Ironman Austria 26.06.16

 

3.8km/180km/42.2km – 12:12:38 – Cat Pos 271/445

Garmin Data

Ironman number 5 then – another crack at Austria, and Tri Spirit Team’s first group ironman outing. I’d entered after Ali, one of the founder members of the team, had been incorrectly disqualified last year and re-entered for 2016, which prompted a whole load of other team members to sign up as a show of support. I loved the idea of watching Ali cross the line, and I also loved the idea of having another crack at a beautiful course where I made my ironman debut in 2012 and which had beaten me up on a day with 40 degree heat. That day had also taught me what training you need to put in to do well at one of these and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do on that course with proper preparation.

Actually my preparation ended up being not as proper as I would have liked – the motivation I felt in 2015 just wasn’t there this year and so I turned up in Austria having done less than half the cycling mileage I had the year before, and having swum only 9000 metres all year with a longest swim of 1900 metres (in the pool, on a day where I got overtaken by old ladies doing breaststroke). Only in running had I had a decent first half of the year, but even with that I felt that I’d lost fitness since the Paris marathon at the start of April.

8 team members had signed up but the team had taken a bit of a blow when Sarah had been forced to withdraw a couple of weeks beforehand after her knee had blown up. Terrible news, she’d trained hard and didn’t deserve the bad luck. If that was bad news then worse was to come when at registration, 2 days before the race we learnt that Ali had also been forced to withdraw, having been stung by something, in Austria, suffering a severe reaction meaning antibiotics and antihistamines. She was the original reason we were there and all of us felt the devastation she must have been feeling. More on that later… but the team was to be six strong on race morning.

2012 had been hot, really hot. I arrived in Klagenfurt (actually just up the lake a bit at Portschach) on the Thursday… and it was hot. So was Friday. And Saturday. Up into the 30s, but the forecasters were predicting a cooler Sunday… I was really hoping they would be right, the last thing I’d need would be a non-wetsuit swim and another scorching run but hey-ho, what would be would be.

Registration was quick and easy on the Friday and we all went for a swim afterwards to check out our sighting for the entrance to the canal which hosts the last 900 metres of the swim – it can be difficult to sight on the day due to the rising sun in your eyes and we wanted to familiarize ourselves. Lake Worthersee was at its stunning best – warm, blue and drinkable. In the afternoon I went for a quick ride just to test the bike, legs felt fine. Early evening was spent at the pasta party with Sophie and Julie – 5th ironman and the first time I’d attended the pasta party. The food was adequate.. but what I hadn’t bargained for was the free beer and my inability to control myself when there’s free beer. Having had a few free beers I found myself back at the hotel lubed up and in the mood for a few more beers, and so final ironman prep took an unorthodox twist with the consumption of 8 pints of lager with less than 36 hours to go before the start.

That meant that I did achieve the now traditional race week hangover although this was the first time I’d had it the day before the race. Luckily it wasn’t one of my special bad ones, sorted out with a few pills.

Saturday afternoon meant bike and bag check-in, I had an easy to find spot at the end of a rack (not that there are ever many bikes left in T1 by the time I get there), and I did my walk through, partly through diligence and partly because ironman transitions do have a certain atmosphere and who doesn’t love perving over TT bikes?

Pre-race dinner was taken in Portschach with Deb, Sophie, Julie (the 3 other Tri Spiriters at the same hotel as me) and their support crew – I had a pizza and a raspberry tiramisu, and congratulated myself on cutting short my beer intake after a pint and a half. First victory of the weekend. While we were eating it started to rain and thunder – the forecasters had got their bit right it seemed. Bedtime came at around 11 and after some broken sleep and a few odd dreams which were the only way I knew I’d slept, the alarm was going off at 3:45 and it was time to get up for one of the true pleasures that ironman brings – forcing down breakfast at 4 in the morning. By 4:40 we were away, and shortly after 5 we found ourselves in transition carrying out final bike checks as dawn broke on a thankfully chilly Klagenfurt morning.

And so – the Tri Spirit Team that lined up for the start of Ironman Austria was:

Julie, Sophie, Debs – all breaking their ironman ducks
Tara – ironman #2
Nick – ironman #5
Liz – team founder and ironman #umpteen (which is Austrian for 15)

What I absolutely must mention now is that the 6 of us were far from the end of the Tri Spirit Team contribution that weekend. An army of supporters had made their way over too, partners, friends and family. In no particular order, we were cheered on by Ali, Jason, Malcom, Pat, Marcia, Trudy, Zoe, Amber, Jo, Greg, Alex, John and S, Pat, Laura and Carol. At some point during the day I think I saw all of them and every single one of them helped create a truly memorable atmosphere before, during and after the race. This was only added to back at home where even more of the crew were following us via the athlete tracker – we didn’t realise until after the race just how fervent this support had also been.

So.. back to the race. I had no real aim for the day other than enjoy it. Normally I would have some kind of target but with the lack of training this time out, all I could do was estimate a finishing time, which I guessed at around 12 hours if all went well. That would work out as something like 1:45-2:00 for the swim, 5:45-6:00 for the bike and 4:00-4:15 for the run, plus 10 mins or so for transitions.

I lined up with Deb and Sophie right at the back of the queue for the rolling swim start. You could feel the tension, and the conversation started to run a bit dry as we snaked our way towards the start arch. Austria used to be a mass start off the beach into the lake – 2000+ athletes all fighting for a piece of clear water. That was a true spectacle and in a way it’s a shame we don’t get to see that any more but the new system, where athletes filter through the start a few at a time does make for a safer experience although for me, being right at the back, it didn’t make a huge difference.

We got over the start line into the magnificent turquoise Worthersee at 7:15, about 25 minutes after the fastest age groupers had started. It was a wetsuit swim, and I settled straight into my bilateral breathing pattern, heading out about 1250m towards the first turn buoy. I really had no idea how this swim was going to go so deliberately took it very, very easy, concentrating most on breathing and going in a straight line. Bilateral breathing really helps me here – always in a pool I’m slower like this, but always in open water I veer off towards the side I’m breathing to if I breathe to one side only, and my best IM swim was achieved bilaterally so that was the rationale behind my plan. The water was pretty calm for most of the swim apart from a couple of sections where I guess we hit the wake from boats which meant for a bit of upping and downing, but I enjoyed that, and with the lake being such pure water a bit of swallowing now and again was actually quite nice – on the job hydration.

On the way back towards the canal into the 2nd half of the swim I was feeling ok but wasted a bit of energy and time by going a bit too wide right at the canal entrance, but once into the canal was when it became clear what a different experience this swim was compared with 2012. Then the canal seemed like treacle and I can remember hardly seeming to move. This time round I had the bizarre experience for me of overtaking people and after what seemed like not that long, I found myself exiting the water. “Not that long” is a relative term of course, but I was pretty happy when I saw 1:43 on the watch – 2 minutes inside what I’d considered best case, and I was out on the bike 5 minutes later after a relaxed and smooth T1. I could reflect on a calm, relaxed, satisfying swim and a good start to the day.

