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.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Pulling up lame

I had a lovely run before work yesterday. I suppose that officially it was a run commute, but as it took in 4 miles along the River Thames, it didn’t feel like it. I felt great and I was ticking over comfortably  at sub IM marathon pace, around 4:50kms. After an hour and 5 minutes I ran towards the front door of work, in fact, I could see it in front of me, only for my right calf to pull again in exactly the same spot as last week.

So that’s it for running for me now.  No more before the big day. While I was hoping to get another half marathon distance in before July 21st, it’s just going to be too risky. I’ve done considerably more running than I ever did before Forestman and Outlaw and it’s going to have to be enough. Three weeks’ rest should be enough to allow it to heal for me to complete the marathon at my goal pace, so now as I head towards the taper I can finish off with more swim and bike. Sub optimal, but in the main I’m in ok shape.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Four weeks out

So, four weeks out. and I've hit that almost panicky period where I'm trying to get every session done knowing that last week and the next ten days or so are my last chance to really effect what could happen at IMCH.  I'm like a coiled spring. I'm ready to go and I'm ready to go now. I'm really looking forward to it but I want it done, so I can move on and ride my bike and run for fun. It's been weeks since I rode my bike with any of my mates, choosing instead to hit the roads on my tt bike to get that really squared away. But there's no doubt I've found that harder than I thought.

It's coincided with another really busy time at work which meant my early morning sessions took a hit as I had to get into work early and ended up doing sessions late into the evening, hitting that downward spiral of fatigue and stress. That said, I got my key sessions done and went back to the old school method of just getting a long bike and long run in, while everything else was a bonus.

The most important session has been my long weekend ride. Last week I got 93 miles done in a tad over 5 hours, while yesterday I went over 100 miles (for the first and last time before Zurich) with 103 miles in 5hrs 40. It was quite a bit slower than I had hoped. A 14 hour day at work followed by a family party until midnight, then on the road by 9:30am. There was a lot of traffic heading to the coast that I got caught up in and I didn't fully fuel so I was running on fumes towards the end. I noticed that my IF dropped off in the last 90 minutes because of this, going from 0.70 to 0.68. It doesn't sound much but this power decoupling was noticeable. Still, a really solid ride in the bank when it would have been easier to have gone to the pub.

I've had another minor injury scare. Thursday became a double run day and it was an easy 8 miles in to work and then another easy 3 miles home, but literally within sight of my house I felt my right calf pull/tear again. I stopped straight away and as I type, it seems fine after a few days icing and stretching. I've bought a decent pair of calf gurds and while I hate wearing them, I will until the Ironman just to provide that extra level of security (fingers crossed). Realistically, I 've only got a few more runs left to do, so I will cut my runs short if I have to and hope my bike fitness carries through.

After my underwhelming Cotswold swim, I hit the pool today and had a much more pleasing 3km swim in 55 minutes, which although about the same speed as my half swim, it was obviously without a wetsuit, so, in theory, I should be a bit faster in July. I had another guy in my lane who was just a little faster than me and I used him to keep pace with, although we were swimming in opposite directions. It was amazing how a little competition got me to get out of my ironman plod and raise my rpe. Maybe I need to hit the swim a bit harder? We'll see.

There is something that could completely scupper my swim anyway. I've been tentatively keeping an eye on the weather in Zurich, and next week the temperature is due to get up to 37 degrees. This is quite frankly, shit. As a general rule, I don't do heat but it's looking like there could be a good chance of a non-wetsuit swim and it being baking on the run. I can't do anything about the former, but for the latter, I have a plan, which I will divulge in my next post. I've been thinking about it, a lot!

That said, I think I'd prefer 37 degrees compared to what Ali Brownlee had to contend with today at the inugural Ironman Ireland. Who'd have thought that it could possibly be a tad wet in Ireland?

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Cotswold 113 Triathlon

Checking out the OW safety kayaks
This was my first tri since the Outlaw two years ago and was to see how things currently stand as far as my training and preparation for Switzerland is going. So, it was a great day and a frustrating one, all rolled into one.

