Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ironman World Championships, Kona, Hawaii, 8th October 2011

3.8km Swim 180km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 96oF
Swim 1:10:50 - T1 02:52 - Bike 05:08:10 - T2 04:06 – Run 03:17:14 Total Time 9:43:12
11th 45-49 Age Group, 287th overall, personal course PB
I qualified to race at Kona in May at the St George IM Utah. Qualifying relatively early in the season allowed me time to recover and have a relatively uninterrupted programme to build my fitness for race day. I had raced well in Utah and, making my fourth visit to the Big Island with eleven other IM finishes under my belt, I felt I had learnt a great deal about executing a solid IM performance.
Each year I travel out a little earlier in order to benefit from acclimatising to the conditions and training on the race course. This year I went out nearly a full two weeks before race day and come the morning of the 8th, I felt well rested and eager to race.

The surf had been pretty big all week and race morning it was a little easier but still not what I would choose for the toughest swim I would do all year. Treading water, we jostled for space and then bang, the cannon roared and we were off. My first few strokes were pulling bodies not water as 2000 of the world’s top athletes fought for the front swim pack. It was mayhem but eventually the physicality subsided as we hit the turnaround point. I glanced at my watch, 35 minutes; on track. Before long I was clambering up the steps and into T1, number belt on, onto the bike and riding up onto the Queen K, resisting matching the quad busting surges of the other riders around me. It would be a long day and patience would ultimately win out.
I focussed on hydrating well to keep my core temperature under control and steadily trickling in a manageable flow of calories to slow the inevitable growing energy deficit. By the top of Hawi (95k) I was in good shape and looking forward to nailing a good bike time. The next 30k is a 60kph downhill section to Kawaihae with vicious cross winds but not today, the winds were very light making it possible to stay aero and maximise on the gradient. With the heat and humidity starting to soar, I rode up onto the Queen K again for the final 55k and into the morale sapping head wind where energy and concentration can start to ebb away but I stayed on task, completing my best bike leg ever in this race.
I felt strong running through T2, in good shape to tackle the marathon. The first mile clicked by, 06:23, too fast, slow down. Mile 2, 06:40, still too fast calm down and settle I told myself. I slowed to the next aid station, took an energy gel, ice and some water and continued to the turnaround at the end of Alii Drive, 7 mins per mile coming consistently now. Back into town and up the infamous Palani Hill. I walked the aid station to ensure I took in what I needed then out onto the burning blacktop of the Queen K. This is the toughest part of the run course for me as you are still not half way and the road stretches into the distance as you leave the crowds of the town behind you. My pace dropped as the fatigue started to eat away at my resolve to run strong. My plan was to run sub 03:15 but it would be a battle now. I had given up some of my earlier time gains as I fought my way along the highway, finally arriving at the Energy Lab and the turn for home. The sun was directly above now, 100oC burning down but only 10k to the finish line with my PB target tantalisingly within my grasp if I held it together.
Ice, water, coke, water, ice, run one mile, repeat, easy when you say it slowly but I needed to stay focussed and moving. I fought the nagging voices off and kept moving to the line, finally charging down Alii Drive and the huge finish chute to record the PB I had been chasing for just under nine and three quarter hours. I was thrilled and emotional, the culmination of many weeks and months of hard training and hard dreaming!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Vitruvian Middle Distance Triathlon England, September 3rd 2011

1.9km Swim 84km Bike 21km Run – Temperature 13oC, Overcast
Swim 00:33:14 – T1 00:02:00 – Bike 02:21:08 – T2 00:01:38 – Run 01:25:15 Total Time 04:23:15
Winner 45-49 Age Group, 31st overall
It’s always great to race on your home turf so the Vitruvian is one I don’t like to miss.
Race morning promised for a great day, the sun rose over the lake and the skies were clear. However, by the time my wave started, 40 minutes after wave 1, the skies had turned grey and a light chop emerged on the surface of the water. It was a two loop swim and I swam hard for the first buoy, turned sharp left and established a good rhythm. The field was pretty spread out so I never managed to find any feet to draft on and by lap 2 the chop had grown, making the swim a little more challenging; no PB this year! As we headed for the exit ramp I looked around for others in my wave and it appeared there were no more than half a dozen in front of me.
Through T1 smoothly and out onto the bike course. I had figured on trying to maintain a firm pace throughout the two lap route, pushing all the time. I quickly passed a couple of competitors that were in my age group and settled into the effort levels I was aiming for. By the end of the first lap I had passed a couple more and thought I was probably in the top 3 but that I needed to press on to give myself a cushion of time on the run. I hit T2 a couple of minutes behind my target but the wind had picked up, a bigger concern was the two guys in my age group that had stuck with me and were now entering T2 as I took off on the run.
I pushed hard for the first 5k across the dam to the Normanton Church turnaround point of the 10.5k out and back route. On the way back I saw the first chaser, clocked him at 01:40 behind me, a small cushion that I couldn’t rely on if his paced improved and mine started to drop back. With a tailwind back to complete the first lap, I pushed on at a clip and felt comfortable. I clocked him again on the way out for the second lap and the margin was growing, good news! I stayed at a pace I could maintain, ticked off the second lap and into the finish chute.
A friend confirmed I had won my age group – in the jargon of the sport I had threepeated or rather won for the last three years despite getting older!! A great race and all set for the October World Champs in Hawaii.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Ironman 70.3 Wimbleball, England 19th June 2011