The ironman Austria bike course is a true joy, and I’d been looking forward to riding it on this TT bike. I’d been thinking of an average speed of 30km/h but also aware that I really had to take it easy on the first lap if I wanted to finish strong and run well. Nevertheless, into a very slight headwind along the very gently rolling lake section I was at 31.4km/h after 28km with my legs feeling great. I thought I was on for a very good day. Earlier at the start of the bike I’d seen Deb and Sophie, it was good knowing that they were out of the water, particularly Deb who shared my trepidation over the swim – both of us have the attitude that the day really starts once our wetsuits come off.

The first climb after 34km just before Faaker See that we’d nicknamed Charing Hill (over its resemblance to Charing Hill) came and went easily enough in a nice spinny low gear, and I then took to enjoying myself on the flatty/rolly bit, freewheeling where I could, with one slight miscalculation on the tight right-hander at Schiefling where I approached too quickly, felt my wheels slipping as I braked but managed to stay upright and avoid taking out some spectators and looking like a total knobend (aero helmet, TT bike, and no clue how to ride it)

Shortly after at the top of the biggest climb of Rupertiberg, which has a nasty sting of a second steep bit not long after you’ve conquered the first, I saw Julie who was riding well and seemed pretty relaxed. It was then that the real fun started on the long descent into Klagenfurt with some lightening downhills and some sweeping corners – I think in 2012 I was already knackered by the time I got here and it was 15C hotter but this time I was really able to take advantage. At the top of Rupertiberg I was at 29.7km/h average – by the turn point at the end of lap 1 that had increased to 31.2 – meaning an average of 38km/h for that 24km stretch. What fun!

Shortly after the start of lap 2 I saw Liz who was happy with the way her ride was going, I told her I was enjoying myself but I didn’t yet know whether I’d gone out too hard – the 2nd lap would give me a clue.

Up until now, the weather had been completely benign – a light breeze, dry and very comfortably warm. Then things changed – the rain came, the wind picked up just a bit and the temperature dropped. Rolling along the lake side the 2nd time around still felt ok but I was deliberately riding easier, using the conditions as an excuse but also knowing that there was a fair chance I’d overcooked the first lap and not wanting to compound the damage. When I climbed Charing Hill for the second time, a minute slower than the first, I realised for sure that I’d overdone it, and resolved to take it easy for the last 55km where I could, saving my efforts for Rupertiberg and the other short climbs that preceded it. It continued to rain, eventually stopped, but the roads were still wet and the second time through Schiefling I was grateful for what had happened the first time since I knew what was coming on those wet roads.

Rupertiberg was dealt with 2 minutes slower than the first lap and it definitely felt like it, but having crested it, I congratulated myself on a job done with only the fun bit to come, and even though I had to be more careful through that section, cruising back into T2 I had a bike time of 5:49 and an average speed of 30.4 km/h. So a much slower 2nd lap but not unexpected, and I certainly wasn’t feeling broken. I was however completely unprepared for a sharp right knee pain that I hadn’t felt in a very long time which hit in the last 100 metres of the bike as I prepared to dismount. It had always come and gone over the years but this was the most pain I’d felt from it. You get used to aches and pains appearing and disappearing but I think it’s normal to wonder what kind of damage you might do to yourself if you run a marathon on an injury after a 112 mile ride, but accepted practice is suck it and see, so I prepared to suck it and see. (More about knee injuries and ironman marathons later on – not mine though). Total race time was 7:38 coming into T2 where I finished the number 1 I’d managed to start but not finish on the bike, vaselined my feet and got ready for the money shot.

6 minutes after entering T2 I started the run with 7:44 on the clock and at this point I was actually wondering whether I could hit the 4 hour marathon and get under 11:45, which was what I’d need for a top half age group position based on 2015 results. Both Tara and I had said we were aiming for a 4 hour run – but only once before have I managed that – after a much flatter bike in cool conditions after several very good months of training – and so that was always an over ambitious target and I soon abandoned it after settling in to 6:00/km pace which equates to a 4:10 marathon. Still, that would be sub-12 and I knew that the run is a bit short so had something of a buffer.

The weather had changed again for the start of the run, and was now pretty warm again but I felt pretty comfortable chugging along at around 5:55/km, resisting any urge to speed up, knowing what was likely to be in store in the second half. My knee was a bit painful but not deteriorating and it now just felt like it normally does in the final quarter of a marathon so I was no longer worried about more damage. At this point I’d seen everyone out on the course bar Tara, and I finally got news of her approaching the far west point of the run at Krumpendorf where Carol, Pat and Laura started making the kind of racket you really appreciate on an ironman run – great support from them, and Carol told me Tara was around 10 minutes up the road.

Passing back near the run start Deb came bounding down the road the other way like a gazelle, a violent high five and a hollered “yes mate!!” told me she was feeling good, and then finally not long before the turn point in Klagenfurt, Tara appeared, also looking strong.

Back towards the start of the 2nd lap after about 20km was when the demons started to take control. My knee hurt, as did the rest of my legs, my hips, and most unusually of all, my stomach muscles – every step was a crash into the floor which reverberated up through my core and felt like a punch in the belly. This was something I’d never felt before, I put it down to complete swim unfitness and 1:43’s worth of core rotation that I hadn’t trained for. This was when it also became clear beyond all doubt that I had ridden a bit too hard, but actually I didn’t care, I’d enjoyed that ride so much and I knew that I’d probably struggle on the run at some point. The mental coping mantras started to come into play as I started slowing – at least this time compared with Copenhagen last year I managed to keep it going a bit more but after 23km I started walking. Kms 23-30 were spent run/walking at irregular intervals, not feeling any better and resigning myself to just finishing. Kms 31-35 got worse – I’d settled on a walk 250m/ run 750m strategy then which was manageable, but I saw even a 12:30 finish slip away in front of my eyes as my maths started to fail.

It was then, within the space of a few minutes that Sophie passed me on her first lap, excellent to see her running past, and then Liz coming back the other way during one of my walk breaks. Liz has had knee trouble for years and it had flared up again, we stopped for a brief chat and she said she was considering quitting, that it wasn’t worth it. I casually, without really thinking, said something about just walking the rest of the way but it was only after we set off in our opposite directions that I realized that whereas for me there were only about 5 miles to go, for Liz there were still 15…. 15 miles of walking after 11+ hours out there already…

Heading towards the Klagenfurt turn for the 2nd time I stopped at an aid station and had a piece of salty bread. Something so simple tasted so good, and although I’ve no way of knowing whether I can credit the salty bread with my recovery, not long after I began to run again, and resolved to run it all except the few inclines that you really don’t need after 23 miles of an ironman run. Just after one of the inclines I saw a guy running with “Fuck cancer” on his suit – I had a quick chat with him, he was from Portugal and I thanked him for his charity work. During those brief few words we spoke about why I was grateful for his charity work, and we shook hands, him congratulating me that I myself had “fucked cancer”. I got a real lift from this, and shortly after went past Sophie just after I saw a guy eating an ice cream. I really wanted an ice cream.