This is now a well established event and would be the seventh HIM I've done. It's set in the Cotswold Water park and surrounding area and it was a very pretty course, and absolutely pan flat, so the bike leg would prove to be drag-strip fast, or so I hoped. What with my disrupted run training following a mild calf pull the weekend before, I was genuinely considering this as an aqua-bike training session and if my calf was sore then I'd drop out, saving myself for the big day in six weeks' time. So, how'd it go?

Stupidly early start rewarded with a stunning sunrise

Swim 34:59
I was hoping for a 33 minute swim, so was pretty disappointed when I got out the lake. I was in the 5th wave and so there was not very much biff at all, which was good. I'd made sure that my wetsuit was on properly and my shoulders were loose and after 10 minutes or so, I found myself in a group of three, sometimes leading, but often sitting on the feet of the lady in our group. I felt really good, except for the few times when the lake was quite whiffy and actually felt a little sick. I think it's because I felt good that I was pretty hacked off with a 35 minute swim. That said, it was about finding out where I am, and now I know!

T1 4:31
OMFG! The first rule of transition is, don't be in transition. The second rule of transition is; DON'T BE IN TRANSITION!

This was just terrible. I got 95% of my wettie off, only for the left leg to become stuck fast over my ankle transponder. I was stamping, rolling on the grass; I was almost considering getting my car keys and splitting the leg to get it off. Eventually the wetsuit was off, helmet on and I was jogging to the bike mount line.

Bike 2:40:44
The course was really flat, so the plan was to just sit on 0.75IF and that should bring me in around 2:30. So when I fired up my Garmin, I was surprised to see that all the data fields that I had on screen, including my power and IF were not there. I pressed all the buttons and went through the various screens but it was nowhere to be seen, before it dawned on me what had happened. On my long ride the week before, I had not been able to upload my Garmin to Training Peaks and Garmin Connect so I had eventually done a factory reset on it, and this of course had wiped out all my pre-set screens. That meant I had no power so would have to go on rpe alone. No bother, every single triathlon I have ever done before, this has been to case, so I just had to crack on with it. The other issue I had was that my xlab bar bottle covered the time and distance so I was not able to take time checks at quarter and half distance to compare with my rpe, and this was to cost me.

The bike was a pretty course and very flat. My main issue was that as I started in a late wave, there were a lot of competitors in front and I had to be careful going past and as the morning progressed, more cars were on the road, which at times got quite congested and I lost some time sitting behind cars who were (very considerately) waiting to go round other riders.  The weather ended up being perfect; a little wind towards the end but 16 degrees with some light cloud cover and not cold at all. It was really nice. I didn't see my Garmin time and it was probably just as well. Had I done so, I would have thrown a proper strop as it was my slowest bike in years. That said, it was around Ironman intensity, so pretty good on reflection

T2 1:48
That's more like it. Helmet off; shoes on. Go.

Run 1:39:51
This was great. The fact that I had underbiked meant that a good run was more likely on the cards, if my calf held together. I just felt really good from the off and was clicking along at 4:10-15kms. It was a three lap course with mixed trail under shade and some pavement. Again, it was pan flat with the only 'hill' being a little jump over a log before one of the feed stations. During the run, I lost count of the people I overtook and was only overtaken by three fast boys who were on their final lap or two.  At the end of lap 1 I was still feeling really strong but I really needed a wee, so managed to hold on until the portaloos before going, so I lost another minute there. Lap 2 was much the same, still going strong, but then about two thirds of the way round my bowels decided to rebel from the energy drink, which I think had caffeine in. I managed to just about get back to the portaloos before things erupted in a very dramatic way. It was an extremely quick poo, but still cost me another couple of minutes. The last lap was considerably tougher and I was gradually losing a little form, but the kms were ticking off until I got to 'a parkrun to go' which always helps me to see the last 25 minutes out. My actual moving time was 1:36, so I lost 3 minutes on the run for toilet stops, while it pretty much equalled my best HIM run from over a decade ago. Still a bit of life in the old dog yet, and even better, my calf was fine.

