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!

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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.

We did it!!

The English Channel: Dover to Cap Gris Nez. 21 nautical miles. 16 hours and 16 minutes. 5 swimmers, 1hr rotational stints in 17-degree water.

This was a challenge like no other that I’ve undertaken. We set out shortly before 4am in the pitch black from Dover Marina, our first swimmer Burt swimming to the shore to start the official timing. The first three of us had to affix glow sticks to our shorts and caps and swim in the cold, cold water with zero visibility to the boat and only a side light for directional guidance. I did – however – have the fortune of seeing the sun rise whilst turning my stroke over 2.5 miles out into the sea; this is a memory I will never forget.

It took 30 mins to stop shivering, and – after grabbing 2hrs shut eye in the cabin – I could finally feel my feet again. The Gallivant had a small kitchen so I devoured a pot noodle and other high carb foods, before preparing mentally for stint two by shooting some footage of Burt and Ewan.

By 11am the 20-degree sun was high, and the swimming was far better. We all felt strong, comms with the boat was easier – although still hit and miss as you couldn’t hear anything, relying instead on pre-determined time boards held up by team mates. The pressure was on to keep swimming hard as currents and timings are vital; one missed tide and we could add hours on, or even risk failure.

Karen and Luke put in further sterling efforts and by 2pm we were looking good. Channel swimming is very different from other endurance events: knowing you’re on your own in cold conditions, out of comms with the team, and questioning everything constantly – the mind plays tricks and mental fortitude is paramount. Progress is key but – in stark contrast to marathons or triathlons – the time length is not finite and, indeed, completion is far from certain. The third swim was hard: physically and mentally draining, the sunlight almost gone, the temperature cooling, the boat a dark shadow and visibility back to virtually zero.

6pm and Cap Gris Nez was tantilisingly close, like Everest’s summit from the Hillary Step. But, one simple factor would determine our success or failure: could we push far enough with the current before turning in to the peninsula? If we couldn’t, then when it changed course the current would take us sailing past and into channel swimming oblivion. But if we could, the shore was in our grasp. Luke finished his third stint strongly, and Burt stepped up for his fourth – an epic final hour for our tired but impressive lead swimmer. His mind visited some dark places – to use his words – but he swam hard and got us to touching distance, before Ewan celebrated his birthday with 16 minutes and a struggle up the rocks to land.

After cheering a soloist who’d been behind us through the day – whose identity I’m trying to establish – we commenced the journey back to Dover. I could write many more words on this experience. In retrospect, I could have been a lot better prepared and I shall learn from this; but to swim in such challenging conditions gives me a tremendous confidence for the comparatively simple Ironman swimming to come. Moreover, we are proud to join an elite and very unique club and it’s something to cherish for years to come.

Incidentally, below is our exact route as charted by our crew; this is the first ‘V’ finish in 40 years.

Channel Route

English Channel swimming

We got the call last night. Good weather is on it’s way to the south of England and our piloting team are ready to go whenever we are. So me and five others – Ewan, Ruth, Burt, Luke and Karren – could be starting out from Dover as early as Thursday this week for a minimum of 19 nautical miles in cold, choppy water (likely 15-19 degrees), navigating our way through flotsam, jetsam, and tanker shipping lanes all the way to Cap Gris Nez near Calais!

The team challenge involves 1hr stints in rotation for each swimmer in a pre-designated swim order. Depending on how we fare, each swimmer could do 2 or 3 stints. Our crew have been monitoring the tides; we’ll start either 1.30am or midday to swim with the current. Conditions look promising for success, but weather patterns can change very quickly in the Channel and a safe passage will rely on variables coming together in our favour. Fingers crossed!

Dover Straits_map

Swimming in the Med

Here’s where I went swimming a few days ago.

