Friday, 12 June 2020

Lockdown life

First time to Ditchling, in a loooong time!
Everything and everyone, is in this strange limbo hinterland; not quite work; not quite holiday; not quite quarantine. I should be slap-bang in the middle of Ironman training and climbing the periodisation hill towards glory in Copenhagen. But I’m not and while I’m well and truly over the disappointment of not going to Copenhagen, trying to remain focussed with any type of training has been hard, as one by one, the likelihood of any events happening this season becomes evermore remote. My hope was that I might be able to get in a 50 mile, 100 mile or 12 hour time trial in before the end of the season as tting seemed the most likely type of event that could be socially distanced, but even that now seems unlikely, as bit by bit, events get pushed back.  

So, we’re all base training for next year. I have a feeling that a lot of amateur athletes are going to be breaking all sorts of PB’s next year, with an 18 month base phase laid down. Slowly and surely, MAMILs and MAWILs all over the globe are developing enormous engines ready to race. Hopefully, I will be one of them.

I have gone back to focussing solely on TrainerRoad. While Zwift was fun and engaging for a month or so, I was caught between two stools, where my volume had gone up but I wasn’t able to make the quality sessions count. As a result, my last FTP test saw me drop a few watts, which indicated that I was overreaching. So, back to 4 rides a week, three on the turbo following the TR Sweetspot base plan and a long ride at the weekend for a bit of aerobic base and catching up with friends. That has been the best thing over the last few weeks. I’d been a few medium-long rides solo, but with the government allowing small groups to meet up, I was able to ride with Simon and Dale again, for a long Sunday ride.

This was a great tonic and my work over the last few months was evident; for once, towing Simon around a long ride to Ditchling and then hanging onto Dale’s wheel for 50 odd miles, last Sunday, with him pumping out silly big watts while I hunkered down and hung on tight. Just getting some proper, long miles in the bank, while the sun was shining, and catching up with mates, made a massive difference to my mood. There’s only so many Zoom quizzes that you can do with friends and family, before the novelty starts to wear off.

Living in the Borough of Kingston, which is one of the mini-Holland areas, we’ve seen a very big bump in bicycle use during the lockdown. We managed to get a second  hand bike for Mrs W, and spent a lovely couple of hours, heading towards Bushy Park, now closed to traffic and hitting a few other cycle paths. In really big news, Mrs W cycled to the shops for the first time today, which is pretty cool. Maybe, some things are changing for the better.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Virtual Racing

Over the Easter break I ended up having a couple of monster weeks, with 20+ hours of training per week. That was made up of 15 hours a week of turbo work and 5-6 hours of walking with Sue. After the second week I was absolutely shattered. To be honest, if just crept up on me. Quite a few of the guys and gals on Tritalk were getting heavily involved in Zwift as well as a few clubmates and I got caught up in the excitement. While work has been busy during the lockdown period, with a lot less commuting and other work commitments it's been very easy to get onto the turbo and work on my ftp.

My week has evolved as Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays being TrainerRoad sweetspot or threshold sessions, while Tuesdays and Thursdays have been steady club group rides on Zwift, with a longer ride on Sunday. it seems to be working and the mix of Zwift and TrainerRoad has kept things interesting.

Two weeks ago, I ended up doing The Uber Pretzel, one of the longer rides on Zwift. I thought it would take me around 4 hours, but in the end it was around 5. I even had a coffee stop at 2 hours, so the proceeding 3 became my longest ever continuous stint on a turbo. My gooch took a bit of a battering, but Zwift most definitely makes the time go by a lot more quickly than it normally would.

I dialled it down last Sunday, with a much more manageable 2.5 hours, riding The Hilly Route. It was quite cool, when riding up the volcano, I ended up in a group with Ritchie Porte, Wout Poels, Cam Wurf and few other Trek Segafredo riders, who were doing some gentle Zwift miles. I know that it was only in a virtual world and I was only riding alongside their avatars, but it was still quite cool.
Leading Ritchie Porte out, up the volcano #fanboy

So with quite a few hours under my belt, I decided  to skip the club ride last night and encourage a couple of clubmates to ride a crit race with me. 12 laps of a short, flat loop, which should take about an hour. It was a real blast. I managed to get into a group of about 15 riders, running in about 30th place of 90 or so riders and over the course of 9 laps or so, that slowly whittled down to 7 of us. In Zwift racing, powerups are quite key and I got a ghost powerup at halfway, which I decided to keep until the end. the ghost allows you to disappear for 10 seconds so the other riders cannot see your avatar and my plan was to use the downhill section to kick off the front of the group and get a gap, to hopefully hold until the line. It almost worked; but not quite! I put in my kick and got a gap, but not big enough to get away fully, so 2 other riders pipped me on the line. I simply don't have the big power numbers to be a sprinter. Anyway, top 10 in my category, which was nice.

All that said, I ended up averaging over 300 watts for well over 20 minutes and my ftp bumped from 274 to 285watts! Only 3 watts down on my all time ftp best. Even better, I know there is still quite a bit more to come and a 300watt ftp actually looks achievable. Stoked!
Getting there, bit by bit

Sunday, 12 April 2020

What are you training for?

1 outdoor ride in a month
My daily exercise has consisted of a family walk and a visit to the #palaceofpower, for a Trainerroad or Zwift session. I’ve quite a few club mates and friends who are out doing 50 odd miles on the bike, but that’s just not for me. Some of them don’t have a turbo and are living on their own, so I fully understand getting out for a ride for their own sanity and well being, but I’ve got a turbo and I don’t need to be outside on a bike, so I’m happy to do all my riding on a turbo. The one exception was a gentle 40 minute spin with little wheezy, her first ride on a road bike. I think we saw a handful of cars, the whole ride. It was actually quite lovely.