Final time 5:01:55

I queued up for my times, convinced that I was well under 5 hours, even possibly 4:50, as I still didn't know my bike split at that moment. When I saw my time I was like a child who had just dropped his ice cream on the floor; I was, as they say, gutted. But after a day or two to reflect, I have to be pleased. A really solid performance, in the middle of a training block, without a taper and I'm not injured.

So, things to work on.
1. I'm not as fast in the open water as I thought, so I need to get more practice in. To be fair, this was only my second OW  swim in three years, so not really surprising.
2. Re-sort my Garmin.
3. Need to ensure I have got some solids when fuelling on the bike. Just liquids seem to be a bit of an issue for my stomach.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Practicing my pacing

number geek
So after last weekend's failed long ride at the Hounslow 100, I was back out onto the A24 yesterday, riding solo and seeing if I could ride consistently at a set intensity factor. I  decided on 0.70 IF as this is more on the conservative side, and it would be interesting to see what sort of pace that would translate to.

The numbers that came back were pretty pleasing. Firstly, I was able to nail the correct IF. It started out a little high with a few early hills but I was able to keep it nice and consistent after that, and with a few Horton loops near home I actually got it under 0.7, which was very cool. 19.4mph average speed so something in the region of a 5:35-40 bike split, depending on wind and heat etc. It would be good if I can keep knocking my ftp up over the next few weeks and see if I can bring that projected time down a bit. I might feed these numbers into Best bike Split and see what that gives me. The golden question, can I run off the bike at this intensity? Yes, pretty comfortable with being able to, although my niggly right calf has come back so I'm laying off running for a few days.

I've had a couple of really good swims this week. Friday's swim was 30x100 broken into three sets with the middle 10 being off 2 minutes and all the reps around my CSS pace of 1:46. The last time I did this session I was bent over double at the end of the pool, seeing stars. This time, it was a lot more comfortable; a feeling of being nicely over-exerted rather than 'fu*k, I'm going to die.'

Hounslow 100m TT (well, 62 miles of it)

I never learn. I never bloody learn. Three hours into the Hounslow 100 time trial on Sunday and I've gone out way too hard, again, and I'm wondering why everything hurts so much. To be fair, when I saw on my Garmin within the first 20 minutes that I was cycling at an IF of 0.86, I did realise this and did make the decision to keep on, thinking that it would be an effort that I could maintain until the end.

But of course, I couldn't. The wind was getting up steadily during the morning and it went from being a bit annoying to damn hard work. The terrible road surface finally got to me too. I was having a massive internal battle, knowing that I really wanted a good 100 mile ride under my belt as part of my Ironman preparations, but at the same time actually hating every minute of the experience. The more the wind blew, the harder my deep section front wheel was to control, particularly when orbiting the Farnham roundabout.

 Eventually, the decision was made for me when the bumps in the road actually caused my rear mech gearshifter to come out of the end of my aerobars. I was frankly delighted to have a legitamate reason to pack. I was also absolutely covered in energy drink from the continual ponding the bike took

 With 22mm tires on my race wheels, the bumps were always going to be difficult but I had coped with them well in the 12 hour last year. I think a combination of them along with the feeling of barely able to control my front wheel at times sapped all my mental strength to cope.

It wasn't a complete disaster. It was still a hard 60 miles covered with a 40 minute brick run off the bike; to date, my first brick of this training cycle. It was a little uncomfortable, but with a final IF of 0.83, it was to be expected and was at IM pace.

Sh*t seems to be getting real.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The results are in - again

So far, so good.

A CSS test yesterday morning in a relatively quiet pool lane, which saw an improvement in my CSS pace from 1:49/100m last time, to 1:45/100m now. Best of all was my 400m time trial which has improved from 7:09mins to 6:54mins, and it felt a lot more comfortable and I think I could have squeezed a bit more out. Even so, that's really good to see.