St Pauls, Lindos

St Pauls – near Lindos on Rhodes Island – provided fairly hospitable surroundings for my first serious swim in open water. I swam for an hour out of the bay and into the sea, then back again via some caves at the bay’s mouth. The choppy waves took a little getting used to, as did the current on the way back in. Mind you, the 35-degree heat kept the water comfortable. The salty water had the potential for rapid dehydration so I employed a tip from Ruth and Ewan (two of my Channel Swim team mates): breathing with my lips pursed preventing – as much as possible – any water entering my mouth.

I managed to fit a second shorter swim in whilst fishing out at sea later in the holiday – colder and rougher, although clearly tame in comparison to what the Channel Swim will bring!

St Pauls from the Acropolis, Rhodes Island

St Pauls from the Acropolis, Rhodes Island

Blackheath to The Mall: 26.2 miles around London

London Marathon

6.30am: Fairfield Grove, Charlton Village. My alarm goes off to signal that the day of the London Marathon has arrived. 99 days of training and a day of rest has preceded this day and – despite a few pre-race nerves (and two surreal race-day calamity strewn dreams) – I’m buzzing with excitement. Memories of gorging on two main courses at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich with friends the night before quickly comes back, and forcing down yet more food is – frankly – the last thing I want to do. But two bowls of Dorset muesli with water (not milk), two bananas, a Lucozade energy bar and several pints of water are gobbled before 6.45am. I ensure my pre-race meal is finished 3 hours before the start time and stop drinking 2 hours before.

8.20am: Blackheath station. The packed train arrives and scores of runners jostle and bounce their way up to the Blue start in Greenwich Park. Feeling relaxed.

9.15am: Greenwich Park. Where the hell are my gels?! A moment of blind panic as I scrabble around in my bag for three gels taped together. Are they on the bedroom floor in Simon and Reena’s flat where I’d stayed? Can I call them? Is there time?

9.17am: Greenwich Park. Thank heavens for that. I’ve found the gels hiding in my bag, and calm pre-race thoughts can resume.

9.42am: Blue start. I down a small bottle of mineral water to aid hydration. This fluid will be used by the body well before it passes through, alleviating the risk of an unwanted toilet break.

9.45am: Blue start. The horn sounds and the 2009 London Marathon is under way. I’m pretty close to the front so it only takes 1 minute to cross the start line. Notwithstanding, it’s still tricky to run free due to the volume of runners and my first mile is 8.04 – behind pace. From mile 2 congestion eases and I settle into a comfortable 7.15 tempo.

10.08am: Mile 3. The route drops down from Charlton Park to Woolwich and I clock a 6.57. This is too quick; I must keep the adrenalin in check! The saying ‘if it feels too quick, it’s too quick; if it feels about right, it’s still too quick’ comes to mind. But the problem is that months of training has got you to this point, this precise day when you’re in peak condition and it’s the hardest thing to move down a gear. Despite notions of a 7.40 pace, 7.15s feel comfortable, smooth and – well – about right! The mind plays tricks on you, constantly re-assessing splits against target pace and likely finishing times. I guess this is where the elites develop the ability to create and execute a firm race strategy without deviation.

10.21am: Mile 5. Friends Jon, Moray, Simon and Reena cheer me on. Today is warmer than expected and grabbing sips of water at most stations is crucial. London is very well organised in this regard: long tables on both sides; lots of volunteers; it’s very easy for the runners.

10.36am: Mile 7. The crowd support through Greenwich is incredible, especially by the landmark Cutty Sark. At mile 7 I see my family for the first time, sporting flags and banners and smiling faces. This is a real adrenalin rush. As mile 8 approaches I suddenly find myself on the shoulder of Gordon Ramsay! “Go on Gordon” I say, with a thumb up. “Go on son”, he responds.

11.19am: Tower Bridge. Amazing feeling crossing this monument of London; really lives up to expectation. I go through the half way point in 1.35.46, definitely under target pace. It gives me a good cushion, but will I pay in the second half? I always do this and really shouldn’t; maybe one of these days I’ll execute a negative split. I pull back as the Wharf looms and aim for just under 7.40s to reserve energy for the last 6 miles.

