we turned sharp left and were into the park. This had come more quickly than I’d expected. It was time to prepare for the dismount. How would the calf react? I’d soon find out. The bike leg had been done in 2:27:47 which I’d later find out had put me strongly into 1st place.

I got my feet out of my shoes in good time, landed just before the dismount line and was jogging into transition. With every step I took I realized that the calf was sending signals to the brain that it wasn’t entirely happy. Was it cramp,was it muscle tightness or was it normal fatigue at this stage in a race? I wasn’t sure. Should I stop and stretch it out, should I ignore it and carry on or should I begin conservatively? I opted for the latter.

I lost a few precious seconds in the T2 tent as the racking was set up differently. In Dublin the two transitions are in totally separate areas of The City and the athletes only get to see the Start area transition. In T1 my bag had been on the bottom row of hooks but in T2 it was on the top row. In my state of exhaustion and concern for my calf I struggled to compute this information and was totally disoriented for a moment or two. Thankfully I eventually found my bag, put my shoes on and was headed out for the run. I could feel the calf tightening so slowed to a jog. At this pace it seemed happy. On a scale of 1-10 the pain settled at a 3 and so I was happy to crack on. Lets get to the 1st km marker and reassess. It felt like it took an age to get there but the positive aspect of this was that the tightness was not getting worse. Other than this I was physically feeling good and mentally I was determined and positive. With 20km to go it didn’t seem worth pushing on just yet. Once I got to 3km I tried to increase the pace, but got instant feedback that the calf didn’t like it. By slowing down the pain reduced immediately and so I took lots of confidence that I could manage this niggle and if necessary I could keep going at this pace. The run was 3 laps and during that 1st lap I seemed to be taking just under 5 minutes for each kilometer. Whilst this was slow I did think that it should be good enough to get me home. Once out onto lap two, the calf was beginning to behave. The longer I went the easier it was feeling. I stepped up the pace by about 15 secs per km and this felt better. I now knew that I would definitely finish and so my thoughts turned to the time. Using the finish line clock I did some crude calculations that suggested that I was going to set a new PB despite this calf issue. The last 5km was hard as I was tired. Its at these moments where its so important to maintain focus on the mechanics of the run action and ignore the growing fatigue. Keep it going. Don’t try anything silly in the last mile or so.Dublin703run

Making the final 180 degree turn and heading down the red carpet was brilliant. I felt so happy. I crossed the line and saw Paul, my brother in law. As usual at this moment a wave of emotion totally overwhelmed me.

Somehow I held back tears but was probably blubbering all kinds of nonsense about how happy I felt. He told me I’d finished in 4:53 and that I was currently in 2nd place in my AG. This was great news. I was bursting with pride. Could I really have finished in 2nd place? Might I possibly earn a place in the 2018 World Champs? Might another step towards my dream be taking place?

I’d find out in a few hours. We had time to go back home to change before returning for the awards ceremony. The result was confirmed . I was 2nd in a time of 4:53:16 and that meant a place on the podium but not necessarily a place for South Africa as there was only one guaranteed slot in my AG. Picking up my first trophy for an Ironman event felt significant. I was really proud. Dublin703podiumIMG_5035-3Then came World Championship slot allocation. I waited nervously to discover if there was to be more than one slot for my AG. It was confirmed that there was just one slot available. Damn, maybe it wasn’t to be on this occasion as the slot is obviously offered to the winner. Liam Williams, my AG winner did not respond when his name was called. Three times they called him and still he didn’t respond. Wow, the slot was going to be offered to me. I didn’t need to be asked twice. Yes please I’d like to take it. Thanks Liam, I owe you one.

South Africa here I come in September 2018.

Over the next few days I walked around with my World championship coin in my pocket at all times. I kept showing it to people, whether they wanted to see it or not. I was so proud. A few months on I’m still just as proud and I’m still just as excited about what next year has in store. It really feels like a breakthrough and given that I’ve set a new PB whilst carrying a calf niggle I know that there is still so much more that I can do.

 

Faster after 50 is real. Just how fast though, is the exciting unknown. Bring on next year to find out.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakthrough Performance at Anglian Triathlon

I was back racing again this weekend after my mid summer break. Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire was the venue and I wanted to use this event as a warm up for Dublin 70.3 in two weeks time. My goal was to perform smoothly through each of the elements of the race, ensuring that I went hard but not so hard that I was empty on the run. I’m delighted to report that my race execution was pretty damn good. It was as good a triathlon race performance as I can remember.