Climbing the ftp staircase
I followed this up with a ftp test this morning. Getting up before 6am to smash yourself to bits on the turbo takes some motivation, but thankfully, my motivation is pretty high at the moment with eight weeks to go. I'd been a bit disappointed with my last couple of tests, seeing it fall from 274 watts to 250 and with the fatigue I'd been feeling I wasn't sure if I'd improve it much, so was properly chuffed to get back up to 274. It's good to see the training paying off and I'm hopeful I can squeeze out a few more watts over the next 6 weeks before the taper starts.

All of a sudden, it all seems very close.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Fighting Fatigue

It's been a scheduled rest week and boy, have I needed it. I've felt like $hit all week with my usual fatigue symptoms hitting me really hard. I can best describe it as like having a mild hangover with a low level headache, sore stomach and extreme tiredness. The really horrible part is getting over 8 hours sleep but still waking up shattered. No one said Ironman training was easy. So after the last fortnight of 13 and 14 hour training weeks, this week was cut back to 10 and all of it was much more steady state aerobic stuff rather than hard intervals. It was topped off with a very steady 3 hours in the Surrey Hills with Simon, this morning. He was dancing on the pedals going up Ranmoor,  Combe Bottom, Leith Hill and Crocknorth, while I lumbered up a good few seconds behind, but it was a good social and low stress ride which didn't take too much out of me by the end.

Big week coming up
This week will be a test week, so as long as the pool is not too crowded I'll be doing another CSS swimming test tomorrow. To be honest, I doubt there will be that much change from the last one, but there might be a slight improvement. Tuesday will be an ftp test on the turbo. Again, there should be an improvement and I'm really going to focus on hitting my scheduled turbo sets hard. At the end of this week is the Houslow 100 mile TT. I still can't decide what intensity I should ride this at. In theory I should stick to my <0.75 IF Ironman cap but it is a race so I might well go up to 0.8 IF and see where that gets me. I've also been tinkering with my position, aiming to get lower and longer and this will be a test to see if it will be sustainable.

Running's back on track. My left achilles is grumbling but it's under control so I'm confident that I will get back up to around 16 miles / 2 hours by the time I need to start tapering. I went out and did 13 solo miles in around 7:30 miles so I had finally completed a run a bit faster than my projected Ironman shuffle pace and I really enjoyed running just thatt little bit faster.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Ironman Bike Pacing

I'm trying to get a bit more methodical about how I pace the bike at IMCH. My two previous experiences at long course racing were chalk and cheese. At the Forestman, I significantly over-biked and by the time I rolled into T2 I was completely cooked and it led to a nice five and a half hour run / walk (mainly walk) to cover the last 26.2 miles. At the Outlaw I probably under-biked. I say probably because I don't really know, but I got off the bike feeling relatively fresh and was able to run the first 16 odd miles before cramp and fatigue set in. I had done virtually no running in the run up to the race so I believe that the problems I had in the second half of the run were more to do with lack of run conditioning and run volume rather than going too hard on the bike, but really, I'll never actually know.

I've owned a power meter for the last year and other than my 12 hr TT last year, I have not used it in real time on the bike; it's mainly been used for looking at my power after a training ride, so I started hunting round for how best to use it on the day and in my long training rides over the next 10 weeks. I want to be able to bike as fast as possible and then run as fast as possible. Ideally, I'd like to run a 3:45 marathon off the bike which is a big ask but I know I can do it if I prepare properly and race with my head, so the first part is to get the bike pacing nailed. But how?

Well, the internet is a great thing. I remember reading a while ago a great blog post on the Training Peaks website here; it's a very good read if you're preparing for an Ironman.

