Wednesday, 6 November 2013

November 2nd 2013 Ironman Florida, Panama City USA - All Ironed Out

Those of you that have completed a long distance race will be familiar with the promises you make in order to trick yourself into getting to the finish line. Of course I made myself the hollow promise that this race would be my last, I was definitely all ironed out.

3.8km Swim 180km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 86oF
Swim 1:04:21 - T1 04:34 - Bike 04:54:18 - T2 03:17 – Run 03:37:45 Total Time 9:44:15
15th 45-49 Age Group, 149th overall
From a triathlon perspective this year had been a shocker, having bagged nearly a full year of Did Not Starts. Attempting to squeeze the required training into my shrinking leisure time was a recipe for consecutive injuries as my limbs took it in turns to fold under the inadequate preparation for the training load they were being asked to endure. I set off for Florida accompanied by my good friends Steven Lord and Dave Allsop, armed with a suitcase bulging with excuses to quit when it inevitably got ugly.
Standing on the start line of the swim I normally reassure myself I have done the work and it’s just a question of executing the plan but this time I hadn’t; I stood there striped of the confidence that brings, knowing I would fold, my only doubt being precisely when the moment would come.
The final notes of the Star-Spangled Banner rang out as the waves crashed onto the beach, boy was this going to be the best swim start ever. The gun fired and we ran headlong into the oncoming waves, hopping, jumping, stumbling (no elegant dolphin dives) into the waves, it was 100m before you could dive and link one stroke to another. The one consolation of the big sea was that it split the swimmers up instantly, 3000 souls floundering in the waves allowed the field to quickly spread out and find space to swim relatively freely. It was a two lap course and for the first time in an IM I found myself relaxed and actually enjoying the swim, amusing myself by timing my sighting with the cresting of each wave. In the last 200m of each lap, the entertainment was further heightened by the ability to body surf each surging wave to the shore - I momentarily forgot I was meant to be racing. I exited the water relaxed, bypassing the strippers (the wetsuit kind) on the way to the changing tent.
Through transition and unbelievably the volunteers by the bike racking handed my bike to me without me needing to go hunting it out. Over the mount line, hopped on and straight into the TT position, I was off, mashing the pedals as I started to pass the other athletes. Bugger, ten miles in and my saddle bag rather frustratingly fell off, I had no choice but to stop and reattach it, with 100m miles ahead it was not a risk worth taking - whoosh, all the people I had passed just flew by. Back on the bike and ten miles later I had reeled them all back in and was putting time into them.
IM Florida is a one lap bike course and the only hill is a bridge over an estuary; total elevation gain over the entire bike course is 400 meters. The consequence of a pan flat course and a start list of 3000 athletes is a draft fest. Things started off fairly sensibly as I was moving through the field but the packs of riders started to grow as they latched onto a wheel to suck, sheltering out of the wind. At first I would ride hard to get ahead of perhaps a bunch of ten riders but as the pelotons grew to thirty or forty you were taking on an all-out TT of perhaps three of four minutes, only to be repassed as they worked together, leaving you with the option of going again or falling back. There was no hint of shame shown by those involved, no gaps of 5m instead of 7m, they were sitting in hard at a distance you rarely see on a good club ride! I must confess that out of sheer frustration and anger, I perhaps too frequently offered them my advice on the merits of their interpretations of the rules. Of course, nobody cheating actually cares.
The bike course is boring, actually it’s really boring. No towns or scenery to speak of, few supporters and you are either riding on your own or watching another pack blow by. I watched the minutes tick by and tried to fill my thoughts with running and rerunning the maths on my expected bike split, it didn’t vary much though J. About 40k from the end I caught sight of Steven, now I had a target and a tail wind, trouble was Steven had a target and the same tail wind. The ride back to T2 was fantastic, I was riding at 45kph and I was nearly done, yippee!!
I had been cramming my running in the last 12 weeks (having had nearly 3 months of no running due to a calf injury) and had got back into some sort of run form, but, two weeks out from the race, I had torn my hamstring. As I approached T2 I had planned to pull out of the race and not risk re-injuring myself, I had a good day so far; BUT I hadn’t caught Steven so I figured on running until I caught up with him then stopping. And so the mind games began.
Out onto the run course and I settled into a very comfortable pace with a shortened stride so as not to aggravate the hamstring. After a couple of miles I noticed I was sitting at 7 minute miles and feeling pretty good, ok, let’s see how long this will last. It was a very flat two loop out and back run course and in fairness there was some support but little in the way of scenery to stimulate the mind. It wasn’t until the turnaround that I saw Steven and didn’t eventually catch him until mile 8, and I was running well. We chatted then I pushed on whilst I had the legs to but by the time I approached the end of the first lap I was in trouble. I was getting very hot and the lack of training in my legs was finally coming home to roost. I promised to continue to jog to the next aid station then walk the remainder of the race or as long as my limbs cooperated. I arrived at said aid station, took in a lot of fluids to cool and rehydrate then set off on my walk. It didn’t take long for me to calculate that I would be out on the course for a further three hours so I reluctantly set off on a slow jog. After a couple more aid stations I felt better and whilst I would not describe myself as breaking into a run it certainly was a respectable jog. The pact I made with myself was to slow if I started to breath heavily – that would be running and I had promised myself I wouldn’t run. Sub 10 was still on the cards so I cast that as my target to help get through, adding to my list of hollow promises as I headed to the finish line.
It was about as uneventful, unemotional finish as I have ever experienced. I didn’t discover who the hell I was, no looking deep inside or floods of tears. Just a job finished and I could now enjoy a beer with my friends. I did learn that I now have a level of basic fitness and mental stubbornness that can get me to the end no matter what.
In previous events I have concluded that a critical component of the sport for me is competing with friends and I certainly had that with Steven and Dave but I discovered there are two other important ingredients. The course must be something special and if I am to truly enjoy racing I must have done the required work, there are no short cuts.
Am I all ironed out? Am I ‘eck as like, I am now scouring the 2014 schedule looking for a race that ticks my three boxes, I think I have the outline of a cunning plan….