1.9k Swim 90km Bike 21km Run - Temperature 16oC, Overcast
Swim 0:33:31 - T1 05:24 - Bike 03:00:27 - T2 01:54 – Run 01:34:05 Total Time 05:15:18
4th 45-49 Age Group, 61st overall
Immediately post Utah I was struggling for motivation other than focussing solely on commencing my training block for the race on October 8th in Hawaii. Wimbleball is widely regarded as being the toughest 70.3 race on the circuit and the prospect of competing there had little appeal. However, having got three weeks of training under my belt, I started to look upon Wimbleball as an opportunity to have a hard swim/bike workout with a resolution to run easy so as not to disrupt my pattern of training.
The two days prior to the race were remarkable only in as much as it poured with rain and blew a gale. Much to my relief, race day morning greeted us with a light breeze and no rain. Not the balmy conditions of previous years but a good temperature to race in.
The well tested pre-race routine went very smoothly and we arrived at the water’s edge without any dramas. The horn sounded, we were off and I quickly found some comparatively clear water as I got into my stroke. Apart from a little hustle and bustle at the turns I was soon running up the 500m path into transition to collect my T1 bag, change and jump onto my bike to tackle the infamous bike course. The two lap 56 mile course took in a total of 5000ft of climbing coupled with fast, winding descents, made all the more technical with the debris and water on the roads. I worked hard up the hills and was conservative on the downs as my objective was to have a strong bike workout, not end up in the hedge! I hopped off the bike bang on my target of 3hrs, feeling pleased with the effort I had made.
The run course garners as much attention by commentators as the bike course, somehow managing to cram in 1000ft of climbing over the half marathon. The uphill sections were pretty long and quad sapping but actually, the one significant downhill, was insane, the most experienced athletes managing only a crab like shuffle as they descended. The course was composed of three laps and after the first I somehow managed to find my rhythm, completing laps two and three progressively quicker. Ultimately i crossed the finish line with perhaps my best running form of the race, a very satisfying end to a wonderful race. I can say without reservation that it is a VERY testing course, but very honest and set in beautiful countryside. I would unquestionably recommend it to anyone but not perhaps as their first attempt at the distance!
My finish time and position were way better than I had set out to achieve and had in fact earned me a qualification slot for the IM70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas. This was a real confidence boost for my preparation for Kona and a race experience I am pleased I didn’t miss.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Ironman St George, Utah, USA 7th May 2011