The crux of it is this table;

Across the top is the rider's Intensity Factor (IF). Very simplisticly, it's a percentage of the rider's functional threshold power, so riding at 75% IF (or 0.75) is 75% of their ftp (average best power of an hour). The numbers in each box are the Training Stress Score (TSS). This is a number that gives a value to the training stress for each activity as a function of its intensity and duration. Using this table, the aim is to keep your ride in the grey zone as this should mean that when you get off the bike the rider should be able to run.  If you push too hard and go into the orange and red areas, basically, you're stuffed. The general consensus seems to be that one should aim to keep between 70-80% (70% if not so strong on the bike, moving towards 80%  with more experience / bigger ftp etc)

So today I had another long ride planned but this time I set up my Garmin to not only display my actual power but also the average IF over the course of the ride and it proved very enlightening. First of all, I was bloddy shattered. I had two big weeks of over 12 hours; not a lot for a lot of IM athletes, but for me, they are big weeks. As I get older I need more recovery and when I rolled out this morning I could tell I was pretty tired. I'd run 10 miles yesterday and while it had been a pretty easy and relaxed run, it was still in my legs. I had planned to meet with Simon and Dale and within 2 minutes I could tell that they were going to be way faster than me. They were waiting for me a few miles up the road and I told them to go on without me because I was only going to hold them up and I just wanted to go at my own pace and effort. The IF displayed on the Garmin was 0.81 when I stopped with them, so already well over the IF needed for a well pace IM bike. The boys blasted up the A24 and I got on with the task of seeing if I could get the IF down.

I did; but it took 70 miles. In particular, hills are a real issue. This is obvious but actually seeing the IF spike as the road went up each time forced me to keep backing off. On the flats the IF would creep down but very, very slowly. The average IF at the halfway point was 0.790 but by the end of the ride I'd got it back down to 0.776. Final stats here;

So, what does this tell me:
1. The IMCH bike course is 2 laps. The first half seems fast and flat around the lake followed by a  lumpy second half. My initial thoughts had been to time trial the first half fast and then ease off and recover on the hills. This is plainly not going to work. If I'm hitting the first half of each lap too hard I'm not going to recover enough on the hills to keep the overall IF down. If anything, I'm going to have to keep the intensity right down early on in order to keep the overall average to a level that will allow me to run off the bike. This is what I did at the Outlaw but now I have a metric to actually follow to ensure that I keep to a plan.
2. An IF of 0.77 is too high. While I backed right off on the way home, despite a stiff head wind at times, the initial higher intensity fast start, even though quite short, bit harder than I would have thought and my legs were pretty dead by the time I got home. I'm going to need to bike at below 0.75 to stand a chance of a good run off the bike and keep this as even as possible over the two laps.
3. I've got to get my ftp back up. While I was tired and had a run in my legs, the chance of a 5:30hr bike seems pretty remote and 5:45 seems more realistic. This is fine if I can run a good sub4 marathon off the bike.

I'm doing ok, but lots still to do.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Back on track

My perfect road
So after the wheels coming off in my last post, things are back on track, sort of. I managed to get some consistent training in over the Easter break, starting off with the London Orbital 300km audax.  It was a grotty day and the first 6 hours were very uncomfortable. It was to get worse after crossing the ferry over the Thames, when just after having a full kit change and I started feeling a bit more perky, I ran into a road closure on my route for roadworks and then spent almost an hour to travel less than 5 miles after I enquired where the diversion route was and got a very vague wave of an armfrom one of the workmen. Well, I think he was waving his arm and not giving me the finger, but by then I was so tired I didn't care anyway. I ended up finishing short of 300kms but still covered 195 miles so it was nice big block of TSS to kick off the fortnight.  I was going to ride London-Wales-London again next week, but I've taken the difficult decision to miss it. Things are busy at home and while it was probably my favourite event of last year (plus a name check in the Guardian, which was pretty cool!), it will mean that I won't get any swim or run training in over the weekend and I need to be focussed on IMCH.

I'm slowly clawing back some of my lost ftp using Trainerroad and Zwift but more importantly I'm getting my head in the right place, so that when it's getting tough I'm seeing the sessions through rather than bailing early. Still got a long way to go though.
Full kit change in an 'audax hotel'.