I knew now that I was on the long finishing straight, ran virtually all the way down by the canal back towards the lake and got a pleasant surprise looking at the total time on the watch which said 12 hours inside the final mile.

Inside the final quarter of a mile or so I got the cheers from Deb’s and Sophie’s supporter crew, and I was now running strongly again. It is such a brain game – you can produce this energy when you know the finish is close, but trying to turn the engine over when you’re a long way out is a different matter.

And then a moment I won’t forget, on the penultimate left hand turn into the finish, Ali appeared, slapping me a double high five. Ali – one of the main reasons I was there in the first place, I’d wanted to cheer her across the line but there she was reciprocating with a smile a mile wide despite her own misfortune. What a star.

I got one more shout, this time from Zoe just before hitting the magic carpet, applauding the crowd in each stand either side and then breaking the (virtual) tape with 2 arms aloft and bellowing like a caveman with 12:12:38 on the clock. Not far off the 12 hours that I would have been delighted with. I sat down, necked an Erdinger Alkoholfrei, and got emotional with myself for a minute or 2.

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3 slices of pizza, a slice and a half of cheesecake and 2 beers later (I thought it was real beer as did the Austrian I was talking to in the finish tent but it wasn’t, the proof being that I had at least 4 in the end without the slightest tinge of inebriation), I went back out to welcome the rest of the team home. Tara had crossed the line shortly before me, Deb had come across while I was eating, and within the next couple of hours Julie, Sophie and Liz all crossed the line. 6 starters, 6 finishers – job done.

Whilst just finishing an ironman is a terrific achievement, there are certain aspects of the day that, in my opinion, stood out for each member of Tri Spirit Team. Every ironman finisher has their own story, and for me, the outstanding bits worth highlighting were:

Tara – 12:17 – the standout performance of the day I think. Age group finishing position is the best way to measure your performance against others and Tara’s 17th from 54 starters put her in the top third with a strong all round race. She also had the fastest swim from the 6 of us.

Deb – 13:03 – best Tri Spirit run of the day by a mile (or actually by over 2.5 miles as she was 25 minutes up on the next best). 4:08 was a superb marathon and also proof, if any more were needed, that an intelligent ride equals a good run and a good finish.

Julie – 14:01 – never having run more than 14 miles in her life, some less tough than her might have said that to make your marathon debut at an ironman is a bit nutty. So to complete the race in fine style under those circumstances deserves a “chapeau” (she’s a cyclist after all 🙂 ) She also wins the award for most enthusiastic Ironman crap shopper, I’m not sure if she did buy the Ironman oven glove in the end but it had her name all over it.

Sophie – 14:54 – admittedly fearing the bike a bit, and for a cyclist lacking a bit of confidence on the downhills, Austria in the wet could have been a nightmare. But she came through the 112 mile bike inside schedule and finished well with a good run and deserves massive credit for conquering the bike demons and seeming pretty happy at all times on every part of the course.

Liz – 15:09 – talk about spirit of ironman and determination to get the t-shirt. Liz walked over 15 miles to the finish for a 7 hour marathon with a busted knee. The more I think about this the more ridiculous it sounds but it embodies all the good bits that define the example to set for the rest of us – positivity, determination, grit, never say die. An attitude worthy of a triathlon club leader. 15 ironmans done and no sign of stopping, which brings us to next year… in a minute.

As for me, 12:12 was a course PB by nearly 2.5 hours, in much kinder conditions yes than in 2012 but off a similar training base. This tells me I’ve come a long way in those 4 years, but also that I have the potential to go faster and get that coveted top half age group position finish (in the end this year I finished 271st from 445 starters – I’d have needed 11:45 for top half).

It’s not worth analyzing it much more than I already have given that my main goal was just to enjoy it – analyzing that bit is easy, it was a fantastic day on a beautiful course with magnificent support provided by Tri Spirit Team members and associates both on course and at home.

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Left to right: Tara, Julie, Sophie, Liz, me, Debs

And so to next year. Having said before the race that this would probably be my last ironman, and having sworn in the 2nd half of the run that I was never putting myself through this again, it was entirely predictable that at 11am the next morning I was handing over another 500 quid to World Triathlon Corporation for the privilege of swimming in that gorgeous lake, riding that superb bike course and going through agony running alongside a railway line in 2017. It’s all Ali’s fault anyway (or rather the bastard that bit her), I was joking with her on the Friday that we’d all have to come back next year but it was never really a joke and at the time of writing, 5 of us are down for 2017 – Liz, Ali, Deb and me from the 2016 vintage and Greg, husband of Sophie, who gets to watch rather than suffer next time.

Next up – probably a few half ironmans to get my racing fix for 2016 (I’d forgotten a bit how much I love it), fitted around training for the Amsterdam marathon in October where my oldest mate Dave and I are going to have a crack at something ambitious. And then hopefully a motivated winter and spring to go back and get it right 3rd time in Austria, which will no question about it be another marvellous Tri Spirit outing.

Autumn/Winter/Spring 2015/16

A brief recap of what happened between IM Copenhagen last August, and IM Austria last weekend (report to follow after this)

• An attempt at Olympic distance PB at Dorney Lake – failed due to hammering it on the bike for a 38km/h average which meant run legs didn’t work
• Annual end of season bash at the Hever Gauntlet where I had a good race, even enjoying the swim, a negative split on the run and 24th place from 180, best ever placing in a distance race
• Chilham Castle duathlon, a favourite of mine and hoping for 2:30 but my peak had passed, bike was below par and I cramped on the 2nd run, coming home in 2:35

The winter was geared towards training for the Paris marathon but I missed a fair bit in January. I had the Hampton Court half marathon as a yardstick where I went out at PB pace with the wind behind us and maintained that until about 13km, after which I struggled and finished in 1:38.

After that, training for Paris didn’t feel good until a few weeks out when it seemed to click again and I thought I may have a PB shout over in France – on the day I held PB pace until about 30km but then slowed quite a lot and finished in 3:30, which in the end I was happy enough with. Beers after with the Runners World forum lot was a laugh. The event itself – excellent – well organized, a lovely course, and Paris in spring sunshine is spectacular.

Up next – Ironman Austria…

Ironman Copenhagen 23.08.2015

3.8km/180km/42.2km – 11:22:17 – Cat Pos 122/356

Garmin Data

 

At the start of the year, all I wanted was to be on the start lines of Challenge Roth & Ironman Copenhagen. 6 months later and I was targeting sub-11. 2 months further on and I’m now a little disappointed that I didn’t manage it at either race, but I really should remember where I was on December 1st 2014 and take satisfaction from 2 IMs completed within 6 weeks, and a heap of money raised for Bowel Cancer UK. I’m going to try to keep this report brief as I went into detail about the course in my report from 2013

 

Swim: 1:35:44 (331/356 in AG)
21 degrees, very slightly choppy waters but the semi-rolling start (it wasn’t 2 by 2 as advertised but some funnelling through the start arch stopped it being a free-for-all) made it pretty relaxed. I’d resolved to breathe bilaterally all the way through and did so, and in the 2nd half of the swim I realised I could see my hands out in front and started concentrating on hand entry, catch and pull. Result – a best ever ironman swim and I got a big boost leaving the water seeing that I’d made up 7 of the 8 minutes I needed from 2013 to go under 11 hours. 1:35 is slow slow slow but for me it was a great result (15 minutes better than Roth 6 weeks before). T1 uncomplicated and onto the bike.