But knowing that I’m going to be spending a lot more time on the turbo, I’ve had a massive clear up and clear out and tried to make my setup much more user friendly. The palace is in fact, our garden shed, admittedly, a relatively spacious one, but a shed, nonetheless. It’s very damp and cold in the winter and very hot and airless in the summer, and with the weather turning as we hit this Easter weekend, I needed to set about making it as comfortable and ergonomic as possible.

So, after clearing a lot of space, I’ve now set things up so that my iPad is easier to see.  I bought a fan from Amazon, which has a remote control so I can set it just so, depending on how much power I’m kicking out. The low setting is fine for when I’m noodling along,  high for the VO2 max interval efforts. My head is pretty close so I’ve got a really good airflow over my body, and as I’ve now placed my turbo by the windows, I can have them open too, so that I have a good airflow going through the space.  I’ve screwed a bottle cage to the wall, so that I can get my fluids a lot more easily and bought a 4 way extension lead which also has 4 USB ports, so I can keep my iPad and phone charged up as well as charging Garmins and lights too. I even bought myself a proper riser block for the front wheel, having finally got rid of the 2015 edition Next catalogue, high over the years has got lower and lower as pages got torn off.

It’s sooooo much better with this setup and just means I’m hopping onto my bike and not having to set things up to get going. It goes without saying that within 30 minutes of me completing this, on my next ride, my turbo broke and got a puncture! The knob that pushes the roller against the tyre sheared off in my hand; I’ve ordered a new one and I can just about get it to work until it arrives next week. Vexing though!
As of writing, I’ve ridden over 200 miles on the turbo, this week.  Most of that has been while chatting to club mates, but I did give my first Zwift race a go. I started at the back and decided to hop my way through the field and see how far up I could get. I ended up 27/125, so pretty chuffed and ended up pushing some quite large watts for almost an hour. I’m really noticing the effect of having a fan, as my rpe is so much lower for the given watts.

A couple of weeks ago, I ended up deleting all of my planned races from my Training Peaks account. The homepage then went from telling me that Ironman Copenhagen would be in 16 weeks to ‘What are you training for?’ That question can be answered in two different ways, so now I’ve had some thinking time, I can now answer them.

What are you training for?
I’m training to stay fit; keep my weight in check; catch up with friends through Zwift and Strava; build my ftp; keep my immune system strong. For the foreseeable future, this is the most important ‘What am I training for?’ Just keeping a sense of balance and purpose while we go through these crazy times.

What are you training for?
Next year is the London-Edinburgh-London audax and I’ve wanted to do this for a while. It’s every 4 years, so it doesn’t come around too often. It’s next July, so will fit in with the school holidays and work. Being a member of Audax Uk, I should get a guaranteed entry, but if for some reason, I can’t , then there is also the London-Lands End-London audax, which would be a great substitute.
As this will mean preparing for going long, I’m also going to focus on 100 mile time trials, and see if I can go under 4 hours. Tbh, this is a massive stretch target. My 50m pb (1hr57), set a few years ago would suggest that it’s possible, but possible and probable are two very different things. I just don’t think I’m going to have the time or space to do a long course triathlon next year; I think I would just be spreading myself too thin, and with the 100m TT target, there will be a number of opportunities in the course of the season to have a go, so I won’t be putting all my eggs in one basket.

2020, from a racing point of view, now seems a complete write-off, but I can use this time wisely to have a stonking 2021.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

That escalated quickly

My last post seems, literally, like it was different in a different time, in a different world. How everything has unravelled since then, with Ironman, injuries, cycling, ftp values and the like, seeming so irrelevant and frankly, quite a bit indulgent.  But, this blog has always been about those self-indulgent things and let’s face it, it doesn’t get much more indulgent than a middle age, middle of pack athlete writing a blog. A lot has changed.

I’m not now doing Ironman Copenhagen. Although not cancelled, yet, I really can’t see how it is going to go ahead. I sincerely hope it does, as I know of a few athletes who have sunk a lot of money into going already, with accommodation and flights booked, not just for them but for family too. Those for whom it would be their first IM, it is particularly tough. But my situation is very different. I don’t need to tick the ‘completion’ box; I’ve been there and done that, twice.  Copenhagen, for me, was always about proving to myself that I could put together a performance that I would be proud of and with this summer now being so disrupted, even if it does go ahead, it was the right decision for me to withdraw. 

The last couple of weeks have been beyond strange. Work was insanely busy and frenetic and like most people, training went from being very important, as a glue that held my days together and gave me a massive focus for this summer, to not being important at all. I had reached an all time high TSS, very nearly hitting the magical 100, and I was just about managing the load; getting lighter, getting faster. 

Luckily, my lack of organisation helped me out. My passport had recently run out, so I had not been able to book any flights and by the time it arrived, three weeks ago, it seemed crazy to fork out £250 on flights to an event that seemed very unlikely. Although I had booked accommodation, I could cancel without incurring a fee. The only fly in the ointment was losing 50% of the entry fee, a not insignificant sum. Why not defer until next year, I hear you ask? Well, Copenhagen doesn’t fit in with other family stuff and while there are other Ironman events throughout the year, as things stand, I’m not sure what 2021 will entail. I have a few ideas, but I will leave that for another post. 