Swimming's ok. I haven't done a CSS test in a while but I think I've made a few small gains, particularly with my technique. I'm still doing relatively short intevals but I can feel that my body position is better, my kick is more pronounced and my body roll seems more effective. The main thing I want to work on over the next few weeks is my catch and pull; the front end of my stroke isn't grippy enough in the water and I'm losing power by not keeping my elbow high in the catch phase. Now that I've got a bit more swim fit, I can start to think about the more subtle nuances of my stroke. I'm able to get back to doing my swims in the early morning to, which has been an issue as I've been fitting them in at odd times, usually when a swim fit class is on. I don't pretend to be the fastest swimmer around but I am usually considerably quicker than most people who turn up at the swimming pool and it's been frustrating trying so hard to avoid people. Apparently, accidentally punching people in the face when swimming is frowned upon. I am actually looking forward to the lake opening in a few weeks.

Running's still the really weak area. I am back running which is good, but it's fairly inconsistent and there's no real endurance going on. I did 8 miles today which was fab; just an easy trundle on my usual trail loop near home.   I think that realistically, the best I can hope for before IMCH is to get up to 15-16 miles with maybe a few big bricks, and to hope that will be enough so I can run a sub 4 marathon off the bike. There's still plenty of time, but the next 8 weeks will be the make or break as far as a realistic bid to go under 11 hours.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

It's all going Pete Tong

The last three weeks have been really tough. After feeling ever so cock-a-hoop after the Hampton Court half I was really looking forward to another block of hard training, but my mind and body have had other ideas. It's that recurrent theme for me, of feeling very run-down and my immune system struggling to cope with life, work and training stress. The first warning sign was a Trainerroad turbo session at ftp that should have been relatively easy to complete, but I couldn't get anywhere near the power numbers thst I should have bee hitting. Instead, I knocked it on the head and went to do 'Black', which is my go-to aerobic TR session which I do when I just want to turn the cranks and do a little bit of work. I couldn't even do that, so climbed off and sulked about it, hoping that things would improve. They havent.
This is what Trainerroad failure looks like.
Despite last week and this week being low volume, I'm still finding it really hard to get back into the training groove. Pretty much every TR session at the moment is ending in me not completing the set and my ftp is falling through the floor; currently down from 275 to 247 watts, which is a very large drop. Some of that is easily explained away by my increase in running volume but really I should still be able to maintain an ftp well above 250W and the fact that I'm not seems to suggest that I'm still not firing on all cylinders.  I ended up having a day off work last Tuesday with a proper stomach bug / temperature bug thing, which I think was my body finally saying 'enough is enough'.

 I need more rest, eat better and to get well, but at the moment it seems easier said than done.

Ah yes, running. It really f##ks you in the head, doesn't it? I genuinely thought that my major injuries were behind me and that I could look forward to some good quality run training and just when I was feeling really good about it all, the running Gods go and stick a pebble in my trainers. I went and ran the other Hampton Court Half last Sunday and was looking to get around in 1:29 ish again. The first 5 miles were great and I was running comfortably at 6:45min/miles when my right calf went twang in quite a big way. I was about as far from the end of the course as possible so decided, unwisely,  I might as well walk / jog back and finish. My calf is pretty buggered and I think it's going to be a fair few weeks before I can even do some gentle jogging. I am beyond annoyed,  mainly at myself for not warming up enough on what turned out to be a cold morning. I didn't do any strides, jogging or stretching beforehand and just went straight into a fast paced effort. This was a really stupid thing to do and that's what happens when one gets complacent. The upside of going was seeing a lovely friend Rachel, absolutely smash her half marathon pb, which was totes emosh!

So I need to focus on getting back in the pool and trying to claw some ftp back on the bike. Easter break is two weeks away and I'm trying to plan a big training week in the first week with a 200 and 300km ride with quite a bit of swimming, so this next fortnight is about re-grouping and trying to knock on the head this virus, or whatever it is that I've got.

No one said it would be easy.