A Return to Blogging

I would say I’ve been too busy to blog, but better bloggers than me suggest not to do that, so I won’t.

Next Challenges

Well, Monster Ely Half Ironman is looming in just over 5 weeks which is the focus of some haphazard training that I get in from time to time. With a baby on the way, a couple of time-consuming projects at work and a Masters dissertation to get completed, exercise has dropped down the list of priorities (along with the amount of time I can dedicate to it).

This has resulted in a lack of PBs this year, and it also looks like I’ll be side-stepping Snowdon Marathon in October (anyone want my place? Give me a shout. There would also be a Travelodge room!). So with this lack of time for training, I’ll alter my focus on how to improve…

Lose Some Weight!

I’ve steadily put a few pounds on each year for the past 4 years. Think marathons and triathlons have simply stemmed the full effects that could have happened – for which I’m grateful. So step up Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald.

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I’ve been meaning to buy this book for a few years but always backed out at the last, sceptical of its worth. With claims that losing 10 pounds would knock a minute of a 5k time, it seems to hold true with ‘old wives running tales’ that I’ve heard on many a run with club mates.

In all it seems a very good book. I think I’ve calculated that I’ve got 22 pounds to lose to get into the ‘next zone’ for performance. A long road ahead. Perhaps the biggest eye opener was the simple diet scoring system that is used. When reading I thought, yep I’ll easily be in double figures for this. (The example in book moves someone from scoring a daily +16 to well into the 20s). I’ve been doing it haphazardly for the past fortnight and I’m not sure I’ve hit double figures yet over the course the day. Sounds like I’m very much having my cake and eating it. So it’ll be a conscious effort over the coming weeks to increase my diet score. Fat Percentage scales have also turned up and taken their place in the bathroom.

Bedford Olympic Triathlon – Sunday 7th July

Only other recent activity to really report on is Bedford Olympic Triathlon that I did last Sunday. Having done very little formal training but just getting out the door and doing more of less whatever I’ve fancied, I wasn’t too hopeful of doing anything spectacular (by my standards, or anyone elses!). I actually surprised myself a little.

Swim – 1500m (33:21)

I’ve done very little swimming this year, especially in comparison to this time last year. However I did experience a couple of technique break throughs at the end of 2012. My fastest mile swim was at Outlaw (assuming a constant speed) and that was 38 mins. This is a significant improvement. I honestly entered the water hoping to get out in 40 minutes. The swim wasn’t easy though, it felt long, probably due to the lack of swim fitness.

Bike – 25m (1hr 25m)

Again so much better than expected. I am faster this year on the bike, quite considerably. I haven’t done the mileage I had done this time last year, but I have been doing tougher, faster rides. At the start of this year I’d hoped to average 17mph for Ely Half Ironman. Having just averaged 17.8mph at Bedford, I’m not sure I could do this for double the distance. However gives me hope of averaging around 16s and you never know what might happen on the day.

Run – 10k (1hr 03m)

Nightmare. Complete nightmare. Legs felts empty at the start of the run, and I wondered if this was due to the efforts on the bike. Then my trainers started rubbing painfully on my feet. I stopped for 2 minutes to see if I could correct anything, but no. So ended up having to run on and just suffer. The 2nd loop (5k) was much better than the 1st, but I never got anywhere near any normal running speed. Thing I need to throw in some more brick sessions before Ely, but I’m not sure if that will happen. Thankfully though, no one I spoke to after the race had a very good run, mainly due to the heat. I cling to that straw gladly!

Total: 3hr 05m 39s

I had aimed for sub 3 hours. Getting off the bike I thought I was pretty much in the bag. I then desperately tried for sub 3hr 05m, but nope, that was too hard. On the bright-side though, I’ve remembered how much I love triathlon, so time to make time for this stuff again.

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Outlaw ‘Iron Distance’ Triathlon 2012

At 6am I entered the water to begin the day that had really started 7 months ago – the 5th of December was when training started in earnest (I seem to recall with a rest day, as all good training plans should).