 

Bike: 5:21:59 (81/356 in AG)
A similar ride to 2013, keeping a fair bit in reserve. The wind direction was different this time being from the east which meant that we didn’t get so much of a push up the coast in the first 40km but then did get some help across the 30km rolling section in the middle. It was there on the first lap that I felt a sharp stinging pain just under my ribs – I didn’t see it but can only assume I was stung by a wasp. It actually hurt quite a lot, for hours (and carried on irritating for about a week). Then back towards town, on the second lap especially the wind was pushing us back a lot – average speed dropped from 33.5 km/h at halfway to 33.1 at the end, some of that of course due to fatigue but the wind was due to pick up during the day and it certainly felt like it did. Conditions, wind and errant wasps aside, were very pleasant with a virtually cloudless blue sky and 20 something degrees air. Arriving at T2 I’d gained another couple of minutes on 2013, and decided to make use of the urinals (rather than holding on for a record wee-hold like I had last time). I reasoned that I had the time, and I would make up the minute by not power walking out of T2 since I’d had an extra minute’s rest. One last minute decision that paid off was vaselining my feet in T2 – I’d developed a blister on a recent training run that had only just healed up and I didn’t want it bothering me. It didn’t. Up into 173rd place off the bike.

 

Run: 4:15:57 (116/356 in AG)
Leaving T2 the noise was as remembered from 2 years before. I needed to run 3:53 for 11 hours – almost exactly what I had done in 2013. Here I may have made a mistake. My pace from 2013 was 5:32/km. Through the first 5km this time and I’m comfortable at 5:20/km – about what I think I may be able to run for the whole distance which would give me a 3:45. However, I’m also convinced that, just as during Copenhagen 2013 and Roth in July, I will slow in the final 12km, so I resolve to make up as much time as possible in the first 30km to give myself a buffer. It’s sunny, warm, and windy in spots, but up to 16km in I’m holding 5:25/km and building my bank on 5:32. In the second half of the 2nd lap of 4 I can feel myself slowing just a touch to around 5:30/km, and then I start lap 3 telling myself that this is where it counts – get to the final lap and you’re there. The clock is on 9 hours dead with a half marathon to go – 5:40/km. Doable. 

 

I don’t know what happened, but 5km later and it didn’t seem doable. Death when it came was quite swift. I’d had a couple of 5:40 kms so was slowing, and as I was approaching one of the little inclines suddenly the thought of going up those 20 or 30 metres was just too much. My legs were shot. I just couldn’t see myself continuing at 5:40. All the mental strategies I’d spent hours thinking about preparing for when this moment arrived, as I knew it would, just melted. I gave up and walked, and at that moment I knew that 11 hours had disappeared. If starting the run too fast was a mistake then I think it was mistake #2. Mistake #1 I now think, and regret, was to go into the race thinking that 11 hours was all that mattered. So when I started walking with 10 miles to go and I knew that my goal was gone, I didn’t care any more. I may as well do 15 hours as 11:00:01. 

 

Perhaps I should have just gone into the race to do the best that I could. A PB could have been achieved, and a better age group position. But I wanted that sub-11 and I was aware that I would have to gamble a bit to achieve it. I’ve read about not being afraid to fail, about elites who would rather finish 20th trying to win than finish 5th trying to finish 5th. I had a go and wasn’t up to it.

 

The final lap and a half was a mixture of ironman shuffle, walking the aid stations, and a brief period where I felt ok and had short-lived ambitions of beating 11:08 from 2013. Those ambitions died with about 7km left as again I wasn’t able to call on the mental strategies I had planned. I at least managed to jog the final 2kms and enjoyed the run up the carpet to the finish. 

 

A couple of memories stand out from the marathon – the woman in her 60s at least who was stood at the same spot for hours on her own shouting “you look so cool, you look so beautiful” at everyone as they ran past – I heard her shout it at least 3 times on each lap whilst in earshot of her. And then on the final lap when I’d put on my Bowel Cancer UK vest I remember running past a guy with a megaphone shouting in Danish – I could pick out him shouting my name and the words “bowel cancer” a few times. That reminded me how lucky I was for my legs to be hurting so much. I wish I knew what he was shouting.

 

That run of 4:15 was actually 116th (I also had the 116th best run in 2013), top third, and carried me up another 51 places to 122nd. 122/356 is actually a slightly better position than I achieved at Roth, and interestingly a much better overall AG position than I achieved in 2013 on the same course with a faster time (up an age group but even among the 40-44s it would have been better). I suppose the conditions were less favourable this time round – I didn’t think the heat was excessive but I did think the wind on the bike was less helpful than 2 years prior. Perhaps these scandy types don’t cope well when it’s 25 degrees-ish. Perhaps I don’t cope well when it’s 25 degrees-ish – maybe the heat had something to do with my implosion. Maybe I rode too hard (didn’t feel like it), or I was carrying residual tiredness from Roth 6 weeks earlier (no way of knowing). Was it delayed paralysis by wasp venom? (don’t think I can get away with that one), or maybe I just ran too fast too early (quite possibly). Could I have started out at 5:30s and held it all the way to the final lap where, with victory in sight I would have gloriously held on for a 10:59:59 finish? I’ll never know. Am I taking it all too seriously? Does it really matter? It’s supposed to be fun (it was, I really loved the training, the build-up, and the day), but then part of the fun for me is trying to hit a target. At least I’ve still got the target. And to take it back to the beginning, I realise I’m very fortunate to be able to do it at all.

 

Encouraging was the swim – if I can continue to improve there then 11 hours is very much on somewhere. I’m sure bike and run can get better too so perhaps 2016 will be the year. Next up, a go at Olympic PB at super-flat Dorney lake and then the ever so unflat Hever Gauntlet for some end of season masochism – I’m hoping that I can continue the swim improvements at both of those.

 

 

Challenge Roth 12.07.2015

3.8km/180km/42.2km – 11:39:27 – Cat Pos 230/607

Garmin Data

Challenge Roth was all about celebrating overcoming cancer. I’d said 8 months ago that being on the start line was all that mattered, but having had relatively simple treatment for the tumour and then being able to train normally after a couple of months, I had a lofty goal of 11 hours. I didn’t hit it, but I made the start line and then the finish in 11:39:27 – 7 months and 11 days after waking up at St Thomas’ minus 20cm of large intestine. I’ll take that as a result.
 
We drove down on the Wednesday and stayed in Kinding, close to Greding at the southernmost part of the bike course. From there it was a 30 minute drive to Roth and Hilpoltstein, where on Thursday evening we took part in the night run, an 11.5km trot from Hilpoltstein to Roth at sunset. That was supposed to be easy but ended up being a 90 minute run because our doggy couldn’t keep up and kept stopping. 90 minutes at any pace is not ideal 3 days before an ironman and wasn’t part of my taper plan but hey-ho, it was done. And the run was beautiful, along forest tracks. We met Simon Tootell for the first time that night, he was doing his first full-distance race on Sunday.
 