The last couple of weeks have been a readjustment.  Instead of full on Ironman training, I’ve been focussing on a daily fitness session, while I figured out what I wanted to do. Running has been replaced with a walk with Sue, chewing the cud and using our Government allowed exercise time to catch up and chill out. With the lockdown in full effect, my turbo and TrainerRoad subscription is coming to the form, but I’ve also spent quite a bit of time on Zwift in my new and improved #palaceofpower. With absolutely no racing I the pipeline for the foreseeable future, I’ve decided to do nothing except improve my power to weight ratio. I’m still got my weight at around 70kg so the plan is to get back onto a TrainerRoad plan with a bit of Zwift racing and see if I can get my ftp over 300 watts. With my power pb being 288, this is going to be tough, but at the moment, I’ve got nothing better to do. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Hampton Court Half 2020

Happy chappy. Mad hair.
I’ve continued with my vegan eating and my weight has stabilised at 70kg, which is perfect. As I’ve stated last post, I’m lighter and leaner and feeling better for it, so I’m happy to continue with this eating regime. I think I’ve got over not being able to eat a bar of fruit and nut and continue to explore new foods and recipes.

So I went into the 2020 HCH feeling much fitter than I had in a while; well, run fit anyway. I was hoping for something between 1:28 to 1:30hrs and bearing in mind the fact I wasn’t focussing solely on running, this would be a good result for me and let me continue training the following week.

I can’t remember now which storm it was, that was blowing through that weekend, but while most of the rain had finished, it was still very blustery and therefore pacing would be hard. As usual, I put myself in what I thought was the race pen only to find myself swamped by other, slower runners as the countdown began. But after the Royal Parks Half late last year where I went out too hard in the first 5 miles, I was determined to pace this one better. The first little loop around Thames Dutton had that familiar feel of the Charge of the Light Brigade with everyone hitting the first 800 meters quite hard, but I let everyone go and started to find my own space, which was quite hard on some of the narrow, single lane paths early on.

As we turned onto the Portsmouth Road which was the long leg to the top of the course, the wind was now gently pushing us along and I made sure I was holding back, not getting carried away. Gradually the field thinned out and I found myself in a little group, exchanging the odd word here and there, before we got to the turn loop up by Ham. Although we were now into wind, this bit was quite sheltered until we got to Kingston Bridge and it now felt we were running into a wind tunnel.  Although feeling strong, it was like a hand on my chest, physically holding me back. I thought my luck was in as I was running with a chap who was well over 6 feet tall, so I snuck in behind him, only to find he was running just a bit too slowly for me, so I reluctantly pulled aside and started to motor ahead.

The drag back along the Thames footpath seemed to take much longer and I started to wonder if I’d blown it. I hadn’t been doing too many checks on my Garmin, preferring to run to rpe, but the headwind was now really starting to bite, despite my conservative start. In the last couple of miles I started to be overtaken by a few other runners so it was about the mental battle of trying to keep my pace up, without dying too much.  As luck would have it, I got into a bit of a battle with another chap (we both looked in the same age group so I think we were quite aware of trying to get in front of each other; as it turned out we were battling for a lowly 42nd place in AG!). With 800 meters to go I managed to get my nose in front and cross the line in 1:27:58, so bang on target. I think had the wind been lower, there may have been another 45 to 60 seconds to come off that, so, yes, I was pretty chuffed.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020


Ironman racing and triathlon in general, is hardly a cheap sport. Bikes, wetsuits, running shoes, Garmins; it's all just so expensive. I have more pieces of footwear devoted to triathlon training than Imelda Marcos ever had. Triathletes talk about 'free speed', but in my experience, free speed costs thousands. An £800 disc wheel that will give you 10 minutes over an IM bike leg; a pair of £240 Nike Vapourflys that will give you an extra 8 minutes; the list goes on. There is however, one, genuine way to attain free speed and that's to lose weight and I had some to lose.

My weight traditionally hovers around 75kgs and while I have a slim frame, I do sometimes get a bit of a tummy and this got more pronounced when I was bike focussed a few years ago. So while 75kgs is not exactly overweight, it's also not light either. Losing a few kgs would help increase my bike watts/kg and make running easier at a lower rpe, so it's a pretty good target. The problem is, I'm a Labrador. I love food and eating and doing 12 hours of training in the week keeps things just about in check, but it is far from optimal. The old saying that you 'can't exercise your way out of a bad diet' is getting more true as I get older. Having two teenagers who can literally eat what they want, doesn't help either. At home we have 'The drawer of crap'. Crisps, chocolate bars and biscuits make up most things in 'The drawer of crap' and my two are often delving in there. They can afford to. Wheezy Junior is playing 5 to 6 hours of squash a week while Little Wheezy does a fair few hours of dancing. Added to a metobolism rate that would make a nuclear reactor seem inefficient, knowing that it's there and coming home from work tired and hungry, means that 'The drawer of crap' often gets a regular visit from me too. So it's not just about what I'm eating and how often, but my entire eating habits. Eating late, eating between meals, eating very large portions. All this is kept in check by my training but it's not actually supporting my training and very slowly, the weight creeps up, year-on-year.

So' #Veganuary. One of those internet things where you sign up and go vegan for a month. I don't eat a lot of meat anyway, so it seemed possible, but bloody hell, I love cheese, cream, milk, pastry and butter. Those were going to be the things that I would struggle without. As it was, on January 2nd, after a very festive Christmas and a huge Chinese takeaway blowout on New Year's Eve with friends, I was touching the scales at 77.5kgs; a new high. I had spent part of December just experimenting with a few things, gradually reducing my meat intake and the like but the hard thing, as I saw it, would be replacing the things that I like with substitutes. As it turned out, there is now such a variety of mainstream plant-based food sold by the big supermarkets, that most things have been fairly replaceable.