When I entered this event towards the end of 2011, I was firmly starring the swim cut-off, 2 hours, in the face, I hadn’t cycled anything over 60 miles and my only attempt at cycling 80 miles had ended in disaster. Easy peasy then.

The day before I had ventured down to registration and had my first sighting of the lake. I would say I saw the turn around point 1.2 miles away but I didn’t. There was the slight issue of the curvature of the Earth being in the way. It just went on and on and on. After registering, I racked ‘Barney’ Ribble and prayed that my back and neck problems that had hindered my last month of training wouldn’t repeat themselves after all the rest.

The Swim – 2.4 Miles

I sneakily conjured up a plan to join on the back of the Pen 2 swimmers (Pen 1 was sub 60 mins, 2 was 60-80 mins, 3 was 80-100 mins & 4 was 100 mins+). I really should have been with 3, and perhaps even 4. My logic was though that Pen 2 had a slightly straighter swim and they’d soon be off into the distance leaving me a clear swim.

Any nerves couldn’t have time to come as I was too busy talking to Des about a rip in his wetsuit and what effect it would have on his swim. We parted to find some space, wishing each other the best of luck. Fortunately he was to get through the swim with no problems.

The swim was busy but not competitive. There were a few flailing arms, but no punches or unsavoury kicks, just everyone in the same boat attempting to find some space. What did happen though was the swim went on forever and ever. We approached a yellow buoy and I thought this must be the turning round point, but alas no. We just kept going and going. When we did finally reach the turn-around point I did wonder if I should just drop out after the swim, thats how tiring it was.

The return journey seemed quite a bit easier as I think the swimmers had finally spread out a little. I had been warned from swimmers the day before that the distance signs on the waters edge were still in place for rowers and bear no resemblence to the distance we had left to swim. That little nugget of information from Razor really was a life safer. Anyway, an uneventful swim back resulted in me exiting the water in 1hr 32mins. Best predicted time prior to the event was 1hr 30, with a more realistic aim of 1hr 40m being my goal, I was delighted with that time.

Transition 1 – Swim to Bike

I had no plans to rush this. I was going to take my time and get everything right. I was also prepared to slow down further today with the gained time from the swim. I dried and then put on my cycling gear. Upon exiting the tent I spotted the portaloo so quickly dashed into the toilet. Upon exiting I ran straight into the guy doing the commentary. A massive cheer from the Pirate supporters and any worries about trying to find my bike quickly vanished with just a handful of bikes left in transition!

The Bike – 112 Miles

Setting off round the lake, I went past plenty of pirate support and then saw Rox and John (@OgdenRunner) with a home made banner of ‘Ride, Plastic, Ride’.

Two tight corners at the end of the lake and my back wheel skidded out on each one. I cycled back to the start to find a track pump to do up my tyre, praying it had just somehow deflated whilst sitting in transition. Adding about 10 minutes to my time at the start of the cycle wasn’t the start I was looking for or needed.

The first 30 miles flew by and everything was fantastic. The Garmin had been hard reset due to a software fault weeks before and I’d forgotten to set the stats back up properly so couldn’t accurately determine my pace. I knew though I was going pretty well by the occasional glance of the ‘current pace’ time. But it was a lonely ride, I wasn’t doing any overtaking and plenty of people were streaming past me.

On the first loop we turned. Into headwind. And it knocked me for 6. This headwind was to effectively stay now for the majority of the next 60-70 miles. And I really struggled in it. I think this was partly due to a lack of bike training in the past month due my shoulder and neck injuries. Soon I was having to calculate what speed to do to make the bike cut-off time of 10 hours.

At around Mile 60 there were another couple of tight corners and again I felt my back wheel slide out. Finally I had to admit defeat and stop and change the inner tube. Getting back going again the next 5 miles felt quite a bit easier, presumably due to the better roll of the rear wheel, but that soon went as more headwinds came, along with rain and a small hailstorm. The Pirate feed-station and the amazing support scattered around the course really helped lift spirits and it was around Mile 85 when I was at my darkest moments.