The usual early morning start time for races meant that I needed to go down the night before. Premier Inn did themselves proud with a quiet clean room, comfy bed and TV to watch the World Athletcics champs. The whole evening in the Olympic Stadium was built around Usain Bolt’s last individual 100m and whilst I had a spooky feeling that he wouldn’t win I really did not expect his conqueror to be his old nemesis Justin Gatlin. I felt a wave of disbelief surge over me at the fnish. This was not in the script and whilst I disagree with gatlin being given the opportunity to compete I think his mental fortitude needs to be admired. The real villains in this in my view are the IAAF who fail to create a system where clean athletes can thrive .

My usual sense of outrage at this kind of hypocrisy passed fairly quickly as I settled down to sleep and prepare for my own race the next day.

I slept pretty well and awoke just before my alarm was due to go off at 5am. I like to eat my pre race brekkie upto 3 hours before the gun goes off and within 30 secs of opening my eyes I was tucking into my “Performance Chef “ bircher that i’d brought with me and kept in a coolbag overnight. This has become my staple start to most days and I never get bored of it. Varying the fruit does the trick to keep it interesting. By 6am I was out of the door and heading for Grafham Water.

Sunday was a beautiful morning. Blue sky, cloudless,  and a slight breeze over the lake. Perfect conditions for racing.DGhpte1XkAA-wIQ.jpg-large

By arriving nice and early I got through registration quickly, strolled back to the car where I put wheels on the bike, checked tyre pressures, gels on board and went through to transition. I had a flawless set up, went for a good warm up jog and was feeling very relaxed and ready for the start.

The only concern I had was that with 650 competitors going off in only 4 waves, the swim start could be carnage. I was in wave 2, all men over 40. This was by far the biggest wave. Mamils were out in force!

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I decided that with my new found swim confidence I was going to take my chances at the front of the wave. I positioned myself on the far left which was technically the outside of the group as we were swimming in a clockwise direction. I chose to go out as hard as I could for as long as I could and just hope that this would help me avoid too much of the human washing machine effect. I got away pretty well held my nerve, kept relaxed so that the stray limbs would slide off me and smashed it for as long as I could. My lungs were burning and fatigue was setting in after a minute or two but I did manage to find clear water. I then took my effort levels back a notch, slowed my breathing down and found a good sustainable rythmn . I’m a left sided breather so was reassured that I could see a few guys outside me and knew that if I could still see them then I wouldn’t need to sight the turn bouy too often as we headed up the lake for approx. 600m to the first bouy. Everynow and again I checked and was reassured to see plenty of orange hats around me. Soon we were heading back down the lake with only one more turn to make and from here it was approx. 150m to the swim exit. A really short run into transition gave me just enough time to get the wetsuit down to the waist ( this new Snugg suit is a joy to get on and off). I was pleased to see that my area of transition was still full of bikes so that suggested I’d had a pretty good swim. It certainly felt that way, but I’d forgotten to start my watch so could only guess at how long. Once out onto the bike I realised that it was just after 0830 and given that we’d started at 0805 that meant I’d flown round by my standards.

 

I got settled on the bike quickly, was picking people off with ease and had to concentrate over the first section as the road was pretty full of athletes going at various speeds. Just as I was beginning to think I’d made it through the early rush hour traffic, someone about 20m infront of me seemed to go straight over his handle bars for no apparent reason. I swerved, missing competitors coming the otherway and took it a bit easier for a few minutes. Its amazing how quickly a slightly different intensity can begin to feel normal and I was jolted out of my comfort zone by a couple of atheltes going past me. I never like this and so it made me realize I needed to push on harder. It was really fast course, with good road surfaces and very few potholes ( but poor old fellow Erdinger athlete Garry hit one and blew his back tire…race over, sorry Garry). I was now working really hard and picking off riders with regurality. It was a pretty flat track so it was big gears all the way. I took on a second gel a few miles before the end of the bike leg to set me up for the run. I remember thinking at this point that my legs were tiring but my head felt pretty cool. I was triallng my new Scott Cadence helmet and it did seem to be regulating my temperature much better. I knew I’d gone hard and so wondered how the legs would feel over the 10k run. The answer was pretty good thanks.

