Friday, November 1, 2013


Apologies for the huge delay in the report - very poor form. However, we took a long holiday after the race and then have been very busy since we got back. I'll try to keep this relatively short but expect I will fail - good luck for those planning to make it to the end.


Rather than list everything we did before the race, I just wanted to cover a few memorable moments:

- went snorkelling at a beach about a mile from our hotel on the Friday (day before the race). While stepping over some rocks to get in, I literally nearly walked into a sea turtle having a snack on some algae on the rocks. I guess for people in Hawaii turtles are not that exciting, as no one was really very excited, but I thought it was awesome!
- did a double-take when Gordon Ramsay stepped out of an Escalade near transition right next to me on the Friday (bike racking). I said hello, good luck etc. He seemed like a nice guy, happily chatting to various randoms and having his photo taken with them. He must be a good actor on TV, or can change quickly.
- picked up my rented bike on the Wednesday and then got the wheels changed to some nice Zipps at the Expo. Alex got the bus back to the hotel and I cycled back. Within one mile I started feeling that dreaded soft tyre sensation and had a puncture. Alex went past on the bus and called me to check I was OK - she thought I'd crashed! Luckily it was a slow one and with a couple of CO2 top-ups I still beat the bus back to the hotel. I then had to learn how valve extenders work....
- went for a quick spin on the bike a couple of times before the race. Cycling down Ali'i Drive is amazing, with hundreds of people out on their TT bikes, all the nutrition companies giving out freebies etc. I overtook one guy on a nice P5 and then realised it was Freddie van Lierde. I absolutely smashed him on that short easy ride. It must have motivated him as he had a pretty good race!
- we went for a swim in the bay where the race would take place. I literally can't think of any aspect of the location that could be improved for swimming, loved it.

Race morning

I actually slept pretty well but as usual woke up before the alarm at about 3:20am. The hotel wasn't laying on an early breakfast (rubbish), so we bought some cereal, bread etc. from the supermarket and I'd "stolen" some cutlery from breakfast the day before.
We shared a taxi down to the race start with a couple of very nice Americans, then I went through body marking, pumping up tyres etc. They weighed everyone at body-marking - 188lbs, what a beast! I think that's about 10lbs heavier than I was in the summer (I very rarely weigh myself), so not sure what had happened there.
Got through everything really quickly so was done by about 5:30am (7am start). I even went back into transition to go to the loo and was still back with Alex around 6am. Alex and I watched the pro start from the seawall at 6:30am and they were then ushering the AGers into the water. At that point the spectators around me kept saying "Don't you think you should be over there?" I didn't really want to be treading water for 30 mins so reluctantly got into the water at about 6:40am. Most people were treading water by the start line, but I swam over towards the seawall - I knew where Alex had been standing so swam there and managed to find her.
At about 6:50am I thought I'd better get nearer the line so I went that way and clung onto a boat for a bit.


Swim start - not sure if I'm in this, probably out of shot to the left!
I went way over to the left (outside of the course) and got to about the 2nd row. I'd heard that the Kona swim was about as bad as it comes in terms of biff, so I was expecting the worst. But the gun went and I had very little contact for a while (I was probably on the left edge of the pack, but couldn't really tell). I didn't really sight at all for most of the way out (it's basically an out-and-back) and it was fairly uneventful - very enjoyable in the warm clear water and without being too battered. Supposedly there were some dolphins swimming fairly near us but I didn't see them (there's a video on Youtube which I haven't got around to looking for yet). The only issue I had was I could feel my trisuit/swimskin rubbing at the front of my right shoulder. Nothing could be done about that though - maybe I should have actually applied some of the Bodyglide which was in my bag!

Eventually I saw the boat coming into view at the turn point. Somehow whilst turning around I'd managed to go from the outside to the middle of the pack, so the swim back was actually less pleasant - basically I had to just swim at the pace of everyone around me, and occasionally give someone a "nudge" when I could see I was about to get squashed by people closing in on both sides. I had absolutely no idea what sort of time I was on for, so checked my watch once I reached the shore and saw 1:03:xx. I was fairly happy with that for a non-wetsuit swim - about 5 mins down on my usual wetsuit times seemed to be in line with others and I'd not done much swim training.