3.8km Swim 180km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 98oF
Swim 1:06:11 - T1 03:03 - Bike 05:24:56 - T2 02:20 – Run 03:29:47 Total Time 10:06:17
Winner of my Age Group, 45th overall
Broke previous course record of 10:24:09, Qualified for Ironman World Championships
Ironman is considered as one of the toughest triathlon endurance events to race, Ironman St George is reputedly the toughest IM course in the world; the race took me to my absolute limits and lived up to its brutal reputation.
The swim venue was up in the hills around St George at Sand Hollow Canyon, a beautiful setting for the start of a long day. Last year’s race ended here for some competitors with water temperatures in the low 50s causing some hypothermic athletes to be pulled from the water. This year the water was a balmier 62oF and ensured most athletes made it onto the bike.  The gun went off at 0700 and 1600 bodies collided, arms and legs flailing as I struck out to find some clear water to swim in. Within 400m I found myself able to swim unimpeded, proceeded to establish a rhythm as I made my way round the single loop course in the reservoir and before I knew it, I was kicking hard to exit the water. I grabbed my helmet and shoes, changed out of my wetsuit and was out on the bike course to tackle the 1900m of ascent over two loops.
The bike course was incredibly scenic, a mixture of deep canyons and sharply rising hills coloured with the reds and yellows of the local sandstones. The bike course is renowned for its spectacular topography and beauty, each lap finishing with a gruelling ride up The Wall, happily followed by a 75kmph descent. I had planned to pace first lap with a controlled effort and all went to plan, managing to conserve my energy for the looming marathon. As I started out on the second lap the temperature started to rise as we approached the middle of the day, at each 15mile aid station I was careful to grab two full bottles of water, one to drink and one to cool myself, staying hydrated was going to be critical in keeping my body’s core temperature under control. I continued to meter out my pacing on the second lap and was relieved to find myself finally spinning down the hill towards T2, having avoided any mechanical mishaps and feeling well hydrated.
The volunteers grabbed my bike from me as I hit the dismount line and I raced through T2 donning my running shoes, nutrition and cap. The run would be the part of the race that would claim the most competitors with almost 300 athletes failing to make it across the finish line. It was a brutal course, essentially a 10k run up a hill then turnaround, back down to the start and repeat for a total ascent of 500m, all in temperatures soaring close to 100oF. I had planned for an overall run time of 3.5hrs so I set out with a pace of 8mins/mile or better. The first lap seemed to roll by as I focussed on controlling my pace and staying hydrated but I knew the second lap was going to be where the race began. By this time I was pretty certain I was in the top 5 and, with the first lap completed in 01:38, I could reset my pace to 9min/mile to achieve my goal race time. By mile 16 it was becoming a mental battle to keep my feet moving up the hill as my core temperature began to spiral upwards, with little I could do at this stage to control matters. I clawed my way through each mile, one step at a time until I finally propelled myself towards and ultimately over the finish line. I was completely spent and really had no idea of my time or position; I just wanted to be out of the ferocious heat and to sit down. I was in the medical tent for nearly an hour in what resembled a M.A.S.H. unit, the medics stating they had treated more people in the first hour than they had in the whole of the previous year’s race. The course and conditions had taken their toll.
It was here that I learned from a fellow athlete that I had won my age group and was an Ironman Champion – I was ecstatic with winning the title, setting a new course record and qualifying to race at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Abu Dhabi International Triathlon 12th March 2011

3k sea swim 200k bike 20k run, temperature – 108oF
Swim 51:18  T1 03:24  Bike 05:44:33  T2 03:10  Run 01:24:30   Finish Time 08:06:15
2nd in my Age Group and 10th Age Grouper overall

What an amazing venue; the beach of a hotel that cost $3bn to build and a star studded line up of the world’s best long distance pro athletes.
I selected this race to test out my biking ahead of my IM St George in May. I viewed it essentially as a long bike with a bit of a swim and run thrown in which is exactly how it turned out.
The swim was great; two laps of a 1500m loop off the hotel beach, non-wetsuit for the Pros but optional for the age groupers and I, like most, needing all the help I can get opted for the wetsuit. We set off in waves of about 150 so it was pretty civilised compared to an M-dot race but the downside was that there were very few friendly feet to draft. It ended up being a 3k TT for me with a sprint along a beach half way round, quite fun really.
On to the bike and off into the desert, 40k out to the Yas Marina Grand Prix circuit. It was a hot and windy bike TT up the motorway to the circuit but it was worth it. I cycled round with a grin a mile wide as I pretended to be racing round, forgetting I still had 100miles of cycling left I should have perhaps ridden a little more conservatively. On the way back into the city we had the wind blasting sand onto our backs rather than into our faces as we sped to the turnaround for the second lap.
By now the field was beginning to thin out as I counted just a handful of riders ahead of me; I could now start to work through them. Quickly I passed a couple but then ahead of me was a shimmering empty expanse of tarmac with not a rider in sight and this is how it remained pretty well for the remaining 120k. It was no longer a race; it was a lesson in mental conditioning and battling dehydration and mineral depletion. Over the course of the bike I consumed over 10 litres of fluid, 15 salt capsules and 20+ gels which just about kept me rolling but the midday sun was unforgiving. By the time I hit T2 my quads had all but locked up with cramp as the fatigue and conditions took their toll despite my best efforts to stay in shape. To start the run with your legs already toasted does not auger well for a day out running round the local marina!
I broke into what can best be described as a hobble come run as I set off to complete the final, and my favourite, discipline. As each kilometre ticked by I fought to keep running with the bizarre incentive that the quicker I ran the sooner the pain would stop! I had planned to run a fast sub 80min 20k but it turned into a battle of survival and in hindsight, a useful lesson in toughing it out. The last 2k seemed to go on forever as the sun beat down but at last I came to the finish line; there was no triumphant flourish as I crossed just an ugly stumble and stagger then medics buzzing round to check I wasn’t going to melt on the spot.
I quickly found some shade, a bucket of ice and a pizza then things started to look up. A pretty tough day at the office, now for Ironman St George...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Valentines 30k Road Race 13th February 2011