Around this point I got chatting to a girl who said she had considered dropping out at Mile 40. She was planning on walking the marathon if she made it back. Like her I was also debating how the run would go after the battering my legs had taken on the bike. Every now and then I’d glance down at my Garmin and the miles just hadn’t clocked over. The last 10 miles took forever.

As I approached T2 a massive cheer from the Pirates support went up again. I think I told the person I passed my bike to that they could put it on eBay as I never wanted to see it again. The bike had taken 7hr 52m and had broken me. Completely.

T2 – Bike to Run

Again, a full change of clothes was happening here. What was funny was 2 young lads who were helping marshall in the tent were asking me loads of questions. They were asking how many gels I’d had, etc… They then asked how it felt to win the race? They seriously thought I had finished and had won! I felt sorry breaking the news to them, telling them I was nearer the back than the front. Still they wished me luck for the next bit and probably went off a bit disappointed.

Through T2 in 7:24.

The Run – 26.2 Miles

After getting rid of the bike and having the weight of any mechanical issues being lifted from my mind I felt much happier. I received quite a few shouts of fantastic pace, and cracking running. Looking down at my Garmin I was on for an 8 minute first mile. I thought I’d better slow things down a little. My plan was to run for the first half and then hold out for everything I could. I was going to aim for 10 minute miling, but ultimately take anything that came along.

Things were going well, and then at around Mile 10 the wheels came off big time. I felt very feint, was blacking out and couldn’t walk straight. I presume this is the wall that people talk of, or ‘bonking’. I’d just passed a feed-station and didn’t have the enthusiasm to walk the 0.5 mile back to it. Instead I walked around to the next one. Fortunately Rox was on the side for the final 0.5 mile and managed to talk me to it.

When arriving I ate and drank everything they had on offer – 5 Jaffa Cakes, Salted crisps, High5 drink, some Coca Cola and some water. I instantly felt much better, but made a concious decision at that point to finish and ignore any time targets. The remaining 14 or so miles turned very much into a run/walk strategy with the emphasis being on walking. I also made sure I ate at every one of the magnificent feed stations on the course.

Passing so many pirates made the run section go so much faster than a normal race. Even the lead lady (a pirate) gave a shout out to me. How someone can be laying everything on the line to win a race and still shout out encouragement is beyond me, but goes to show what a fantastic sport and community triathlon is. Fantastic congratulations to @emmasnews and thank you so much for your little cheer.

As I passed the finishers chute for the last time, the commentator came over again and asked how many laps I had left to go. All I could hear was support from the grandstand and I came close to welling up. That last out and back loop was quite a lonely run, but the support between the competitors was growing as everyone was in the same boat. I passed @Sidowski for the 2nd time in exactly the same place as the lap before so we were at least keeping a consistent pace on the run! @paintedrunner went by, but I didn’t realise it was her until it was too late.

On the way back I stopped to thank all the people at the feedstations for their fantastic support and efforts throughout the day. At Mile 25, Rox ran the last mile with me to the finishers chute. I crossed the line to the words of ‘Gregor… You are an…. Outlaw’.

Run time of 5hr 42m.

Overall Time of 15hrs 24 mins, which I’m delighted with. I thought I had a slim chance at going sub 14 hours if things went very well on the day, but alas a slight lack of cycling fitness, coupled with punctures and conditions more than just put pay to that. I think I could make a marked improvement to my run time though, as I feel that I suffered mentally during this section rather than physically, as per my 1st 2 marathons.

Plenty of lessons learnt. I plan to return to Iron distance but not in the immediate future. I have some other plans that I’ll reveal after a long recovery period. I think I’ve learnt though that the key to Ironman really is the bike. I can get to about 60-70 miles before losing the will to live on the bike. To be able to ‘race’ it, you need to know you can do 100 miles before that feeling sets in.

