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!

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.

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.