Friday morning saw me ride some of the bike course. Greding was home to the steepest and longest climb, 10% max for a few hundred metres before subsiding to a more gentle but not insignificant gradient for the next 7km or so, before a thrilling 3km downhill with switchbacks. I wanted to see what they were like and was glad I did, since knowing what’s coming, you can take them quite aggressively since they aren’t too tight. I rode it all at an easy effort, 40km in total, but was aware of aching hips which I attributed to the run the night before. I wasn’t too concerned, I still had the best part of 48 hours recovery.
 
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Ready to rack

I registered later in the day, and racked on Saturday afternoon, after Cecilia had done the Challenge Women 5k run in 30 degree heat at 11am. Seems to be a theme after the IronGirl run in Austria 2012 where it was even hotter. I also attended the Spanish language briefing at midday which the only reasonably timed briefing of any of them – a few hundred of us in the event tent versus about 2000 English and Germans who had to wait until 6pm. The main topic of interest for everyone was whether it would be a wetsuit swim – German triathlon rules are that wetsuits are banned above 24 degrees and 3 days earlier the water temp in the canal had been 25 but some rain and cooler evenings had seen it drop to 22 so relief was had by many.
Pre-race dinner was a superb steak and chips at Steakhouse Leonardo in Eckersmühlen with a non-alcoholic beer. I must be getting old.
 
Pre-race breakfast was taken shortly after my 3:45 alarm and consisted of 2 instant porridge bowls  and some Belvita breakfast biscuits. Low fibre and slow release sugars apparently. Off to the swim start where we arrived at around 5am (tip from the briefing, come from the Allersberg direction, there’s a queue but it moves). I saw Simon again as we made final bike preparations, and left transition at around 6:15 with my start being at 7:20. Conditions seemed ideal, it was chilly at that time of the morning but light wind. The weather forecast was predicting 28 degrees and cloud, with a wind picking up later in the day.
There was tension and excitement in the air as there always is at the start of a big race like this and I started to feel nervous. It’s one of the best feelings in the sport I think. After hearing the enormous cannon signaling the start of the pro races and admiring the magnificent sight of the hot air balloons rising above the Main-Donau canal I put on my wetsuit and made my way to the swim start. Show time.
Transition Pre-Race

Transition Pre-Race

 
Being on the start line was a triumph. I drank in the atmosphere with the cannons starting each wave and the huge crowds lining the banks of the canal and the bridge that crosses it near to the swim start and finish.
 
Swim: 1:50:52 (599/607 in AG)
 
What a crap swim, and completely unexpected. I had expected around 1:35 from recent OW and pool swims, but would have been happy with 1:40. As usual I lost complete track of time and thought that I may have been on for 1:30. I got hit a few times by people from later waves but nothing serious and I felt I was swimming OK, deliberately swimming the same line as other swimmers (rather than staying out of the way) so that I could get brief drafting benefits as they overtook. Sighting is easy being straight down the canal, back again past the start under a bridge and then turning at a final buoy to go under the bridge once more before the finish, so  don’t think I zigzagged that much (Garmin does say 4100 metres but can that really be trusted?) It’s clear that I slowed a lot in the second half, and it did all feel very easy, so maybe again I just chickened out of trying hard enough. Don’t know, but anyway, I was 15 minutes down on target race plan but reduced that deficit by 2 and a quarter minutes with a quick transition (2:46). There’s no stupidly long run to the changing tent or the mount point here – you’re on your bike straight away.
 
Bike: 5:32:46 (131/607 in AG)
 
The first thing I noticed was how high my heart rate was, and so I thought I’d give it a chance to settle, and to begin with it seemed that there was enough downhill to let that happen, but each time the road leveled off or kicked up a bit I was forced to work and my HR stubbornly refused to budge from where it was. After the superb 17km fast section after Selingstadt (where HR finally got a chance to settle) it was time to tackle the biggest climb of the course starting at Greding (at this point I was averaging 36.8km/h) with a nice 10 percenter where I saw Cecilia who jumped out in the road to take photos.
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Greding

I stayed seated and span up the hill and then enjoyed the hairpin descent after the long drag. The most dangerous corner for me happened to be in one of the villages where I took it a bit too aggressively and left the road, I had to unclip and touch down which was a bit of a shame as there was a lightning straight descent afterwards which I would loved to have launched myself into with momentum (on the 2nd lap I did and I think that’s where I hit my top speed of about 70km/h (43mph). After 70km I knew that the mythical Solarer Berg was approaching but I was a bit disappointed when a hill approached with some flags and spectators at the side but nothing like what I’d seen in videos. I needn’t have worried – 2km later the real Solarer Berg appeared and it was just like it is in the movies – a tunnel of fans with huge noise. These Germans really know how to support a triathlon, it is truly spectacular.
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Solarer Berg

 
Halfway round and the clock was on 2:39:34 for the bike – the same on the second half would mean a 5:19 bike and virtually all of the swim deficit wiped out. It wasn’t to be though – the wind that the meteorologists had predicted duly appeared and the 2nd lap as the temperature rose was notably slower, especially as the wind was right in our faces up through Greding, the drag after, and the climbs after the hairpin drop. Probably I pushed a little too hard in the first half and paid the price but I still felt good up through Solarer the 2nd time round and the fast sections afterwards.  I was happy with my nutrition strategy of 10 gels in a rear-mounted bottle mixed with water, jelly babies in a top tube box and the rest being water with electrolyte tabs in the top tube box which I’d pop into the water bottles I picked up at aid stations. This all worked well and I got it all down with no stomach problems at all.
 
T2 approached and I prepared by getting my feet out of my shoes and ready for a flying dismount, which they’d warned us against at the briefing (“you’ll be tired after 180km of cycling”). What did for me was not realising that the dismount line was at the bottom of a descent so I after finally managing to swing my right leg over my rear mounted bottles with about 5 metres to go I just managed to hammer the brakes and pull the bike back to avoid “riding” over the line. No harm done apart from a bloody toe and the volunteers grabbed the bike from me allowing me to get to the tent for T2 after 5:32:46 of cycling, which had moved me up into 318th place – a rise of 281 places. Thoughts on the ride – great roads, great scenery, great support in places, Solarer lives up to the hype, a bit rollier than anticipated but some hugely enjoyable bits on the downs.
 
T2 was efficient enough – the helper was great, emptying my bag for me and handing everything to me (bottle of drink to swig from, visor, change of glasses, run shoes) and 2:25 later I started the run.
 