The other thing I’ve learnt is the power of support and what a fantastic community triathlon is. For a better written report of the wonderful support triathletes provide to each other, along with their supporters, see Sidowskis report of the day. Without the pirate support I suspect I wouldn’t have made it to the finish – so thank you to each and every single one of you. And thank you to all the non-pirate supporters out there too, along with every other competitor who towed the start line at 6am. Your support throughout the day was amazing. I can’t wait to return the favour.

Photos are thanks to John (@OgdenRunner).

Outlaw Training – Number Crunching

I did this little process just before Edinburgh Marathon last year as an exercise to try and instil a little bit of confidence as doubts started to settle in as to whether I could reach my goal.

Basically I look at the training plan and look at the total sessions that should have happened. I then look at the actual training and compare these totals, week-by-week and ultimately the grand total overall. For the marathon, I compared weekly mileage totals. For Outlaw I’ve focused in on training hours in each of the disciplines.

I’ve also got some little bits of information that I gathered over the past 30 weeks which are relevant to next weeks race, and I’ll be highlighting them here for either (a) the benefit of others, or (b) for others to let me know that they’re not as important and contribute some other ideas / pointers.

Swim

My swimming was near-on awful last year. I have to keep reminding myself where I’ve come from. In January 2011 I couldn’t swim a length of front crawl. I’m still not sure I can swim front-crawl now, but have proved I can swim at least 2 miles doing something resembling front-crawl.

My time at the Great East Swim 2 Mile (1hr 26m) was a little slower than expected compared to pool based times. There are a couple of potential reasons as to why. Firstly, the conditions weren’t ideal – there was a slight chop in the water and the wind was certainly prevalent. Also at one point I was drafting in quite nicely and then realised these people had gone pretty wide on one of the buoys. I need to hone my sighting skills and not got drawn into my own little world.

I think I’ve taken around 7 minutes off my pool based mile time this year, and if I could replicate that performance in Open Water, then my estimated time for 2.4 mile swim for Outlaw would be around in the region of 90 minutes, which would be fantastic. My Great Swim time indicates it to be closer to 1 hour 45 mins, which would still be good, but not fantastic.

This weekend will see me return to a lake I swam in last year to do a true comparison of split times. Hopefully this will indicate a time nearer to 90 minutes!

As for the training, well slightly difficult to judge. Fink swim sets were notoriously difficult to fit into the planned timescales. I’m down approximately 10 hours (or 13%) from the planned training.

I’ve been told that the lake at Outlaw is huge. Its a single up-down lap of it, so 1900m up, to then come straight back down. I’ve been warned that standing there and seeing the vastness will immediately cast doubt in the mind.

Bike

The main focus of my training attention. I’ve been told that mastering the bike is the easiest way to break the Ironman. I’m pleased to see that I’m some 45 hours up on the training schedule for the bike (or a whopping 43%).

A number of concerns still exist though:

  • Back/Neck pain. Nothing more I can do now. I’m not cycling again until the event to give it the best chance of recovery. I’m also planning on taking Ibuprofen in the hope it’ll do something to alleviate some pain.
  • Speed. My average speed has been around 15mph for my long rides, which is just good enough to avoid the cut-off. Outlaw has a reputation for being fast, so hopefully that will increase slightly on the day.
  • Punctures / Mechanical. I’ve practiced changing a puncture countless times, but I’m still pretty crap at it. A mechanical issue on the bike terrifies me.

I’ve also been advised that because of the taper, my legs will feel amazing on the bike. I need to be really careful not to overdo it for the first 30 miles and settle into a nice gentle rhythm.

Run

Surprisingly my running training matched the scheduled planned time exactly. I thought I had neglected running over the other 2 disciplines.

Apparently there is no such thing as a bad run in Ironman, just a bad bike and swim rendering the run to fail due to over use of energy and poor nutrition. I’ve also been informed that at this point of the day its as much (if not more so) a mental challenge rather than physical.

Final Week Training

So that is it effectively. The main focus is on rest and keeping things ticking over. An OW swim to compare lap times tomorrow. Another couple of swims next week to keep things ticking over, and a few very gentle runs. No bike miles, with the exception of a quick spin to make sure everything is working.