12.03pm: Canary Wharf. It’s getting tough now. Passed someone receiving oxygen in Narrow Street and also saw a guy veer off course and stagger into the crowd – dehydration is a risk, but my experience from 30-degree Stockholm 07 helps me balance fluids and carb intake. Isle of Dogs is probably the most demoralising part of the race, but the sight of my family at the Wharf gives me the boost I need to push for home. 1 hour to go.

London Marathon 200912.36pm: St Paul’s. Feeling better now. The crowd support through Lower Thames Street is brilliant and I can smell The Mall in the distance!

12.53pm: Embankment. Hanging on to 8s to 8.15s through gritted teeth. I’m still on for a PB, but it’s going to be close on a sub 3.20. Houses of Parliament remains just out of reach.

1.03pm: The Mall. The last 800m are cruel, and the way the finish hides out of sight around two corners compounds the pain.

1.06pm: The Finish. Marathon number five is over! 3.19.23. Sheer relief. And the beer in The Clarence on Whitehall tastes wonderful.

I narrowly beat Chris Boardman by 5 seconds on the line! And the sight of Nell McAndrew in lycra at the finish line makes it all worthwhile. What a day, what a race. Of my friends: Ewan came in at 2h55 – awesome; “no more fast marathons” he says, but we’ll see! Matt finished in 3h58 despite only six weeks’ proper training for his first marathon; very well done. He’ll be joining me in September for the half iron.

Now, how do I break 3h15 and tee up a shot at ‘Boston Qualifying’ ?!

 

Pace graphSplit times

Lore of Running

I’ve read many a training book through both my sports studies when younger and to satiate my endurance sports passion as I’ve got older. All too frequently I start with great hope, that I’m on the cusp of newfound training enlightenment, of finding hitherto undiscovered secrets to improved performance, of methods that will revolutionise my thinking around how to train and how to slice seconds  or – dare I think it! – minutes from my PBs. And all too frequently the promise gradually dissolves as I read, until I finish the book with the far lesser satisfaction of mere knowledge consolidation. This isn’t because I know all there is to know! – far from it – but rather because most writers, in their desire to be thorough, struggle with presenting ideas originally. Ultimately their book ends up reading like most other training books on the shelves of all good book stores.

Lore of Running is a different story. Tim Noakes is a physiologist and pathologist, a health professor and a doctor of exercise science. He is a leading light on the subject of athletic performance and an undisputed expert in his field. What immediately strikes you about Lore is the sheer depth of research – quite literally a life’s work – that has gone into this book. Admittedly, being the best part of 1000 pages, it is a daunting prospect to read. But the weight of the text serves to support the feeling of trust in what you are reading. Noakes manages to turn fairly dry physiological and biochemical theory into a compellingly readable study of how exactly the human body works. Part 1 provides the best descriptions of muscle function, oxygen transport, running economy, energy systems and running performance I’ve found. This sets the scene for subsequent analyses in Part 2 on training basics, overtraining, mental training and a fascinating section on insights into elite athletes’ methods. Part 3 takes you from training to racing, covering distances from 10K to ultra distance events; Part 4 looks at running health and staying injury free.

I was first recommended this book by my friend Ewan – a sub-3hr marathon runner, who frequently quoted Noakes’ views when discussing our own training. Since reading it I regularly catch myself expounding Noakes’ principles as if my own, such is the impact it’s had on me. I’ve implemented many of his ideas into my own programs and I would recommend this for anyone who shares an interest in the science of training. As the Runner’s World cover quote suggests, it is geared towards those who take training seriously; but that doesn’t mean you have to be an elite athlete to find this book fascinating and an invaluable training aid. To borrow a few lines from George Sheehan – writer of the foreword in the fourth edition – this book “puts into words our own thoughts as yet unexpressed and leads us to insights not yet discovered. We all have within us the drive toward excellence. …Noakes…blazes a path for us all.”