Run: 4:10:40 (140/607 in AG)
 
Starting the run I was able to get down to my favourite pastime during marathons – maths. To begin with though I wasn’t thinking that straight – I knew that 11 hours was gone as I would need to run a 3:30 marathon (5:00/km) and that was never feasible. I needed a new target, and so a best ever ironman marathon (3:52 at an average of 5:32/km) became it after a 1st km of 5:19. The next 4km were tough, probably the hardest psychologically of the race as I failed to keep up to that 1st km pace. I found myself wondering what pace I could sustain in this early part of the run without blowing up in the 2nd half. With hindsight, 11:30 would have been the prefect target as it would have meant a 4 hour marathon so 2 nice round figures and an average of 5:40/km which would have meant pushing a bit harder – but I never twigged that until afterwards. Instead I settled on 12 hours – and when suddenly I realized I was through 5km I began to feel better chugging along at under 6:00/km, knowing that 12 hours was easily achievable if I could bank enough in the first 30km to compensate for the inevitable slowing down in the last quarter.
 
The first half of the run was pretty hot and sunny once through the forest and onto the canal up to Schwand at 12km but the aid stations were really well marshalled with volunteers handing out cold sponges, and I alternated coke, water and sports drink through each one. At one aid station I shouted “coke”, but there wasn’t any, until a few seconds after I’d passed through I got a tap on the shoulder from a boy who ran after me and handed me a cup of coke – I can remember pulling a huge smile and thanking him profusely in English which I hope he understood. Volunteers make races – they couldn’t exist otherwise.
 
I went through the halfway point of the run during the long 10km section back down the canal, where we were afforded some shade by the tall trees which made the temperature a lot more comfortable. With 22km gone I broke the remainder down into 4 lots of 5km, which themselves were broken up by aid stations where I continued to take on liquids, and where enthusiastic watchers held out hands for us to high five and shouted our names. 30km and 32km were significant markers – where I knew I was on the home stretch and that 12 hours was in the bag barring disaster. I wasn’t feeling too bad apart from the familiar pain on the outside of the right knee that always appears at this point of a marathon (hips feeling fine) and moving forward wasn’t a problem, but I was slowing now.
 
I left the canal for the final time ticking off each kilometer as it passed. I had a plan with Cecilia to see her at the spectator hotspot coming back into Roth with about 4km to go so she could hand me my Bowel Cancer UK vest. There’s a short incline there and that’s where we saw each other, I shuffled up the hill managing to mumble that I was very tired but ok and putting on the vest. The run through Roth is a highlight, I was smiling and hand slapping past the tables outside the bars that line the streets and suddenly I was approaching the finish and found myself on the carpet leading into the finish arena. I threw my arms up as I entered the arena and applauded the crowd as I made my way round the final stretch – stopping with a few metres to go to applaud the crowd again and savour the atmosphere before throwing my arms up again crossing the line.
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My face doesn’t express my happiness…

This was what it had all been about for the last 8 months – coming back from a life threatening illness to complete one of the most iconic long distance races there is, and although I didn’t burst into tears, I did well up as the girl hung my medal round my neck. She asked if I was ok – I had to tell her – “8 months ago I was in hospital having an operation for cancer, and now I’m here – I’m so happy”. I spent some more time just looking round the finish arena and drinking it in, this was my moment and I wanted it to last a few more seconds before leaving to get my t-shirt and bags, where I saw Simon who had finished in 11:03, great result for him in his first ironman. I didn’t feel like eating so got my stuff and then met Cecilia outside – she and Simon’s partner Maree went to get the cars while Simon and I went to pick up our bikes and reflect on the day before Simon and Maree departed, leaving me with a returning appetite which I satisfied with a large pizza and a large bowl of pasta in the superb Café Schmidt. We went back to see the final finishers and fireworks and got back to our gasthaus at around 1am.
 
The run had pushed me up another 88 places to 230th (11:39:27 total). That represents my best placing in an ironman, well inside the top half for the first time, and that despite a swim that I’m at a loss to explain, 15 minutes slower than I was expecting. Since the race I’ve been back in the pool and I’m at nowhere the pace I was a month before the race so something has changed and I need to work out what. The bike/run combo was solid – top quarter in both. On reflection you might say I rode a bit too hard and that 10 minutes slower on the bike could have meant a 20 minute quicker run but nailing that balance isn’t easy and although the run was a lot slower than I’d hoped for, I was strong enough not to have to walk and it was a top quarter performance. That’s better than Copenhagen where I ran 3:52 – and I think looking at the race as a whole then Roth was stronger than Copenhagen even though it was half an hour slower in total. That’s based on age group position across the 3 disciplines and overall, and I think tougher conditions – much hotter and that headwind in the worst possible place. 11 hours? – probably a bit ambitious for me on that course even if I’d had a perfect day with no wind and cool air.
 
What I’d hoped when signing up for Roth and Copenhagen last year was that I’d hit 11 hours at Roth which would give me the freedom to attack the bike full welly in Denmark and then see what happens. 11 hours in Copenhagen is now the goal – and I believe that it’s realistic, if I’m right in my assessment that I’m in better shape now than I was 2 years ago (it’s only 8 minutes to find after all….) – but I’m going to write more about that leading up to the race.
 
For now I can look back on a terrific day in Germany where I made, for me, a symbolic return to long distance competition on a day that, for a while, I thought might not come, at a race that every triathlete should try and do if they can – it really does live up to its reputation.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Here We Go Again…!

So here we are, a week to go. I’m getting excited now – I feel good and ready to have a proper crack at 11 hours. I got a boost yesterday when I went out for an easy ride but had a go at my favourite hill and improved my PB up it from 4:32 to 4:09 – great sign.

 

Breaking the race down it probably looks something like this – I have to find 8 minutes on Copenhagen 2013 to get under 11 hours and it may go 1:35 swim (7 minutes up on 2013), 5:30 bike (6 minutes down), 3:45 run (7 minutes up). That leaves 10 minutes for transitions where I’m normally pretty efficient so hope I can grab a couple of minutes there.

 

There is, however, no margin for error in there and a 7 minute swim improvement is not going to be easy, although recent swims have been encouraging. My swim volume is well up on 2013 too. The bike is where I’ll get an idea of whether it’s on. By the time I start I’ll be well towards the back, and that means I’ll spend a lot of time overtaking, which means a lot of time in the slipstream of others, which will help. The course is not as flat as Copenhagen but with 10 centuries in the bank this year and some hard shorter TT style efforts over the last few weeks yielding encouraging numbers, hopefully the smooth roads, light winds and race day adrenaline will see a time close to 2 years ago (5:24).

 

That needs to be achieved with a reasonably comfortable effort. The whole approach this year has been about building a bike base so that I can run a steady, even paced marathon afterwards. Earlier in the year I was wondering whether 3:30 might be possible for the run but realistically 3:45 is a good goal. 3:40 is within reach I think but I know well enough that predicting how you’re going to run after 9 hours is impossible. I just have to trust myself and my training, stick to the plan and hope that I can not slow down too much in the second half of the marathon. It’s easier said than done – but mentally I have a pretty good foundation this year and some great motivation from everyone that has sponsored me. I also have my mantras that have been with me all year – it won’t be as painful as 48 hours after a cancer operation and unlike then, I know that the pain has a definite end when I cross the finish line.

 

Conditions are likely to be warm – high 20s probably. This I welcome – it’s another chance to slay an Austrian ghost and show I don’t need cool weather, although high 20s will still be 10 degrees cooler than 2012.