As I came into T2 I scanned the area and noticed that it was totally empty. There did not seem to be a single bike in my section. “Maybe I’m leading” I thought. This would prove to be an important error. As I headed out of T2 I heard the announcer confirming that the 1st lady was just going out onto the run. She came alongside me as we headed up the reservoir and I remember thinking lets aim to stay with her for as long as I could. I got in front and began to tap out a really good cadence with short light strides. I imagined she was tucked in behind me and that was fine. At the end of the lake we turned and came back on ourselves so I was surprised to see that I’d put about 25m into her. Keep it going. I was passing people and none was coming past me and this made me think that I was going really well. At the next turn point after approx. 4 miles I”d really put more distance between myself and the 1st lady and managed to convince myself that I was flying. All the external cues were suggesting I was running really well. I was going quicker than the leading lady, I was passing lots of others and none were coming past me. I convinced myself that I was on my limit, but I’m not sure I realy was. I felt a stitch coming on but ran through it ok. With 400m to go I noticed a fella infront who looked like he could be a similar age to me, so despite thinking I could be leading I did pick up my pace to overtake him, just in case. It was a good job I did as he was in my AG and I managed beat him. I looked at the clock at the finish and saw that it was just coming upto 1013. By my calculation that would mean a sub 2 hours 10 time. Wow that felt good.

 

The Erdinger Alkoholfrei bar was just beyond the finish line, so I had jubilant chat with the team and then picked up my official finish time. I’d done a swim under 25 mins, a sub 60 min bike and a 41 min run for a total time of 2:07:56. I reckon this is my fastest ever Olympic distance race. I was buzzing with excitement. Even the discovery that I hadn’t won the age group but had finished 3rd didn’t bother me. This was a qualifier for 2018 European Championships so had attracted a quality field and this was triathlon and not duathlon where I am used to picking up the odd AG victory or two. In a quality tri I’d never finished so high up. I was hugely pleased and learnt that I mustn’t ever get ahead of myself thinking I might win. The only way to try and achieve this is to give absolutely everything throughout.

I finished my morning by jogging back to the finish area to help out with serving the Erdinger to all the deserving finishers. It was great to see so many satisfied, exhausted faces. The positive energy was intoxicating and it was a joy to chat to so many athletes about their individual race stories as we gave them a taste of the isotonic recovery juice, that is Erdinger Alkoholfrei.

 

After the frustrations of my first two “A” races this year it is a real confidence boost to head towards my 3rd biggie with such an encouraging performance. I’d put together probably my best tri race to date. Lets see if I can build on it in Dublin in two weeks.

The road to success is full of challenges

We were lucky enough to head over to Denmark recently for the European 70.3 Championships. This was the 1st time this event was being held outside of Germany and the local Ironman team were keen to ensure that this switch was seen as a success. In my view, this was an outstanding event. A challenging course with lots of twists and turns in each of the three disciplines, superb organization that was well thought through for athletes and a stunning venue based around the beauty of Elsinore harbour and Kronberg Castle. The local people were incredibly welcoming and helpful. The weather on race day was also perfect. Cloudless skies and the temperature rising with every hour, so all the more incentive to get to the finish-line as fast as possible!

It was also my first time to be involved in an Ironman Championship event. The scale of the production was huge, so much grander than an ITU sanctioned event and with 2500 athletes there was a fantastic buzz around the whole race village. It felt more like a festival than a race event. The build up to race day was full of excitement.

We arrived on Thursday and had plenty of time to get our bearings, reccie the courses and ensure that registration was taken care of before the crowds arrived. At registration I had to make my first key decision of the race. Which of the swim waves did I want to start in? It was a self-selecting process with the fastest swimmers heading off first. The cut off for the 1st wave was 35 minutes and I estimated that I should be capable of completing 1900m in just about 35 mins, therefore I opted to start in this first wave. Anyone who has been following my blog will know that the swim has been my achilles heel over the years of triathlon and so to now have developed to the point where I can be classified as part of the fastest group of swimmers is a massive achievement for me. Before I’d even set foot in the water I’d accomplished something and was taking huge confidence into the race.

To minimize chaos at the start, Ironman are now using rolling starts whereby only a small number (in this race it was 4 people) will pass over the start mat every 10 seconds. This provides a bit more room to get into the swim at the beginning and find some rhythm. After a good warm up in the harbour, getting used to the water temperature of 15% the blue caps, (that included me), were called out and asked to head for the start funnel. My plan had been to try to position myself towards the back of the blue wave so that most of the really quick swimmers would be infront of me, but I seemed to find myself somewhere in the middle and once the mass of bodies began to move towards the start mats I simply had to go with the flow. Oh well, I’m sure it will be fine I told myself.

