Dorney to the Dolomites: part 1

This season has been all about one thing: Ironman Switzerland. It’s dominated my thoughts. It’s taken over my life. I can honestly say not a single day has passed that I haven’t contemplated some aspect of what ‘doing an Ironman’ involves. But I’m not the sort of person that can focus on just one single objective, setting everything else to one side.  I love to compete – whether against friends, unknown entrants or simply myself. To motivate me in the short term I need periodical targets to aim for. Without mixing in some other challenges, races or events along the way I’m not sure I’d make it through the 8-9 months it’s taken to prepare for my main event!

And so, when two opportunities came up which any sensible person would have considered mutually exclusive, I simply said yes. To both.

Friday 2nd July

I’d been searching for a fast Olympic distance event and the Marketing Industry Triathlon provided the perfect opportunity. Run by Human Race and set in the superb grounds of Dorney Lake, it’s a lovely course: clear water; 8 smooth laps of the lake on the bike; a fast up-and-back 4-lap run.

I got a good start as guest Daley Thompson fired the gun and was quickly into my rhythm. It’s always hard to tell where you are in the swim section, but I could sense I was in a good group near the front and – as we turned at the first buoy – glimpsed just three guys off the pack. Dorney is excellent for swimming as you can site off the rowing lane ropes so maintaining technique is far easier. I lost two of the group on the final straight but exited the water in 28.27 in about 9th place. T1 was straight-forward: 1.34.

I hit the bike hard. Well, the head wind going away from the boat house hit all of us hard, but I’d decided to go for it on the bike and stuck to my plan. I quickly caught several riders and moved up the field. I was feeling really good by lap 2 and focused on a high cadence and streamlined position perched on the nose of my saddle. Feet out of my shoes, steady dismount, I nailed a 1.08.55 split which was third fastest on the day. T2 presented a bit of a Macca moment with the camera man on me: “come ooooon” I said (more reservedly than McCormack of course!) as the insole of my right shoe slipped with my sockless foot for the third time. Fourth time lucky; I got away in 1.08 and onto the run.

I struggled in Weymouth for the early part of the run, and again my heart rate was high, breathing heavy and I felt rubbish. Still, I forced the pace and picked off one runner on lap 1. By lap 2 I was into my running. Positions were difficult to identify but I just kept pushing myself and managed to run 10 minute laps for 2, 3 and 4 and found a little something for the final metres to finish in 42.50. I was happy to dip under the 23-minute mark at 2.22.57 for 5th place. I was surprised to get a Eurosport camera and mic thrust in my face at the finish line; God knows what I said but it felt pretty cool!

Full results here.

This was the second year the Marketing Tri has been run and it’s great to do something social with industry professionals that doesn’t involve booze! The highlight of my day was actually chatting to childhood hero Daley, who is the official ambassador for the event. I hope to see this grow in popularity in years to come.

As for my performance, well, I’d treated this as a glorified training session and was generally pleased. But I think I should be faster. The swim can improve, probably through actually swimming the distance (not zig-zagging) and tactical drafting. My bike could get quicker, maybe by a minute or two on a calm day and with more high intensity work. Breaking 40mins over 10k in a triathlon should be possible given my training paces, but car-induced injuries have led to my fair share of disruptions and specific brick work wasn’t timed for this event so I would hope to run stronger off the bike as time progresses. Sub-2h20 next time out!

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Weymouth Middle Distance Triathlon 2010

This weekend was the first major test of my Ironman training progress and at the same time my third triathlon since moving into the sport last summer. Despite substantial disruption to my training since the accident on 8th May, I’d started to feel like myself again in the last ten days and lined up on the Weymouth beach brimming with confidence (if a little apprehensive about the temperature of the sea!).

SWIM & T1: 7.33am. The hooter sounded and into the water I charged along with friends Ewan and Simmo and the other 260+ competitors. Conditions were calm and far more manageable than the Channel last September. After the usual jostling for position I settled into a good rhythm positioned to the right of the pack, concentrating on steady breathing and a long stroke. The swim distance always looks a long long way from land but I was pleased to hit the turn around fairly quickly; feeling good, I opened up and found myself passing people on the way back in. Up the painful pebble beach and into T1: 34mins by my watch. Despite cramping calves trying to get the wetsuit over my heels, I safely emerged from transition with 37:50 on the clock for 63rd place. Simmo and Ewan were 7mins back.