 

And.. 12th July 2015 is my Dad’s 75th birthday. I didn’t realize when I booked the race last year, and so I’ll be thinking of him while I’m out there. Looking forward to having a few beers afterwards to celebrate!!

The Best Laid Plans – Hercules Festival of Sport Middle Distance 07.06.15

1900m/100km/20km – 5:45:45 – Cat Pos 2/8

I’d planned no races in the build up to Roth apart from the East Grinstead sprint last month but really wanted some kind of dress rehearsal with an open water swim so I found an event I hadn’t seen before and entered it a couple of weeks ago. 1900m/100km/20km appealed because of the longer bike.

The location was Merchant Taylors school in Northwood out in the NW London suburbs, a rather nice looking school which seems to take its sport seriously with several cricket pitches and a proper athletics track.

Anyway, the idea of this race was to see what the swim felt like, bike hard, and then run at ironman race pace for the first 10km. After that I would see how I was feeling. I also wanted to try the nutrition strategy of several gels mixed with water in a bottle, and other bottles of water with electrolyte tabs.

The lake was a reported 18.5 degrees, it felt very comfortable, and as we started I found myself relaxing into a rhythm. It wasn’t that long before I was on my own but I was enjoying this swim, and as I exited the water after 45 minutes I felt I could have carried on for a lot longer. A tick in the box for the Roth swim prep – even though it was the slowest from the 8 in my age group by a mile. But the increased swim volume over the last few months has undoubtably improved my endurance if not my speed.

The fun started on the bike. I had a sneaky feeling the bike course wouldn’t be marshalled so I’d entered the course details into my Garmin watch (would have put it into the bike computer but I forgot the cable). I’d also mixed 8 gels with water in a bottle which I’d put in a temporary cage on the seat tube. Wrong bottle, wrong cage – should have been in one of the Gorilla cages on the back, then it wouldn’t have jumped out 2kms into the ride and gone all over the floor. After cursing, I smiled wryly, my friend Paul had been talking about planning for dropped nutrition at Roth. The plan now then was to scoff the 2 or 3 gels worth I had left in the 1st half of the bike, and then stop at the 50km aid station to replenish.

Contingency Plan 1 – course details into Garmin – went wrong after about 10km, when trying to twist the watch round on my wrist I hit a button which meant I couldn’t see the course any more. As I thought, it wasn’t marshalled, but every turn was well signed and so I was no longer worried about going wrong.

I must say the bike course is a lot of fun. Rolling all the way but with no really big hills, a kind of less extreme Gauntlet but with much quieter roads, a mixture of fast main roads and narrow country lanes which twist and turn through the absolutely beautiful Chiltern countryside. Luckily a lot of it was sheltered by trees as it was a lovely sunny day (and thank whatnot not much wind) and I’d forgotten to apply sunscreen. As usual I was gobbling up people in front and when after 44km no-one had come back the other way (it’s an out and back) I was wondering how near the front I was. Then they started to come, and I counted 6 before the one junction that really needed a sign didn’t have one. What it did have was a sign from another 100km bike event pointing right, so instead of going straight on another few kms to the 50km point (and the aid station), I ended up going the wrong way before not long later another 2 competitors who had done exactly the same thing came back the other way and gave me the news. At that point I had almost 50kms on the clock and so, given that this was an experimental training session more than anything I just though that well, ok, I’ll have done 100kms anyway so what’s the difference. Then I realised my dilemma – I had no nutrition for the last 50kms of the bike and I didn’t think there would be much handed out on the run, so should I go to the aid station and do an extra 5kms? My decision was no – abandon Contingency Plan 2 – lets see how I would cope doing a half ironman on 3 gels and a bottle of sports drink. Somewhere between 4-5000 calories burned and about 400 taken in – how’s my fat burning system doing?

That detour did me no favours I realised heading back as I overtook a couple of people for the second time and pushed on. I had some fun on some narrow downhills as I nearly overcooked a few corners and got some bike handling practice in, I was enjoying myself, feeling good and looking forward to the run.

The bike was clocked at 3:17:31 officially – by no means an easy course and would have been quicker but for the mistake.

I had already come to terms with the idea that it would be a lonely run since I’d seen hardly anyone in the last 20kms of the bike, and for the first 2 laps it was. I settled into 5:15/km pace but it didn’t feel like 5:15/km pace on the road – this was grass and I really don’t enjoy running on grass, you just get nothing back from the floor and it’s really hard work. The first lap of 4 x 5km was tough and I wondered whether it was anything to do with lack of energy intake. I was thirsty – it was getting on for midday now and the sun was out, but ridiculously for a half ironman in summer there was no-one handing out any kind of drinks. After the 2nd lap which was as tough as the first I saw Cecilia and she managed to find me some water. I’d seen only a few other runners on the course all of whom had passed me and who I assumed were a lap or two ahead. On the 3rd lap my legs began to wake up but I felt a pre-cramp twinge so I slowed a bit – the cramp passed to my relief. I was passed by someone and I thought that this time I would try to hang on to him. He never got more than about 10 metres and I suddenly realised that I was running faster and feeling ok. I thought that I would try to keep this guy near until the concrete section on the final km of the final lap and then let him have it. It turned out that I went past him halfway through the final lap, and I was accelerating. By the time I got to 2kms left I was at sub 5:00/km pace and feeling fantastic, and I crossed the line in 11th overall, 2nd out of 8 in my age group in 5:45:45.

So a successful day in terms of pacing and very interesting that I didn’t seem to suffer really through low energy intake. As regards placing, I heard that a lot of people made the same error and some rode further than others before realising, so the results may be a bit skewed. As for the event, on the whole very good, spoiled really only be the lack of water on the 1st half of the run (for the 2nd half there was someone handing out bottles). The signage problem wasn’t really their fault, it was straight on and was just unfortunate that someone else had put a sign up pointing right. The transition area was really nice astroturf type surface and you could register the day before which meant much less to do in the morning, so I’d give the event a thumbs up.

So 5 weeks til Roth, I feel I’m probably just about where I need to be – I want to get some distance open water in at Leybourne Lakes, a couple more 100 milers, 2 or 3 30km runs plus some faster stuff on bike and foot, and then a 14 day taper. I should then be as ready as I can be.

East Grinstead Triathlon – 10.05.15

500m/26km/5km – 1:20:17 Cat Pos 19/104

Garmin Splits

2 months to go until Challenge Roth and this crucial final period of training kicked off with…. an easy weekend. After a killer 187km bike the Saturday before followed by a hard 57km TT effort 2 days later and then first real long run of 28km on Thursday, what the doctor ordered was… a race, but just a short one.

The East Grinstead triathlon was as much a social event for Tri Spirit Team as anything but I was looking forward to going fast for an hour and something and seeing where current fitness would get me.