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dambuster British Duathlon Championships, Rutland, UK 9th March 2013

10k Run 40k Bike 5k Run - Temperature 3oC
Run 38:43 - T1 1:44 - Bike 1:12:25 - T2 1:26 - Run 17:32 Total Time 2:11:50

10th Age Group 45-49, 112 overall

I had picked this race out for three reasons- it was a 10 minute drive from my house, the field would be deep and it provided an opportunity for a work out at an intensity I simply don’t get in my training. When it’s not an A or even B race it’s easy to find reasons to not turn out on the start line. Things have been pretty busy at work so training has been compromised, my hamstring has been unhappy (causing me to be off running for three weeks and worried the race could potentially put me back) and the weather was forecast rain turning to snow, developing winds, dense fog and freezing temperatures. So Friday night I had my excuses lined up.
Saturday morning and there was almost no rain, low winds and the previous days dense fog had lifted albeit it was pretty chilly. Most importantly I was very relaxed, my objective for the day was to complete a hard work out and come away without any significant injuries.
I ran for twenty minutes before the start to try and ease the hamstring and generally to raise my temperature but when the gun went I remembered why I had stopped doing duathlons, 10k all out from a dead start is a pretty brutal way to kick off a race, give me a gentle 3.8k splash in the sea any day.
I got on my toes and pushed close to threshold but careful to keep checking my hamstring wasn’t about to pop. All good when I hit the turnaround and pleased to be towards the front of the group. Of course I mispaced it badly but didn’t slow down too much on the return leg to T1. Popped on my bike shoes and out the gate to start the 40k loop. I felt really good but kept a cap on my power, I was gunning for around 1:05 as I had ridden 2:15 at the Vitruvian (twice the same loop). Five miles in and my calves locked out, only released by me slowly pushing my heels down until I felt the tension subside – I contemplated pulling out as it was clear I wouldn’t be able to push as hard as I wanted. The only thing that stopped me pulling the pin and riding home was the fact that in ten years of competing I have only one DNF to my name and that was down to a double puncture. I eased off to a level that the calves didn’t completely implode and just pushed my heels down as much as. But it was down to me this happened, not on the start line in the right shape, running too hard on my toes, cold weather and no coverings on my legs. No wudda/cudda/shudda, my fault and I got the time I deserved.
Off the bike and into T2, unsure if I would be able to get my running shoes on but I sat down, gingerly pulled them on, rather pathetically rolled over onto my knees and eased myself up. No worries though, a k into the run and all was good on the calf front so I pushed on and don’t think I was impacted at all by the cramp, even managed a little charge for the line.
On reflection I was pretty happy with the result, after all, the cream of the Olympic distance duathlon world were there and as an iron distance triathlete I had acquitted myself well. Frustrated yes, but satisfied all the same. Might just put my name down for another one of these in the next week or so……

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Real Folksworth 15 10th February 2013