My eating day, now looks something like this;

Breakfast- Porridge with almond milk, a handful of blueberries and a chopped banana. Black de-caff tea.

Mid-morning snack- 2-3 pieces of fruit / a bag of pea-based crisp snacks. Another black tea.

Lunch- Salad consisting of couscous, barley, fresh vegetables, a big spoonful of houmous, Sometimes including a small soup with flat-bread.

Afternoon snack - A handful of almond or cashew nuts, another 2 pieces of fruit, falafels. Another black tea.

Dinner- Usually a carb rich dinner, e.g. jacket potato, dahl curry, sweet potato curry or stew. More fruit or pancakes, small piece of chocolate or brownie.

As you can see, I'm hardly going hungry! As I'm still training pretty hard, I'm not holding back on carbs when I think I need them, but I've tried to cut out the starchy pasta and white rice and use the lower GI carbs instead. There have been a couple of days when I've felt under-fuelled, but with a bit more experience I'm now more in tune with when I need to eat a bit more. Ultimately, it's made me cut out the vast majority of the shit that I've been eating, although vegan chocolate is still laden with sugar!

I am finding that I feel more hungry between meals, but it's been about making choices. Going Vegan has meant that I can't have that slice of cake that's going spare at work, so I have some lentil chips or fruit instead. I drink a lot of tea in a day, so by cutting out milk entirely I'm probably not drinking half a pint of milk a day. I am also drinking a lot more de-caff tea as the taste is not as strong, so I'm sleeping better too. Double win.
I don't feel like I'm on a diet. I'm cooking currys and stews from scratch and having generous portions with lots of salad and vegetables. I genuinely don't feel like I'm missing out. So it's now got to February and I've decided to keep it going. Ultimately it was to help me to lose weight, and from that point it's been a great success. A steady downward trend and I'm now tipping the scales between 70.5-71kgs! A couple of days ago, I did a double training day and actually got down to 68.5kgs; I don't think I've been that lightweight in 30 years. It's making a noticeable difference in my running and cycling from two points. Firstly, hills are a hell of a lot easier, with me spinning easily for most gradients instead of the hard grind that they often are and the other noticeable positive has been my recovery when training. My weekend is often a 90 minute run on Saturday followed by a 3 hour ride on Sunday. Even if I take the run really easy, the ride is usually sub-optimal with my quads feeling tired and tight, but over the last couple of weeks I have felt so much better with it barely feeling like I have run the day before; it's quite a weird sensation.

So, feeling really good, training consistently and a few events coming up. It's all grand.

Here are some of the low and highlights;

Amazing vegan cookies made by my friend Rachel. You'd never know.

Banana pancakes with fruit, vegan yogurt and golden syrup. An odd texture, but ok.

Black coffee's far too strong, but black de-caff tea is great.
Greggs vegan sausage rolls. Believe the hype. Gorgeous.

KFC burger. The box would have had a better texture.

Thursday, 2 January 2020


I’ve been pleased with how things have progressed at the back end of 2019. Following the Kingston 10k, I was able to hit my key weekly sessions, pretty much hitting my 2 bikes, 2 runs and 2 swims per week.  As I write I have spent the last 6 weeks uninjured and my running is progressing nicely. I wouldn’t say that I’m getting faster but I am running my 5 minute kilometres more easily and at a lower heart rate. I’ve really been motivated by running and getting my pumps on. Most of my runs are an easy Z2 45 minutes to 1hr 15, ticking over at Ironman intensity and just taking in the local sights as I bimble around. A lot of my runs have taken me along the Thames tow path, seeing many of the landmarks from my DW training with Jamie and Adam 10 years ago. With the very heavy rainfall over the last couple of months the river has been in full flood. I’m just really glad I’m not getting into a kayak this winter.

I’m continuing to have a love-hate relationship with swimming. I’ve been going to a local outdoor pool in Hampton and it’s been a lovely environment to swim in, particularly with all their Christmas decorations up.  It’s just that I never know whether I’m going to have a good swim or not. I’ve got them broken then down as one endurance set and one speed set. With the longer endurance reps I’m trying to slow down and not do them too fast.  I find that I end up absolutely hanging on the last rep and being so much slower as my form deteriorates, so I’m learning to start off a lot more steadily. So far, so good.

I’m starting to think about this season and the plan is to do a few more sporting time trials in the winter and spring, starting with the Kingston Wheelers’ Sporting 14. It’s a lovely event with a horrible course and will give me a good indication of where things are cycling wise, and soon after there’s a couple more Surrey sporting time trials which along with the cycle out and back, will be my Sunday ride.

So a familiar start to this year’s campaign but hopefully with a much more successful outcome in August.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Coventry Eagle

Up until two weeks ago, Training was going well, with a steady 7 to 8 hours per week. I’d even completed a couple of races, running the Royal Parks Half  at the beginning of November (1:29:30), and then last Sunday, the Kingston 10k (40:36). In both events I just didn’t have the speed endurance that I hoped and had to back off a bit when my Achilles got quite twitchy and sore. But it was good to do a couple of old fashioned foot races.

There’s a lot of lurgy going round and work stuff has meant that training has been sporadic and while I’ve tried to get my main sessions done in the morning, when I’ve been working late or being a dad taxi at gone 11pm, it’s made a 5:30am start all but impossible. It’s just one of those things and so far out from Copenhagen, I’m not too worried.