Training Doesn’t Work, M’kay (or HSV Tri, 11/09/2011)

So after completing my first triathlon last month I came home and decided that with 4 weeks until HSV Tri I’d be able to really focus in on some swimming, cycling and brick sessions to try and improve my time, and duly entered.

In the past 4 weeks I think I’ve made it to the pool once and ventured out on my bike a handful of times. I’ve also gone on holiday for 2 weeks and moved house. Training, its fair to say, has most certainly taken a backwards step in the past 4 weeks. So much so, I was tempted to do a DNS this morning and just not turn up.

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Early Start

With the triathlon due to start at 6.30 and the race briefing to be at 6.15 the alarm clock going off at 5.00am did make me wonder exactly what I was doing. Hitting the off button rather than snooze also left me running 20 minutes late. Getting my bike racked in record time and registering everything was going smoothly, and then I realised I didn’t have my timing chip on like everyone else. A quick dash back to transition to collect it before it shut and I was all set to go.

Swim

With a staggered start on swim times (with the slower swimmers going first, with 15 seconds between each swimmer) I began to rue entering an ambitious swim time of 10 minutes for the 400m pool swim. Into the water and I got overtaken by 2 swimmers, but managed to come out with a swim time of around 10m 30s. Transition was much smoother than last month and it took a little over a minute.

Cycle

IMAG0458Transition

Getting out of transition I went to jump on my bike and got told not to. The cycle mount line was another 400-500m away. This seemed to add about 3-4 minutes to the total cycle time which again I think went about the same as last month. I overtook quite a few people on the course, but similarly got overtaken by quite a few as well. It kept my mind pretty active though as seeing peoples starting numbers allowed me to work out how much time I had gained / lost on the people I was passing / being passed by. A total time on the bike of 47m 08s, but think actually cycling time was closer to 43 minutes, due to the long run/walk to the transition area.

Run

IMAG0456 End of Run Course Lap

The run was 4 loops of a 1.25k loop and my legs didn’t want to know. By about the 2nd lap they’d just about to come back to life and on the 3rd lap I was effectively counting down the steps until the finish line.

IMAG0457 Long awaited finish line

The Event

An excellent event on my doorstep (well, actually at my workplace) which I think is held twice a year – once in May and again in September – so ideal for monitoring progress. I’ll certainly be signing up for both events next year. Great supportive marshals on the course, and everything incredibly well sign posted. The staggered start times allow people to constantly be on the course.

They also provided an excellent little machine at the end which printed out the results once you entered your race number.

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Seaford Sprint Triathlon 2011

Where to start. I don’t really know what to write and yet have enough stuff in my head that I’d bore you all to death. When entering at the end of 2010 I could just about doggy paddle, I’d never been on a road bike and hadn’t been on a mountain bike since my late teens.

Arriving bright and early the registration was simple and straight-forward. I got my race number and then got marked up – 365 was ready for set off. Well, maybe not quite ready but I was here. Heading back to the campervan I put my bike out front to be all professional looking and had some breakfast.

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After having breakfast the event organiser came on the microphone to welcome everyone to Seaford and how great it was that since Wednesday this week the swim had been called off, but today the lifeguards had given clearance for the swims to go ahead, although at much shorter distances. I decided I’d better go and have a look at this ‘choppy’ water. Walking past transition I couldn’t understand why people were already racking their bikes.

The sea looked pretty bad and having never swum (properly) in the sea, this didn’t bode well. I also asked someone on the way back past transition why people were racking their bikes so early. The answer came ‘to claim the best spots to make them easy to find’. Good thinking, so I went to rack my bike in the best spot possible.

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After watching the Olympic distance swimmers set off and more than a handful deciding to come out after the 1st of their 2 laps my confidence levels with the swim were at an all time low. An announcement then came at 10am that the sprint distance swim was under review with an official announcement to come back at 11am, although it was doubtful it would go ahead.