I am a ‘glass half full’ type so I will resist the temptation to match the tales of woe of the ‘glass three quarters empty’ crowd jostling for position on the start line. Since the middle of January I have tested my sorry ankle with a few hundred miles of riding and a reasonable dose of running and swimming’s all good or at least there’s nothing to complain about. The week of warm weather training wasn’t perfect as I picked up, and have been dogged with since, a chest infection but since all the work was comfortably aerobic it didn’t impact the level of endurance work I could complete
For good measure I completed a normalish week of training post camp finishing with a hilly 5h hour ride the day before the race. The main purpose of the Saturday ride was to arm me mentally with one more reason to let myself off the hook on Sunday when the going got tough.
So, with an array of excuses tucked under my arm I lined up for the real Folksworth 15, reassuringly windy, wet and cold – it wouldn’t be the Folksworth 15 if it were any different. Boom, well more of a whimper, the gun sounded and we launched headlong towards the first mile marker...6:04...errr, reckon I might be over cooking this one. Mile 2 was mostly uphill and then a quad busting sharp downhill..6:24...better but still a little too excited. I planned to work my way up to 170bpm but I seemed to have arrived at that within the first couple of miles, a bit early to be at ‘hang on in there’ mode but too late now, nothing for it but to hang on in there for as long as possible!
The next 13 miles drifted by as I battled to stay in the ‘hang in there’ zone, only punctuated by two runners passing me and me passing one. After the first couple of miles everyone settles into a pace and the finishing places are more or less set unless someone fades badly or manages the mythical negative split. Mentally I had decided to settle for 6:30 min/miles as a target, don’t know why but it’s a round number I guess and that makes the mathematical gymnastics much simpler to bend my mind round as the mile markers come and go. Up the final hill and a sprint for the finish? Not likely, I trundled over the line and glanced up to see 1:39 click over; just outside 1:37:30 but I was pleased not to have needed to unpack any of the excuses I had carefully crafted for a potentially disappointing outcome.
I love running races because, rather obviously, they are full of runners wearing skimpy running vests, running shorts and a runner’s race face. I smile to myself (lack of imagination I guess) as I stand on the start line feeling rather oafesque, in very obviously non runners kit but knowing that I have a chance of reaching the finish line before the majority of them. I am also pleased to report an odd sense of pride as at least two iron distance triathletes finished in the top 10, Paul Lunn and Matt Stephenson, ahead of 400 or so proper runners.
All in all a successful day out with 23rd overall and 1:39:04, a slightly slower time than last year but a few places higher, reflecting tougher conditions. I wouldn’t claim to be just where I want to be at this time of year but I am sufficiently confident that I will get there in the end that I have finally signed up for Ironman Wales. Work in progress.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Nearly Folksworth 15 20th January 2013

Every year for almost the last 10, I have run in the Folksworth 15 mile hilly road race. It’s always a shock to the system to be at threshold for 90+minutes but a great test of my base fitness coming out of my conditioning phase.
My 2012 season ended in Kona with a great performance but an ankle that was very unhappy, having been nursed through the season it finally called it a day. So, like every triathlete would, I gave it three weeks complete rest then ran a marathon, unsuccessfully. The remainder of the year was characterised by sporadic physio sessions, periods of complete rest, tentative training then more resting up as the ankle refused to improve. As Christmas came I was at a loss as to what would bring it round but, slowly, it improved to the point that I was able to start running again (bizarrely the ankle seemed happier to run than ride). My rehab. formula, coupled with the weather conditions, meant I ended cramming, with 70 miles of running (and little else) the week before Folksworth.
Whilst not excited going into the race weekend, I was at least confident that I had the running fitness to complete, but not necessarily compete. However, for the first time I can remember, the race organisers pulled the race on the Saturday morning as the course was a sea of black ice. I can’t claim to be too disappointed as I sauntered round Rutland Water instead of smashing my way round the race course. The good news is my rehab continued without the stress of an unnecessary race. It’s odd, I should never have really contemplated doing the race in the first place but a mixture of sentimentality and steely routine put me in a mental state that said I had to go. I guess its times like this that it pays to have a coach watching over you.
So, having successfully navigated my first race of the season I am off to warmer climes for my annual week of quad busting bike training with 10 other souls. Work, family and injury have all conspired to ensure I am the least prepared I have ever been for this camp, to the point that I haven’t yet entered IM Wales until I see how quickly I respond to the strong medicine that awaits me next week. I am trusting that five years IM training has hard wired some deep endurance ready for me to unlock with a little encouragement from Steve Lord et al. It would be nice to shift the 5kgs of cake i have accumulated over the winter as well.
All being well, I should be able to string together some consistent training post camp and be ready for the Valentines 30k road race in February. No more reasons, just results.