One thing I have done is sort myself out a new (old) bike. I love my Van Nic and use it for everything, including winter commuting which tends to trash all the transmission components.  So I had been looking for a cheap road bike to use as my commute bike, whenI was given this.

It’s an old steel frame Coventry Eagle road bike, probably from the late 70s or early 80s.  It looked in a bit of a sorry state and I assumed that it would be seized, rusty and a pretty hard job to get up and running. As it turned out, while it was covered in a lot of oil, dust and grim, it was actually in pretty good nick.

So I spent a couple of weeks stripping it down, cleaning all the parts, regreasing and reassembling.

I have to say, I’m really chuffed with how it’s turned out. Very vintage!

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Ticking over

It feels good to back into structured training. the early morning sessions have been hard to get up for, what with the darkness that's suddenly come on, but once I have got going, it feels good to be getting my body moving.

It seems that pilates has changed my life. I had hoped it might be the magic bullet that would prevent or at least reduce the amount of injuries that stopped me from running and so far, that seems to be the case. Maybe it's also just a change of mindset, but my legs and lower back seem much more resilient. I'm doing a weekly speed session or hills, and this type of work would normally see me barely able to walk afterwards, but not now. I'm moving a lot more freely and my running is progressing well. I'm bound to get injured at some point, but at the moment, things are looking really good. I got a bit of a shock when I saw my Strava stats which showed that I'm averaging just over 20 miles a week for the last 4 weeks. This is a very modest mileage for most cub runners but for me, that's immense and fingers crossed, the tip of the iceberg.

I've got the Royal Parks Half Marathon in two weeks and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm hopeful that I should be around the time I did for the Hampton Court Half back in March, or even a little quicker, so 1:28ish would be a good day out, 1:27 would be great and 1:26 would be awesome. Starting and finishing uninjured continues to be the main aim, however.

Cycling is just ticking over. A turbo session one morning and a long, 3 hour ride at the weekend, with the odd 1 hour commute if I have the time. Just a bit of maintenance training while my running ramps up a little. It's a similar story with swimming. A couple of swims a week with one endurance focussed and one speed focussed. So far, all good.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Here we go again

My summer break is drawing to a close. I'm sitting here 5kgs heavier than I was at the start line of IMCH, a nice little paunch developing around my midrift that was not there a few weeks ago. I've overindulged on cream teas, ice cream, carbs and gin and tonics, so after this weekend when I'm back at work it will be time to draw in my belt by a notch or two and start getting back into some structured work.

I'm looking forward to the early starts to get to the gym and do a bit of SBR, but I have also finally got my act together and I'm trying to look at the whole picture, in particular, how to get running and reduce my injury rate. To that end, I've done my first two pilates classes. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the 45 minutes went by pretty quickly and I felt pretty lose and relaxed at the end, although there were some really tough bits. My hamstrings are monumentally weak, barely able to support my weight during one exercise and cramping immediatley. I'm hoping that over time, my hams, glutes and quads will reward me with being a lot more resilient, elastic and less injury prone.

For the last couple of weeks I have focussed on running, even doing some very gentle speedwork, but most of it clicking along at 8 minute miles. A social, hilly ride with Simon over the weekend, highlighted the extra kilos I was carrying and some of the hills were stupidly difficult to get up. The bacon sandwich and coffee at the dabbling duck made it all worthwhile.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Combing through the wreckage

After Ironman Switzerland, my plan was always to take at least two weeks off while I went on a family holiday and despite feeling quite bruised and emotionally battered for a good few days, I've managed to put things back into a bit of perspective and start to look forward. As a teacher I've often had to highlight to my pupils that failure is often necessary to move forward and that from failure, that's where personal growth happens. I don't know if it's a consequence of my safe existence but it's been a really long time since I properly failed at something. Adam and I dnf'ed at the DW back in 2011, but in our heart of hearts, we alway knew that we'd have to be really lucky to finish and often with a 50% dnf rate anyway, the odds were always against us. We bounced back and finished the next year and while 2011 was a failure for us, it didn't hurt anywhere near as much as this.

To be brutally honest, I never, ever expected that I wouldn't finish. That simply was not a scenario that I contemplated. I hope that that doesn't come across as too arrogant because it's not meant to be. I just always believed that even if I had to walk the marathon I would be able to do so. Getting my body to a point where I would not even be able to hold down water was just something that's never happened to me when doing anything athletic before; I just never saw it coming.

The sting
In my last post I gave some possible explanations about why this might have happened. I'll never truly know if the insect sting was what tipped my body over the edge of being able to process calories. Obviously I would hope that that would be the case. It's a lot easier to say that I dnf'ed due to something that was completely out of my control, but I think that it's important I have a good look at the other factors that might have been to blame and make sure that I rule them out in the future. I suppose the take away from the sting is to keep my top zipped up in the future.

My IMCH power file.
Was my bike pacing correct? In a word, yes. My power zones were accurate and set right on my Garmin. I stuck to my IF. In fact, I came in under this at 0.67. Looking at my power file there is a slight drop off over the last 90 minutes, but that was me knocking it back as the temperature climbed and particularly in the last 30 minutes, spinning more on the flats to get ready for T2. The thing that could have been improved was my variability index (VI) which was 1.16. This suggests that I was surging a bit too much. You can see this in the first 2 hours and was mainly due to being caught in packs and trying not to be caught in a draft zone. So other than this, I genuinely don't believe that by me reducing my power any more would have changed the outcome (well, except for having avoided the wasp completely!)