I had done this race a couple of times before, once in 2001 with a time of 02:43:10 back in the day when I was newbie, 10kgs heavier and then again in 2009 with a time of 02:03:15. This year my intention was very much to treat it as a run with some company as Folksworth had been the fitness benchmark I needed. Racing this was only going to toast my legs and require a week of recovery before i could resume normal training. With the Abu Dhabi Triathlon fast approaching it was essential to remain consistent with the training; the physical impact of racing would not contribute to my performance there.
The week leading up to the race was a completely normal week training wise culminating with a five hour ride on the Saturday. Running with some fatigue in my legs would produce a useful training effect and help a little with mental conditioning.
I did feel a little pressure as I lined up for the start as it was a local race for me. My running club were hosting the event and a number of people, recognising me, wished me luck with a note of expectation in their voice. My plan was to run the first 20k hard to simulate the ADIT race distance then jog in the last 10k. As we set off I found myself running with a friend of mine and she asked if I intended to race as she was looking for a PB, so, very quickly, I found myself playing the part of pacemaker.
The first few miles ticked by at six minute miles but then we did have a tail wind. The course is rolling so I was pretty happy with that but, as we turned back into the wind, we eased off to six twenty pace which felt plenty hard enough! The 20k mark approached and I was cagouled into pacing for a further 2k before I said enough was enough. At 22k and a time of 01:24 I slowed right up at the aid station, grabbed a generous handful of jelly babies and slowed to 5min ks, a pace at which importantly, I could chew and swallow without choking. Sitting around 20th, I then had to switch the racing head off and allow runners to pass me with alarming regularity. It was a hard jog into the finish mentally, but I was pleased with my discipline and finished with a time of 02:05:57, placing 8th in my age group and 54th overall.
I had a great day out and achieved my goals. Within a couple of days I was training normally and focussed on ADIT.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Folksworth 15 Road Race 23rd January 2011

It has become a tradition/habit for me to enter the Folksworth 15 mile running race, having now completed the race every year since 2003. It has become a benchmark of my winter running work and where I am as a starting point for my early season training build up. The objective each January is pretty simple – beat the time for the previous year, but obviously this is a rocky road to eventual disappointment/demotivation.  Last year was a turning point; having got my time down to 1:33:20 in 2009 I only managed 1:34:04 – had age finally taken its toll?
My winter training this year had been significantly different from previous years with my coach insisting I taken a proper rest post Kona (he wasn’t happy about the Rutland Marathon). He then kept me ticking over for a month then we started work in December. The work though was running 7/8hrs per week but at a heart rate <120bpm. To contextualise this I have a steady aerobic zone around 145bpm and race IM at 155bpm, so, it is a very slow pace. The plan – run slow, focus on form and cadence. I wasn’t convinced but you don’t have a dog and bark yourself!
Leading up to the race it was a normal training week with around 20+hours of training under my belt for the week and just to cap things off I had a one hour swim race morning before heading off to the start line. I had no idea how things would pan out but I was mentally prepared for a slow race, it was only to be expected. I was 4 kilos over race weight just to put a bit more lead in my stride.
I had planned to run the first couple of miles at my target race pace, around 6 min/mile, and take stock to see how I felt. So, the gun went and off we sped, first mile 6:02, second mile 6:03 and still feeling pretty relaxed. It was cold and windy but dry so conditions were manageable. I resolved to keep at this pace until I couldn’t sustain it any longer, then fall back to maybe 7s. At this point I was 12th with no one in front in realistic striking distance and the runners behind didn’t seem to closing, hang on at this pace and it would be a great result but could I?
As the miles ticked by I was just waiting for my endurance to fade and for me to finally have to back off and run it in at still a respectable time. But I focussed on form, fast cadence (I averaged 94 for the entire run) and remained relaxed, smiling whenever I felt a grimace appearing on my face. Mile 11 marks the end of the hills bar one, with a relatively flat run to the finish line. As I saw the mile 11 marker I knew I could nail the run in a good time, the splits had me on track for a time comparable to the last two years. Head up, I pushed on, each mile split building my confidence that my endurance would hold up. One sharp, short hill in the last mile then a hard run to the finish line. As I crossed the line, like any good runner, i looked down at my watch and captured the time – 01:33:03, not the best finish line photo but who cares.
So, a course PB for me, 12th overall and age group win – a fantastic and completely unexpected result. A real boost to my confidence and endorsement of the programme my coach set me. Now to start the build for IMSG in May.