BIKE & T2: after a dicey mount with wet feet slipping off my shoes I got myself down the road to the clock tower (see picture above) and hung a right out of town. I felt uncomfortable for the first 15mins but after the short climb out of Weymouth I found my legs and settled into a good 21-22mph pace, loving the aero position on the new Cervelo P2! The route was largely rolling A-roads with some dual carriageway sections and smooth tarmac; great for fast biking. There were some head- and cross-winds after each turn around point at Bere Regis and Wool but I found my confidence growing as I picked off riders on the windier sections. I saw Ewan flying past on the other side of the road after Wool which was a boost, but what was the time gap? I debated with myself for the next 10 miles! The temperature had really heated up during the bike leg and I’d been rationing 1200ml of drink (an extra bottle would have been nice). I also had to force an energy bar down; I normally like eating but maybe the excitement, adrenalin and heat combined to dampen my appetite. Entering T2 I hit the lap button: 2h35. I also nearly took out a marshal on the tight turn (smiling for my brother’s camera!) – oops. Very thirsty, the extra 350ml of sports drink I’d prep’d for transition was vital. Official time keepers clocked my bike + T2 split as 2:39:12 and 85th place. Simmo had pretty much matched my split whilst I’d pulled out a further 9mins on Ewan.

RUN: Trouble. My left knee was really stiff as I hit the sea front and range of movement was limited. I ran past my folks – putting on a brave face but wincing with every stride – and quickly found a double stitch causing breathing difficulty whilst sweat stung my eyes so much I could hardly see! Those first 15mins were tough. When I go through a bad patch I always have a minute or two where I ask this question: what injury could I suffer that would legitimate a DNF? It’s an odd one I know!! It’s strange how the mind works in times of extreme stress. But it’s whilst I contemplate how painful the wounded pride would be if I failed to finish that I somehow push through my bad patch; it’s getting through these moments that makes you learn about yourself and what it takes to achieve your goals. I went through lap 1 in 50mins and – hitting the beach again – suddenly Simmo appeared on my shoulder (he’d talked down his potential but clearly he’ll be a big rival from now on!). We spoke for 30secs or so before he pulled ahead on his way to an impressive 1h33. Whether it was coming off the injury or the impact of a good bike I’m not sure, but I didn’t have another gear on the run so concentrated on maintaining my own pace. I felt stronger and stronger through lap 2 and found a little something for the final few mins to ensure I came in under 5hrs (1h42 run). The buzz from winding it up down the home straight to the sound of my family and the crowd was something to cherish. 4:59:43 and 79th place. Simmo finished in 4:56:08 and Ewan at 5:10:40 (itself very impressive given that he’s not been training that much this year). Also noteworthy is Ewan’s Crystal Palace Tri mate Selwyn – he’ll be lining up with me in Switzerland – who finished in 5h04; could be close between us over the full distance! Full results here.

Overall I’m delighted. The swim exceeded expectations (for a sea swim) and the bike was strong (although I fancy I can improve here). The run was disappointing, although understandable given the injury. 7 weeks until Zurich so coach Steve will no doubt be working me hard!

Training diary – w/c 26 April

This last week marked the start of a new training block and also a 6-week build to my first major test of the 2010 season: Weymouth Middle Distance Triathlon, June 6th. So, I decided it was about time I posted a training diary again as it’s been quite a while. After the months of winter training, it’s starting to get serious: long long runs every week, plenty of 100+ mile bikes and some tough swim sets await!

Here’s what week 1 of this block looked like:

Mon: SWIM 45min aerobic swim

Tue: RUN 2hr, 16 miles @ 7.30s

Wed: BIKE 15 x 3min sub maximal / 60sec rec

Thu: RUN 1hr inc 20 x 30sec strides / 30sec rec

Fri: SWIM 3.2k (inc 6 x 200m @ 70%)

Sat: BIKE 95 miles, 5hrs

Sun: RUN 2h57, 22.5 miles @ 7.50 min miles (HR ave 140bpm <75% max)

IMCH 2008 vid

Here’s a good video I stumbled upon from Ironman Switzerland 2008. Worth a look if you’re joining me at the 2010 event (or fancy a crack at an Ironman some point in the future for that matter).

All we need for tri?

For a while now I’ve been hoping to discover a one-stop-triathlon-shop for all my needs: finding events, searching for training camps, locating retailers – and so on and so forth. Too many hours can be – and have been – wasted clocking up Google page impressions (but being careful not to drive their profits by clicking on sponsored links – just a personal bugbear) and landing on out-of-date sites and event lists which were correct circa 2006.