Was my nutrition correct? I did what I had always done when racing long course or HIM in the past. Mainly solids for the first 2/3rds, then switching to predominantly fluids as the bike progressed, taking on board water when I needed it. Two things that I could have done differently. Firstly, I didn't train with the on course energy drink which was Enervit. That said, I tried it the day before and it seemed no different to High5, which I do use. I didn't taste or feel any discernable difference, but maybe, it might not have agreed with me and I didn't realise? I don't think this is the case as I didn't feel sick at all on the bike, but this is something I can rule out next time. The other point is that I tend to train in a fasted state and too many of my long rides were done like this, so that I could train my body to burn fat as fuel, rather than carbs. Maybe, I relied on this too much and my stomach simply was not trained enough? It's something that is easily rectified and I should do more of next year. So nothing earth shattering or new, but maybe a couple of minor points that combined to send my race off the rails.

So I'm pretty certain I'm going to go long again next year. I want to capitalise on the work that I've done over the last 9 months but as yet I've made no firm decisions about which race I'll sign up to, but I'm more determined than ever not to leave Ironman racing like this. It's really important that I get running again and I have a plan for this over the winter.  I do know that I will aim to get some good 70.3 races in next year as I am a lot more suited to this distance than Ironman distance.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Ironman Switzerland

I have never been so consistent when training for any other event. In the last 6 months I have maintained my training hours. There were a couple of dips but 10 hours per week was always my goal and I often went over this. For a lot of people this is a relatively modest training budget, but it was what I was happy to commit to. We’re a busy family and with Wheezy Junior taking his GCSE exams this summer and my wife, Sue also having a busy and demanding full time job, I had to make my training as effective as possible in the time I had. I was also confident in the aerobic base that I had built up over the past 7 years. Long distance time trials, Audax rides, marathons and half marathons. I feel that I’ve developed a pretty good engine that would meet the demands of an ironman triathlon. My build wasn’t perfect, but then, is it ever?

Two things played out. The first was a niggling calf injury that on three separate occasions, stopped me running. When I was running, it felt good and I was able to clip along with easy 8 minute miles. Not fast, but a comfortable IM pace. But I just was not getting the run volume in that I needed. The second factor was a little harder to deal with. Every six to eight weeks I would get a feeling like the beginning of a cold. I would have a headache, sore throat, small mouth ulcers and be extremely tired. It would wipe me out for a couple of days before it would gradually fade. It took a couple of cycles of this before I realised that it was more likely life and training stress getting the better of my immune system.

So, not perfect, but despite these few issues, I was happy with how the last six months had panned out. I had always wanted to do Ironman Switzerland as I really liked the look of the bike course and I knew that it had been popular with a few folks in TT1.0. I had two long course finishes under my belt (Forestman 2011 and The Outlaw 2017). I also wanted to see what all the fuss was about with the Ironman branded races and to hopefully go under 11 hours. I’ve always believed that I’ve got a 10:30 ish time in me, but of course, talk is cheap. Bearing in mind I did no swim training or running before the Outlaw and pretty much on time trialling alone, I got my 11:27, I really believed that a sub 11 time would be very achievable. I did the Cotswold 113 and finished in 5:01. My bike pacing was at IM intensity and on little run training I ran. 1:36 off the bike. This gave me bags of confidence going into the last 6 weeks of training. My long rides were going well as I am very comfortable on my tt bike but a final calf niggle meant that I didn’t run at all for the last month.

 The really vexing thing was my swimming and I just seemed to be getting slower, the closer I got to IMCH. I’d spent a lot of time doing drills in the earlier part of the year but as spring turned into early summer I stopped in favour of more reps, but in hindsight I simply wasn’t doing enough CSS sets and ended up plodding at the same pace. Including the Cotswold 113 I swam 4 times in open water which was rather light, but bearing in mind before the Outlaw I only swam 4 times in total and swam 1:15, I couldn’t see any reason why 1:10 was not possible.

The Ironsquad out and about, the day before.
 It transpired that a group of five of us would make our way to Zurich to race including two former colleagues from work. Of the five of us, three had completed a long course triathlon before and with partners, parents and spectators there was a large group of us heading out and it was going to be a great weekend, with Sue coming out to see me race for the first time since I’d done the Beaulieu half back in 2008. She had decided then that triathlons with two small children was not a spectator sport, but we were going to treat this as a bit of a city break as our children were now older and a bit more self sufficient, with the help of very accommodating friends and parents back home.

Registering and signing in
 I guess I wanted to see what all the Ironman branded fuss was about as well. Other than the Alp d’ Huez tri five years ago, I’ve only ever done UK non branded events. To be honest, I was blown away by the slickness of the operation and I could see the effort that they put into catering for all the athletes and spectators. It was extremely impressive. The week before IMCH I’d had another bout of the tiredness, sore throat and headaches, but I hit the taper hard and necked ibuprofen and after a few days it subsided. I put it down to my last block of training and by the time of race morning, which was extremely wet, I felt relaxed and good to go and really excited.

Even in gloomy conditions, Lake Zurich is beautiful
 They did rolling start for the swim, releasing 8 athletes at a time, every five seconds. In terms of biff etc it didn’t actually work. I seeded myself correctly in the 70-80 minute pen and within 1 minute I was swimming over a guy who was very slow. Although there was a 2:20 cutoff for the swim, there were a couple of time of day cutoffs on the bike so I think there were quite a few slower swimmers who seeded thamselves far too fast to give themselves extra time. Every turn buoy was very congested and even on the long straight I seemed to be swimming into people or having to stop and breaststroke to sight and find gaps. I tried a few times to find feet but didn’t manage it for any length of time. All that said, the lake was beautiful to swim in. Only just wetsuit legal but the temperature was lovely and the water was really clean. The heavens opened again as I swam to the finish and I knew the time was at the lower end of what I was expecting but as I ran into T1, I was just glad to get it out the way and get onto the bike. Six months’ swimming has resulted in me being a minute slower when compared to my Outlaw swim two years’ previously. I put that thought to the back of my mind and headed into T1.