Official time 1:03:56 (91st in AG out of 177)


Not much to say other than it was way busier than in other IMs, which is not surprising as I was middle of the pack rather than being fairly near the front, due to the higher standard. I think I sat on the floor to put my socks on as there were no seats.

I didn't realise at the time, but I didn't see anyone putting sunscreen on us. Given we weren't allowed to put any on before the swim, you can imagine what was about to happen....

Offical time 3:38


I jumped on the bike and set off on the first bit around town and the short out-and-back. Amazingly I found I was actually overtaking more people than were overtaking me! I saw Alex on the way up the drag and waved - I didn't see her on the way down, and she didn't see me either, so apparently was very worried and thought I'd crashed (you can see a pattern here...).

I was on a rented bike (Cannondale Slice), so there were always bound to be some minor issues at some point. The first was that there was only one bottle cage (and only one mounting), so I just had one bottle which contains some gels dissolved in water. I hadn't really formalised my plan for holding other drinks! At the first aid station I grabbed a water bottle and tried to tuck it into the top of my trisuit. For some reason it wouldn't stay and was causing the zip to come undone. After about 3 mins of fiddling I gave up and just held it in my hands on the aerobars, kind of like one of those aero-bottle mounted on the bars, but a more basic version! Later in the ride I did manage to tuck it into my trisuit, but it still wasn't ideal.

The other issue was I had no way of knowing how fast I was going. I've done this before though so I wasn't too bothered about just going on feel. I had a stopwatch to see how long I'd been going for. Anyway, it felt like I was going pretty fast for not a lot of effort, just trying not to draft but still getting some gains by being around so many other people. There was a sign saying 40km - I looked at my watch and worked out that had taken me about 1:01. Really?! I was absolutely loving the course - smooth rolling roads, a nice bike and wheels, no wind. I was pretty hot but bearable at 9-10am.

Next sign came up - 80km in 2:03! Still just cruising and we weren't too far from the turn at Hawi. We saw the pros go past the other way - looked like Starky was trying to make a go of it on the bike, but I saw FvL was pretty close and knew he'd have a good run.

It was very warm (no cloud at all) and I was conscious that I had no sunscreen on! Luckily I'm reasonably dark skinned naturally and had a bit of colour from the 3 days before. The rubbing around my shoulder also felt sore, and I discovered that putting the cold water bottle against it was very nice! Turns out there was actually quite an abrasion, but I couldn't see it until I got back to the hotel, and I had other things to worry about at the time.

The drag up to Hawi was good as it gave me a chance to sit up for a bit, and it wasn't really much of a hill at all. At this point I started thinking a 4:50 or so was on, which would just be ridiculous for me. However, I was slightly concerned that we must have had a massive tailwind all the way, as that was the only explanation for the speed so far, but it genuinely seemed to be still. Turned at Hawi, and no, there didn't really seem to be a headwind, still calm. So I got to 120km in about 3:10, thinking "just another 60km and even at 30kph that would be 5:10, which is still good for me, 32kph would be about 5 hours!" Turns out it wasn't much quicker than 30kph all the way back! At around 130km suddenly the wind started - a cross-head off the sea. At first it was just a bit annoying, then it got worse and worse until it was really hard to stay on the aerobars. At one point I had to put it in the small ring for the first time, and it was barely even uphill.

There was a 10M stretch where I really was not enjoying it. At the point I needed to be most aero, the bike was getting really uncomfortable (hardly surprising with about 60 mins practice on it before the race). So I sat up and just ground it out. I went from 105th in my AG to 119th in the section from 90M to the end of the bike, but didn't want to completely destroy myself before the run, and wanted to actually try to enjoy the run a bit, considering I had no real targets for the race. The wind eased off in the last 10km but I decided to keep taking it easy. By the time I got to transition I was starting to feel a bit more positive.