First time I’ve done a pool swim and it was very well organized with lanes not too congested. I still managed to hit someone twice though, if they happen to read this, then sorry. Ending the 500m swim in under 12 minutes was a good result for me but still only 87th from 104 as I hit the bike. Target for that was 45 minutes for the 26km meaning around 35km/hour, and I was on schedule for that all the way round on a course that was gently rolling with a couple of shortish digs on good surfaces. There wasn’t much wind and even though it was supposedly only about 10 degrees, I didn’t feel cold at all. 44:55 officially for the bike was 10th best. The run felt pretty good, a not entirely flat twisty turny type of course through the town – I wasn’t looking at the watch much but knew it would be hard to beat 1:20, nevertheless I got over the line in 1:20:17 after a 20:21 run averaging 4:16/km which is about as fast as I’ve ever run in a race, 21st best. So pretty happy with the result, although this really has no bearing on how I’ll go in Germany. And as for the event, thoroughly recommended, nice course and very well run.

Then afterwards it was time to encourage all the other Tri Spiriters, some of whom were doing their first triathlon. It’s a great, friendly club and a really nice environment in which to get involved in the sport. Liz and Ali should be proud of what they’ve created, and I’m proud to wear the kit.

So now it’s on to the most crucial 6 weeks of training during which I’ll be nailing in the muscular endurance with longer runs, a few more bike 100 milers, some really hard shorter bikes and some long lake swims after work. No more racing I think until Roth itself although I am going to have a look and see if there is a convenient half I can do on an “easier” weekend. I’m happy with where I am right now, most importantly there have been no ill effects from the operation and I’m in a good place to kick on.

Loving It

So here it is, summer! At least the clocks have gone forward anyway, even if it’s still cold and windy, but despite the conditions I’ve managed to have a decent start to the year in terms of training.

This year actually started for me on 29th December 2014 when 4 weeks after surgery for bowel cancer I went for a 4k run in Fuerteventura. 2 days later I went for a 6k run and then on New Year’s Day Cecilia and I cycled a leisurely 50 miles up and down the island. The holiday finished with a 10k run and I felt no ill effects at all and so returning home I began preparations for Challenge Roth and Ironman Copenhagen, the idea being a 3 month total base period with lots of cycling, no fast running, and concentration on technique in the pool.

3 months on and the best news is simply that I’m fit with no hangover at all from the operation and I’ve been able to achieve what I wanted most of all from these winter months – plenty of bike mileage. For me, that’s where I think I stand to gain most (even though cycling is my strongest discipline), firstly because of the base aerobic gains but secondly because I’m convinced that it’s all about the bike – meaning getting off the bike having ridden strong but still in a condition to run a good marathon. The swim – given my 2 IM swim times it would be easy to argue that I should be concentrating on that the most but there are only so many hours in the week and so swimming, as usual, has lost out so far in terms of time spent on it, and the truth is I just don’t enjoy swimming pools unless they are virtually empty. However, I have had a series of useful lessons with some great drills that may, may make a difference (we’ll see in weeks to come).

Things are about to change a bit though – a friend of mine, fellow IM Austria 2012 vet Paul is a good swimmer, and he’s found a pool that’s convenient for us both before work. One really early morning per week is a fair compromise for me and sharing the session with a mate is a good motivator. Hopefully once May arrives it will warm up a bit and I can get to the lake for some distance swimming in the evenings.

Bike wise – 2 100 milers in the bank and a 3rd planned for Good Friday puts me ahead of schedule. Several long rides have been epic this year with wind, rain, cold and snow but one of my main motivating thoughts when there are still hours to go and I’m feeling shit is that no matter how bad it is, it won’t be as unpleasant as those 48 hours after surgery and will be over much quicker. And then I just get reminded how lucky I am to be out there doing it at all and the pain becomes enjoyable.

Running has been steady, unspectacular – with no spring marathon to worry about there has been no pressure to get distance in but I’ve been through 20k 7 times so I’m happy with that.

So now it’s time to move onto the next phase where it starts to get more enjoyable with some faster running and some power cycling on the flats and rollers within reach, once I get up and over the Downs.

Sub-11 remains the goal with Roth being the main event. I have a secret goal in mind for the marathon but I’m not saying until I know whether that’s realistic in a month or two’s time.

Most of all – I’m loving it. Triathlon is awesome and I love it.

A Nice Ride

Yesterday was a beautiful, if windy, winter’s day, here are some of those early year base miles captured thanks to GoPro:

 

http://youtu.be/60Msz3jY0ZQ

 

 

 

2014 In Review

With no ironman and therefore no single massive event to prepare for, 2014 didn’t have much structure to it after March and the Barcelona marathon, and that was reflected in traning numbers being down in all 3 disciplines compared with 2013, in particular the bike. That lack of bike conditioning  told I believe – and showed itself once I started running in half-irons. In the end the year was a mixture of old favourites (70.3 UK, Hever, Chilham), some new ones that may become old favourites (Leeds Castle, Owler), and some one-offs (Sussex Triathlon, Quartermaster Triathlon, Upton Triathlon, KMD 4:18:4 Copenhagen). Each of those has differing reasons for probably being one offs.

As is custom for me now, here’s a quick review of highlights from 2014:

Best Swim: Difficult from another year of crap swimming, which I’m vowing will be my last year of crap swimming. IM 70.3 UK went to plan and I enjoyed it so that gets the nod but swimming downstream in the Severn for the Upton Triathlon was nice so that gets an honourable mention. For the 2nd year running, Hever picks up the worst swim award – cold, black and sloooow.

Best Bike: Great fun at IM 70.3 UK again so that was probably my favourite, but breaking an hour for a new average speed PB at the ITU Open race in London was a good target to hit. 3rd from 111 in Copenhagen at the 4:18:4 will be as good as it ever gets but that was against Bromptons and basket bikes so maybe not as impressive as it looks.

Best Run: Not really happy with any triathlon runs this year after cramp spoiled 3 of them and I didn’t hit target pace in any others, but in March I was in good shape for the Barcelona marathon which was fabulous – a PB in a big city marathon and a real tough patch to get through after 30kms to achieve it. I must mention also though a 10km training run one lunchtime in November, a week after I’d been diagnosed with bowel cancer. I hadn’t tried to run fast in ages, was a bit bored with slow base running and so just relaxed and ran – not really flat out but hard. Result – fastest 10km in 2 years – carrying a golf ball up my arse.

Best Race: The stats will say I came 5th from 111 in Copenhagen, and maybe the truth is that I’m physiologically better suited to short races (especially those filled with beginners). It’s unlikely I’ll ever achieve a position like that again so I’ll enjoy it. IM 70.3 UK was a real battle and I finished that pretty empty after a good improvement on last year. Quartermaster, Leeds Castle and Owler all also really enjoyable.

2015, I’m pleased to say, has a long distance focus again. 2015, I’m pleased to say, sees me able to train and compete. There was a period when I didn’t know whether my goal races of Roth in July and Copenhagen in August were realistic or even possible, but right now the future is bright and I’m determined to enjoy the pursuit of sub 11 remembering when things get uncomfortable that things were much more uncomfortable and longer lasting in St Thomas’ that week in December. But having witnessed it, I also have the picture of the finish line in Roth in my head, and having finished it, the memory of Copenhagen in 2013 to inspire me, as well as a charity goal for Bowel Cancer UK – so 2015 provides plenty to focus on and be grateful for.