It was still drizzling at the start but the air was nice and warm. I settled in and focussed on my target IF of 0.7. which was my planned power target and initially I was well below that at around 0.63. I avoided the temptation to push as the first section was flat and fast and I didn’t want to get this wrong, so I was patient and slowly, over the first 90 minutes it gradually crept up as I warmed up and got my cycling muscles firing. Due to the torrential rain beforehand there were a lot of early punctures out on the course, one rider with his tub tyre off a disc looking like he was already waiting for the course mechanic and another rider in the first 10kms being treated by an ambulance. There were quite a few groups and avoiding drafting was nigh on impossible and I found myself soft pedalling and then surging to try to keep within the rules.

The second half of the course took in the big climb of the day and while I got up it easily enough, there’s no doubt I would have preferred another couple of teeth on my large sprocket. The drop down the other side was insanely fast, even on the base bars, almost reaching 50mph. It was very cool. Speaking of which, so was I. It was still cloudy and not particularly hot. My nutrition was a few cliff bars and then alternatively sipping the on course enervit and water in my saddle bottle and this was working well for me.  The lap was finished off with a climb up Heart-break hill. To be honest, it was not particularly challenging but being lined with a lot of supporters all the way up, for a couple of minutes it felt like being on the Tour. It was brilliant.

 I got onto the second lap comfortably and found myself on the front of a few riders, with one American blatantly drafting me for a good 10kms or so. Eventually we got to one small hill where I sat up and took a bottle while shaking my head and giving him the eyeball as he went past. The big climb the second time was tougher but I just gently ground out my smallest gear. It was here that the sun came out for the first time properly and I got a hotter and felt my effort level having to spike quite a long way, but still comfortably within the limits I’d set myself.

As I descended the second time I felt a very sharp pain on my chest. At first I couldn’t figure out what it was before realising that I’d been stung by a wasp or bee. It really hurt but after a few minutes I forgot all about it. With the efforts up the hills my IF pushed out to .71 but I was able to soft pedal and bring it back down as we rolled back towards transition.

 As I trotted out of T2 I was a bit surprised at how I felt. After the pacing of the bike I was really confident that I had got it right but I was not as sprightly as I though I would be. No bother, this is an Ironman after all. I got into my 9min/1min run walk. I had done this before in some of my early halves and had worked well, allowing me to break up the distance and cool down more easily during the walk. The first three went fine but I started to feel really unwell with a very queasy feeling in my stomach. I have guts of iron. I’ve done 100 mile rides while consuming pasties and sandwiches and all sorts and Audax rides where I have eaten a full English breakfast mid-ride. The only problem I have had with stomach issues in the past was the Buzzard-Exe Audax last year, when the temperature got up to over 35 degrees and I found it very hard to eat. As soon as I slowed down and cooled down, it was fine but this was not that hot and the feeling came on really suddenly. As I came back into a small park near the end of the loop my stomach convulsed and I brought up all the liquid I had consumed in the last couple of hours. Everything. That explained why I hadn’t felt so good in T2. I hadn’t been taking in any carbs on the last part of the bike. I’d gone into a bush and a couple of very kind spectators asked if I was ok Luckily I was only a couple of hundred metres from where I knew Sue was spectating in the shade.

Although not good, I felt that if I walked the next lap and got some water in I’d probably be ok. Any chance of a time under or around 11 hours or a 4 hour marathon had gone, but I was still confident of getting my medal and tee shirt. I’ve never not finished a triathlon. I started my second lap walk very gingerly and started to sip a small amount of water at each aid station. I’d been meticulously sponging, icing and using the water showers all during the event to keep cool anyway, but although I didn’t feel hot it seemed wise to keep this going. I was hoping that a one lap walk would be enough and that after that I’d be able to get some sort of shuffle going. Not what I’d wanted, but I was trying to wrestle back some kind of control and to realign my goals.

 The volunteers at the aid stations were simply superb and loads of people sunbathing, drinking in bars or just generally ambling about kept going ‘opp opp opp’. I’d give a thumbs up, head down, keep trudging on. I was in Audax mode; just keep moving forward and you’ll get there. During this lap I got passed by Mike and Jess who were in my group, both first timers they went on to finish brilliantly. I saw Jess with about 4km of the second lap to go and she looked like she was moving quite well, while I stopped to high five and walk on. Fifteen minutes later I was nearing the same shady tree lined avenue at the top of the lake. I felt my stomach heave and I was just about able to get into a bush, away from the families who were nearby, while I brought up all the water that I had been sipping over the last 90 minutes since I had last been sick. This time I kept on going, water, bile, the lot, that eventually led to a lot of dry heaves. It was pretty grim.

 With my hands on my knees, bent double, I knew that was me done for the day. Without even being able to keep down water and with realistically another 3-4 hours walking in the hottest part of the day, it was time to call it quits. It wasn’t an easy call but I knew that it was the right one. I walked up to Sue, sat on the grass verge and started to cry. That was me done. It was mainly just shear frustration. I’d been more prepared for this event than any other triathlon I’ve ever done and it had all unravelled in a couple of hours and with Sue sitting next to me, knowing all the support that she had given me so that I could do this, it was a really bitter pill to swallow.