It’s a problem that seems largely triathlon-based. Runners World and others have always proffered accurate and informative services from events to articles and training plans to product reviews for distance runners. I grant that the British Triathlon Federation offers a very useful (and localised) service – but it’s focus as the sports governing body is limited to events, clubs and coaching qualifications. So what about everything else a triathlete might want to find out about?

allyouneedtotri.com might just provide the answer. It’s only in beta – so comprehensive it is not, as yet – but just scanning the side bar menu you get a feel for its potential usefulness. Races, accommodation, therapists, training camps, fitness testing, trade shows, books and DVDs – it’s all there. There’s also a site blog and a forum for discussion which – in time – would hopefully provide a place for athletes to share ideas, review races and recommend products.

Now, there is also tri247.com which acts as the news hub of the sport and also contains results, events and product info. But it is more editorially-geared, so I think the allyouneedtotri.com listings-based portal idea has value. Then there’s 220triathlon.com which – with it’s strict adherence to it’s magazine subscriptions – has always offered a frustratingly shallow online experience. The improved site design is – well – an improvement, but I still find it fails to meet the high expectations it’s brand sets (why, for instance, isn’t the Gear review section a more comprehensive and relevant archive when the magazine has pages of analysis on the latest bikes, shoes, gadgets and gizmos month in month out?). Perhaps I’m being harsh. It does – after all – need to ensure commercial viability in difficult times for the print industry. But still, 220 has spent a long time waking up to the digital revolution.

My concern for allyouneedtotri.com is monetisation. It will need to build it’s position around comprehensive, accurate listings and valuable, easy to navigate user reviews in order to maintain it’s market differentiation, attract increasing unique user numbers and stickiness per visit (creating or syndicating editorial content is not the way to go given the competition). An ad-funded model is therefore essential. Paid for listings I’m sure are tempting, but risk seriously diluting the visitor trust relationship necessary for success (only Google has really made this work in my view – Yellow Pages and Auto Trader have seriously struggled to translate their paid for listing models into viable on-line businesses). The beta version has some ad spots on there, so hopefully the owners will be able to make this commercially successful. In doing so this could well be the first port of call for all our triathlon search needs.

Weymouth 70.3: preview

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the sky is blue; all those hard winter months are behind us and – hopefully – the base miles have had the desired effect. Now it’s time for the racing season!

To placate my winter blues I entered a series of events to add spice to training, trial pacing and tactics and generally tune up before the Main Event: Ironman Switzerland. My major race in preparation for this will be the Weymouth Middle Distance Triathlon, Sunday June 6th.

1930m sea swim. 54 mile bike. 13.1 mile run.

I admit that – after The English Channel last September – the prospect of more competitive sea swimming does not appeal. It starts on the beach and we’ll head out in an oval loop into Weymouth Bay. The organisers release competitors in 15-min waves, so hopefully this will alleviate the usual mad-capped first few minutes as swimmers fight for clear water or a useful pair of feet to draft off. Conditions will clearly have a big effect on time here and sighting will be a challenge. My hope is to just emerge unscathed up the pebbles and into T1!

Looking at archived results, the bike leg could be fast. If it’s the same route as ’09 then – at 54 miles – it’s a shade under the standard distance. There also appears to be plenty of A roads on the route up north-east through Dorchester to Bere Regis and back, allowing some good sustained riding. Past participants have referred to it as “flat to rolling”, so we’ll see. It’s always nye on impossible to predict bike times, such is the impact of course profile; but, I’d be delighted with anything sub 3hrs.

The exit from T2 sends runners down some steps – which will be novel in a race – and onto the Weymouth sea front. It’s a two lap course and I’m reliably informed there’s “only one real hill” and the rest is pretty flat. Given the time of year it could well be a warm day; hydration will be important and it will also provide an opportunity to test out race nutrition strategy in general. If all this winter training pays off and I get my tactics right then I’m hoping to put in something like a 1h40 run time, running just under 7.45 min miles. Coach Trew’s question slash statement about Weymouth was: “this one is pretty serious to see where we are, OK?” I felt yes was really the only answer!

Here’s what some people who’ve previously completed Weymouth had to say:

“I like the weymouth race as it’s low key, cheap and easy on the schedule.”Toby Radcliffe, professional triathlete.

“great event. it’s our club middle distance champs so always a good turn out. can often be hot…”Ewan McKay, Crystal Palace Triathletes.

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Al has put together  an interesting preview of my other overseas challenge this year: the Maratona dles Dolomites. Check it out.

Team concept

Team Trek K-Swiss: nice idea from a marketing perspective, but will it help the athletes hit new levels? It’s certainly motivational for them and for us at least! My reaction was: man, I wanna form a Tri team too. Then I realised I’m already a member of Tri London – oops!