The sun then came out and at 10.15 the swim was likely to go ahead. At 10.45 the swim probably wouldn’t go ahead and the event was likely to change to a duathlon. At this point I was gutted – I’d done all this to do a triathlon. However, at 11am the official announcement came through the swim would go ahead, although only be a distance of 300m.

The Swim

Making my way down the beach, one thing came immediately clear – walking on pebbles hurt. I walked down to the front due to wanting to be nearest the water due to the pain underneath (ok, I’m a wimp!). Looking around I then realised I was with the much better swimmers – probably the people looking to win. This really wasn’t my company but rather than walk back across painful pebbles I thought I’d just have to stick this one out.

The countdown began and soon we were off. Swimming into 4-5 foot waves and things actually weren’t going bad. Admittedly all the swimming lessons I’ve had and technique work went out the window – I was swimming for survival, not helped by people attempting to swim over the top of me. I was in with the most of the pack down to the 2nd buoy but then think I came too close to the shore line for the length back and had to deal with the worst of the waves. I also heard someone shout ‘Yuck! Seaweed!’. Thinking to myself about how fortunate I was swimming nowhere near it I then proceeded to go straight through 2 massive sections of it.

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The Cycle

So coming out the swim towards the back of the group (not really unexpectedly) I moved into the transition area for the bike stage. Getting my wetsuit easily down to my ankles, I then used my left foot to tread on my right leg wetsuit and promptly fell over. Much easier to do this sitting on the floor anyway. Helmet on, race number on, cycling shoes on and slow run with bike to cycle start line. Jump on and realise with an uphill start being in a high gear was probably the wrong choice. Fortunately the person directly in front of me made the same mistake so I pretended I had to stop abruptly because of them.

The course was a 2 mile loop, 1 mile going into headwind and mainly uphill, the mile back was mainly downhill and for most of it the wind carried you along. Needless to say I probably managed about 15mph on the way out, and then 20+ mph on the way back. Nothing much exciting happened – I think I did quite a lot of overtaking and the only people I really remember coming past me were the leaders.

There is a lack of photos from the bike section – I’ll pretend this is due to me going so fast. In all probability my ‘support crew’ had probably got cold and gone for a coffee!

The Run

Getting back to transition for what should be the easier of the change overs, I racked my bike, remembered to take my helmet off. Then couldn’t understand why my cycling shoes wouldn’t come off – turned out I’d only undone half the Velcro. Once the shoes were off I thought I’d reward myself with a mouthful of drink. Turning to run, I realised I’d somehow managed to put my left trainer and right cycling shoe on. 2nd attempt at running off in both trainers went much better.

I didn’t feel like I was running particularly fast but seemed to hover around the 8m 40 mark – which when I was originally aiming for sub 8s wasn’t particularly great. I did however have some strange stomach pain, much like a stitch which I couldn’t shake off.

 

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First Triathlon Done

So with a few lessons learnt, a finish time of just under 1hr 30 mins I’m ready to go again. I’m already eyeing up a couple of events next month just before the season ends before contemplating something very silly next year – more to come soon if I don’t come to my senses beforehand.

A Few Mentions of Thanks

Quite a few people need to have a mention here. Firstly – everyone that has donate to Isabel Hospice over the past few months – thank you very much! If you’d like to donate the easiest way is via JustGiving.

Another thanks has to go to my understanding wife who has let me venture off with her Father-in-Law to try and learn how to cycle, and has let me disappear most Saturday mornings to learn to swim in a lake.

Steve, the before mentioned father-in-law, needs a special mention and he ‘sold’ me the bike used. He also got hold of some racing tyres for me to use this weekend as my existing tyres have more holes than a sieve. Unfortunately we punctured 3 inner tubes trying to put them one, so resorted with just 1 new tyre rather than risk further punctures.

And also a thanks to my support crew on the day – Rox, Steve and Sandra who stood out in the miserable cold for 90 minutes.

A massive thanks is due to the lifeguards at Seaford who pulled out all the stops to get the swim to go ahead. I’m sure it would have been a much easier decision to just cancel the swim.