Pre race ElsinoreKathy found me as the mass of neoprene clad humanity inched forward towards the jetty, we had a little pep talk and a kiss for good luck and then I was off into the water. I felt really good as we headed for the first turn, enjoying the sense of rapid forward progress that comes from swimming in a pack. Early on I was holding my own and got around several more bouys without incident. Then things started to get messy. A flailing arm ( not mine I must add) knocked my new goggles sideways but somehow I managed to adjust them without losing too much momentum, but then an endless stream of faster swimmers used me as a kickboard and I found myself getting agitated and then angry. I was hurling abuse (in my head) and trying to hold my position in the water. I realised getting angry wasn’t helpful, refocused on relaxing again and decided to try to get a bit closer to the harbour wall where there might be a tad more room. A few more bouys to negotiate and then I could see the exit arch ahead. I was glad to get out of the water, still a bit shell shocked at the dogfight it had been, but at the same time feeling as though I’d coped pretty well. You can see from this picture at the swim exit just how discombobulated I look as I emerge from the water.

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Kathy was positioned by transition and shouted out to me that I’d been going 36 minutes and I assumed this was the time to where she had seen me rather than for the swim itself. Based on this information, I was reassured and set off on the 90km bike leg in really good spirits.

I’d ridden most of the bike course over the previous few days and knew that it was going to be fast, with a high numbers of tricky corners but no daunting leg stinging climbs. The first 10k or so was along the coast into the wind and with lots of similarly matched cyclists I was on high alert not to be seen as drafting. At times it is difficult, but with either a short sharp effort to overtake or a brief pause to take a drink I was able to maintain the legal 12m distance between myself and others. Distance markers were given every 10km and so early on I worked out that a sub 2:30 bike split could be achievable. As each 10km was ticked off I was still holding this pace.

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3_m-100767682-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1912_000318-8521799As we came back into town around 65km and headed out on the second part of the course I was starting to struggle with overheating. My head felt so hot, but frustratingly pouring water onto my helmet did nothing to provide relief.

29_m-100767682-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1912_063377-8521825My aero helmet only has minimal ventilation and over the last 30km my core temperature was probably continuing to rise. Despite feeling more uncomfortable I was able to hold my speed and got back into T2 well under 2:30.

I knew at this point that I was well on course to smash my pre race goal of going Sub 5. A half decent run around 1:35 would put me close to 4:45 finish time and the run is my strength so I grabbed a couple of gels, sunglasses and visor to keep the sun off my face and set off on the half marathon with much excitement. My plan was to take the first lap of 4 very steady and then build the pace as each lap went on. My legs felt good as I followed the route around the outside of bike transition, but after a few minutes I became aware of just how hot I was feeling and how high my heart race was getting. I needed to get to the first aid station to grab water and get it over my head. Having walked through the aid station I felt a bit better and set off again towards the castle but pretty soon realised that my temperature was shooting up again. In a quiet shady section of the course I took another sneaky walk before coming out into the crowded streets of Elsinore. The first lap was really difficult as I had to reassess my plan.

I figured that my body temperature was out of control and so decided that the best way to get to the finish was now to treat this run as an interval session, with recovery coming at each of the aid stations where I would walk, get as much water over my head as possible, sip on electrolyte solution and generally try to get my heart rate down. Once I’d made this new plan it became so much easier to execute the rest of the race. I kept an eye on the clock and knew that my pre race goal of Sub 5 was still achievable. I knocked off the laps, focusing on getting from one aid station to the next as efficiently and relaxed as possible.

Soon I was going around the castle for the final time and within sight of the finish shoot. I saw my name come up and the timer ticking over towards 4:58. I’d done it, but wanted to see if I could cross the line before the clock got to 4:58. A last burst and I got there in 4:57:59.

It was great to know that I’d achieved my Sub 5 goal, but I knew that I’d run really badly. Kathy was waiting at the finish area and I was so pleased and relieved to see her. The physical effort of putting it all out there always seems to trigger tears and this race was no different. This time it was especially poignant as it was Fathers Day and I was suddenly overwhelmed with thoughts of my late dad who would have been so proud to know that I had achieved another significant goal.