 After an hour or so on the verge and after handing my tracker in, I picked up my bags and bike and we headed slowly back to the flat where we were staying, in the old town, just by the run course. I spent another hour or so, cooling and calming down before getting changed. By this time Mike and Jess has finished but my two other friends were still on the course. I didn’t want to sit around moping about so we headed back to where their supporters were, near where it had ended for me. A few weeks back, someone on Tritalk had talked about his race at Frankfurt going wrong and he made it his mission to boost and clap everyone who he encountered and this really stuck with me. As Sue and I walked back we ‘oop-oop’ed every runner. ‘Looking great’. ‘Running strong’ and trying to pronounce every foreign name we could. Those 4 hours were magnificent and in that time we both saw the power of the Ironman brand and its truly international feel. We were both pretty emotional anyway but we were so moved by what we saw. There was a Japanese guy who was one of the last to finish. We were clapping and cheering him as he went past and he put his hands together and bowed and it was I all I could do to stop bursting into tears again. I was a fucking wreck.

 My friend Sharon has only just been in front of cutoff all day. In fact, three riders 20 seconds behind her were pulled from the course and she had just made it out of T2 with about 20 seconds to spare. We were able to see her through her final two laps and then went to the finish line to cheer her home. I think she was the penultimate athlete home and she had all the support crew out for her. Seeing her come down the finish line was just one of the best sporting things I’ve been a part of and she deserved every second of it.

Spot the odd one out.
 It’s been really hard coming home on the plane and walking around Z├╝rich with virtually everyone else in their finisher’s tees and medals. I now know home Cav felt coming home after the 2008 Olympics, the only member of the cycling squad without a medal. We all met up the next day for a drink and obviously everyone was really thrilled to have finished but I couldn’t help thinking whether I had made the right call. With a couple of days’ thinking time, I know I did but it didn’t stop a few more tears. I don’t think it was the insect sting on its own, but as I’d just completed the biggest climb of the day, with my heart rate at its highest and then getting stung was probably enough to start my stomach shutting down. I may also have simply gone a little too hard on the bike but as I had been training at that intensity with the same power zones for the last month or so with no ill effects, this is probably unlikely. I’ll have a good look at my Garmin file to see if there’s any clues.

 Two really surprising things as a result. As we were waiting in the departure lounge yesterday evening for our delayed sleazyjet flight back to Gatwick, Sue was looking through next year’s Ironman calendar. She seems pretty determined that I should go back, either to the new IMCH event or somewhere else and knock this off as we both know I can’t leave it like this. Whether it’s next year remains to be seen, but I’m pretty sure at some point I will finish what I started. The second thing and by far the best thing is that Sue was so inspired by the event she wants to start running and fancies having a go at entering a marathon, something that she’s always wanted to do but has always put off. Other than having an emotional wreck of a husband to deal with all weekend, she absolutely loved the whole experience and that has surprised us both. It’s only a race and it’s only a hobby. But it’s a hobby that I have realised is more important to me than I ever thought. That again, I suppose, is a good thing to realise.

Monday, 15 July 2019

All done, bar the shouting

Six days to go.  Starting to get keyed up, excited and a little nervous. My taper’s been a bit strange. Sunday week was my last long one, with the club’s Kingston to Worthing tt and I rode it pretty much at IM intensity. The 4 odd hours that I was out was the 4 miserable, rainy hours of the last month. It was a tired me who was cranking home, back up the A24 without company, while most of my club mates headed into Worthing for a Knickerbocker glory. I had more High5 energy drink.  That evening I went for a very lack-lustre swim; I was just absolutely shattered and after 30 minutes called it a day.

This week was my first taper week, but I actually ended up doing 10 hours. The big difference was that I had broken up for work so spent a good deal of the week on the sofa, asleep, trying to stay awake while watching the tour. I usually found myself waking up as the yellow jersey mounted to podium, such has been the fatigue that I have felt. And the 10 hours was all very low intensity and easy work, for example 3 hours riding at 13mph with a friend from work, gently spinning out my legs on a couple of Surrey hills. I had got to a point about 7 days ago where I had had enough and Improperly needed to lower the intensity of the work that I had been doing and it’s been great to get into the final fortnight.

Now my attention shifts to the logistics of getting myself,  my wife and all my triathlon gear across to Switzerland. I’ve had a fun afternoon trying to get my head around a bikeboxalan. Even with an engineering degree and over 20 years’ DT teaching, it took a while. More than all that though, there is one constant in the forefront of my mind; heat. The current forecast for Zurich on Sunday is 32 degrees in the afternoon. It is what it is, so I’ve got a few things l’m going to do,to try to make things as cool as possible.

1. I’m going to wear my standard road helmet.  My bambino’s pretty good despite not having vents but with my road helmet I can put water directly on my head as well as the vents giving improved air cooling. It just makes more sense and I’m happy to sacrifice the aero advantage. It won’t be an advantage if my head is boiling like a jacket potato in a microwave.

2. I’m not going to wear a tri suit. The plan is for me to wear my favourite bike shorts and calf guards under my wetsuit (it’s currently still a wetsuit swim).  In T1 strip off my wettie, bike top on, short socks on, and out onto the course.  In T2, I will do a full strip and put on my favourite running shorts and a baggy run vest, with a visor.  My reason for this is that I want to get as much airflow and cooling water directly onto my skin. I find that I get quite hot in my tri suit so I am hoping that this will help with cooling. That’s the plan, anyway.