As I recovered over an extremely well deserved Erdinger Alkoholfrei I started to reflect on what had just happened during the race.

Post race Erdinger ElsinoreI was really pleased with the way that I’d executed the race and dealt with the unforeseen challenges that it had thrown up. The dogfight of the swim, the constant adjustments on the bike to avoid drafting and my overheating on the run could all have been race wrecking situations, but I kept a really clear head and overcame them. More than that though, as I’d put together a PB swim of 35:23 and I’d banged out a bike split of 2:28:51 despite struggling with overheating over the last hour. That was worth celebrating.

However, as we sipped another Erdinger I couldn’t get beyond the fact that I had run badly. What had caused me to let at least 10 minutes slip away? The competitor in me was desperate to know just how crucial those 10 minutes would prove to be in the final race positions.

It wasn’t long before I found out. I was 10th. 10th in European Championship is good. 10th in Europe is a mark of real progress of how far I have come as a triathlete. But those vital 10 minutes made the difference between 10th and 2nd. This was a missed medal opportunity. But racing, just like life is not about could haves and should haves, its about what you actually do that counts.

Rather than dwell on the medal that might have been I can take away encouragement from the fact that I’m now a contender at this triathlon distance racing in Europe. I know there is more to come from me and that gives me lots of motivation to continue putting in the hard work in training. Two years ago I wouldn’t have believed it. I really am getting faster after fifty.

Kathy and I enjoyed a really chilled evening in Elsinore. We strolled back into town to watch the awards being given, visited the lovely Street Food market and then went back to our hotel to sit in their deckchairs and share a bottle of wine. As the sun began to go down over The Baltic we both agreed that we were so lucky to be able to do these wonderful trips. Elsinore is another one of the real gems of the world that we would never have come to if it wasn’t for racing. Life is good.

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.

PeteDevaTri

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

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

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

 

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

Reflections from Manchester 48 hours on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets go do it.

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.

1st Race of 2017: Clumber Park Duathlon 18th March

Another year older, another year more experienced and yet I still find myself getting ridiculously nervous in the days leading up to races and especially the first race of the season. This year it was even worse 48 hours out from the race. I was getting myself in a right state for reasons that I still can’t quite understand. Maybe it was a result of all the emotional stress of the last six months involving major operations and the death of my Mum. Maybe I was getting anxious to discover if the operations had done the trick and have given me a stronger, more robust body to push to its limits. I was soon to find out!

Since getting back into training just before Christmas I have been feeling great and building up a strong base of fitness. With Coach Annie’s guidance we have put together a really enjoyable, productive block of consistent training that has led me into this first race. My rational self knew that all was good, but my chimp does like to have his say and he was certainly playing tricks right up to the night before the race.

Thankfully on race morning, chimp had been well and truly exercised and so was now resting , enabling my rational side to takeover .

Everything was organized and I had removed some of the risks that can cause pre race stress. We were staying across the road from Clumber Park and so I knew it would only take 5 minutes to get there. I brought my own breakfast to ensure that I was eating exactly the right things for me. By the way, I’ve been lucky enough to be working with Alan Murchison of PerformanceChef since January on my nutrition and he has made some really valuable improvements to my diet. (if anyone wants to know more then please get in touch). My new favorite brekkie is bircher and its so easy to prepare. Just soak oats in your choice of liquid overnight (for me its either almond or coconut milk) together with some Greek yoghurt and then add fruit, nuts, seeds just before you tuck in. Delicious , highly nutritious and full of energy for racing. It certainly set me up well.

I got set up in transition early. I knew I was strong physically, I knew I’d put the right fuel in the tank and I knew my bike was set up right. I had a nice little warm up with fellow Erdinger Alkoholfrei athlete Tom Vickery and was now all ready to go.

The nerves had gone, I wanted to perform and gain a sense of where I was at this stage in the year. The gun fired and we were off. Unusually our AG was the first of the men’s waves to begin and so it was fun to be up near the front of the race. I started strongly and then settled into a smooth tempo as we headed up through the park. The 1st run was two laps of an out and back 5k route. The out section seemed to be pretty much all uphill and so I was looking forward to making the turn and coming back down with some relaxed speed but the course seemed to resemble an Escher Artwork as we still seemed to be going more up than down on the return section. Onto the second lap we went and I held my pace, kept relaxed as I tried to work harder over the last couple of kilometres. I took a glance at my watch as I approached transition and noted that it had just gone over 40 minutes. For a fleeting moment I felt a hint of disappointment as I had thought I’d been running slightly better, but I quickly dismissed this thought and focused instead on what lay ahead.

First I needed to execute the transition to the bike smoothly but sadly this did not happen. As I headed across the bumpy field towards the bike mount line the elastic bands that were holding my bike shoes perfectly in place, snapped. The shoes instantly inverted thus making it much more difficult to get my feet into. I had a very clumsy, slow mount but was pleased that I didn’t cause any disruption to any other racers or worse, end up crashing into anything whilst I was struggling to get the shoes the right way up and my feet into them.

I did not let this error affect me and stuck to my plan. The first mile on the bike was on a narrow road with leaves and branches all across it and so I’d decided to take it very easy through this section, allowing my body to adjust to the bike as I navigated this potentially hazardous part of the course. I was pleased that after the clumsy beginning I didn’t panic and try to smash it to catch up time. Once out onto the open roads I built through the gears and got into a strong rhythm, pushing a low cadence. When I race I like to go purely on feel, avoiding any potential opportunities for my chimp to get distracted by erroneous numbers. I could sense I was just below threshold and this seemed like a good place to be given I’d got 2 laps and 40km to power through. The course was rolling for the whole lap, meaning no opportunities to recover and free wheel down hill, but because our wave was an early starter I had clear roads and didn’t get caught up in much traffic. I felt good, was comfortable in the aero position and held my focus on what was directly in front of me. As I completed the first lap I had a quick glance at the watch and this suggested that I’d been going just over 30 mins. Wow, that was good, I was very happy. I just needed to keep it going.

Clumber Duathlon 2017I knew from the run that I’d been behind others in my AG and so on the second lap I was taking a keen interest in race numbers as I passed riders to see if I was making my way through my AG field. About half way around this lap I passed a coupe of guys with similar numbers to mine and I suspected that I now must be near the front. This gave me the encouragement to push harder, especially down the final section along Lime Tree Avenue, the most difficult stretch of the course. The road seemed much bumpier, the surface was like treacle and it was into the wind. The result was a leg sapping section that also tested the brain. “Ignore the pain and keep pushing” is what I was telling myself.

I got back to transition to find it looking empty, especially in lane 7 where my AG were located. I re-racked the bike, helmet off, shoes on and was away very smoothly. “I might just be in the lead” I thought as I headed out of transition. Again, I allowed the thought to drift away as quickly as it came and replaced it with a focus on what I was doing. Relax the shoulders, keep the head up, open the chest to suck in air, shorten the stride and quicken the cadence. Over the first few kilometres I just kept going through this sequence of mental checks. I reached the turn point and then could see who was chasing. Two guys in particular looked like they were in my race. These were the two numbers I’d passed on the bike and they did seem to be running faster than I was. “Don’t panic just run your race”, I told myself. Sure enough they picked me off over the last 2k and I just didn’t have it in my legs to keep with them. But this didn’t matter. I’d run a really good race and was delighted with my performance. I’d shown myself that my body was healed and capable of dealing with the intensity of a race again. This was a good sensation.

My finish time was 2:07:11 (more than 8 minutes quicker than the last time out here) and this placed me third in AG and should give me a qualification place for the 2018 European Champs. Job done.

In two weeks time I’ve got the Manchester Marathon and then once I’ve recovered from that I can start to get some speed sessions in that will help to bring down those 5 and 10k times so that I can be more competitive for the “A“ races later in the year.

Huge thanks as ever to Kathy for all her amazing support, to my nephew Matty who cheered me on, Coach Annie, Alan Murchison and of course to my brilliant sponsors Erdinger Alkoholfrei.

Its looking very encouraging for this season!

2016 Race Year Review

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

March

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

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

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

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

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

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Working hard on the 1st run

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All smiles despite the result!

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

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Making new friends

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

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

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

June

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

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

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All set for a great race!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anxiously clutching my Erdinger water bottle before the swim start

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

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Proudly holding my hard earned finisher medal on the hospital bed

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

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

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

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Here we are celebrating a great team effort!

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking strong on the run

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Not long to go now!

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One final sprint for the line.

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

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

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

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

Summary of Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/06     Leeds Triathlon                                       Injured, did not race

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

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

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

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

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