Official time 5:06:14 (now 119th in AG)


I got off the bike and my positive attitude quickly disappeared as my legs felt terrible. I've never struggled to run off the bike before, but I was really not moving well as I went around the pier. My plan was to do a quick T2, but as I entered the change tent, the floor was soaking wet, so that forced me to change socks (luckily I had a spare pair in my T2 bag). So that added about a minute, but I couldn't start the run in wet socks.

Official time 3:59


My usual plan in IM runs is to run the whole way, including aid stations. But I wanted to take this conservatively, partly as I wanted to enjoy it, and also I was feeling absolutely screwed at the start of the run. So I was very relieved to see the first aid station appear and I walked for some water (on my body and in my mouth). I didn't know the course really so was pleased to see there were mile markers. The first one suggested I had done about 6:40 I think, which didn't seem likely! But then the next were in the 7min region,  so I guess it was the usual thing where it feels like you're barely moving but actually running OK. The support along Ali'i Drive was fantastic - 10M (5M each way) of continous cheering, although I did feel like stopping at some of the houses for a beer with the supporters who seemed to be having more fun than I was!

I saw Alex at about 2M and stopped for a chat. She asked how I was - I think my answer was "tired", I wasn't in a particularly verbose state. As the miles ticked by I wasn't feeling much better, but also wasn't feeling any worse, and I was in a nice rhythm of running at a reasonable pace between the aid stations, with 15s walking through them, and ticking off the miles at around 7:15s. Once we got back to town at around 10M I started to feel a bit more positive and thought I might be able to sustain what I was doing. There's a steep climb out of town, and continuing my conservative plan I walked up it - some people ran up and passed me, but I passed them all back within about 400m of the top! I was consistently passing people, and I think only one person passed me (results say I moved up from 119th in my AG at the start of the run to 97th by halfway).
About to throw away visor, which was annoying me for some reason

The road to the Energy Lab seemed to go on forever, but luckily there were some pros coming back to provide some entertainment. FvL was well ahead but for some reason he didn't say thanks to me for my motiviational destruction of him on the bike a few days earlier. Through the Energy Lab section I really started to pass people more quickly, just by maintaining pace. Looking at my watch I started thinking sub10 was basically a given, and I worked out 9:40 would be about 8 min/mile (my first IM time was 9:47 so wanted to beat that), giving me some scope for slowing/enjoyment. But I kept looking and realising I was making time up against that target, and rather than easing back I couldn't help myself. I was passing loads of people now (compared to 22 places made up in my AG in the first half of the run, I made up 37 in the 2nd half) and realised I could get close to 9:30. With a couple of miles to go I knew it was all flat or downhill and started to enjoy it. I think it was 9:21:xx at 25M so I thought sub-9:30 was possible, and that would probably beat my Nice time as well.

The run down Ali'i Drive was amazing, high-fiving people and stopping to give Alex a kiss. As I saw the clock it was just ticking to 9:29, so under 9:30 with a bit to spare.
About 50m to go - awesome atmosphere on Ali'i Drive

Official time 3:11:20, finish time 9:29:07 (60th in AG)

The stuff at the finish was great - the biggest medal ever, a decent t-shirt, pizza, burgers, ice-cream, chocolate milk etc. Plus, there was a small bit of beach which couldn't be accessed from anywhere else, so I went for a wade to cool the legs off. I found Alex and went straight up to a bar over Ali'i Drive for a beer and to watch the finishers come it - awesome!
Enjoyed this beer, and had a good view of the finish area

Overall, my time was better than I was expecting, although that is partly down to the decent conditions we had. The whole experience was amazing, and I enjoyed the race more than the 3 IMs I've done before, particularly the swim, first 80M of the bike and start and end of the run.

On removing my trisuit I discovered that I had definitely satisfied Rule No 7. I am putting in an application for membership of the Extreme Tanlines Club - chairman Matt Hann.


I won't go into the details of the rest of our holiday, other than to say it was amazing with the particularly highlights being:

- Maui, of all the places in the world I've been to, this is probably the one I most want to go back to.
- Big Sur, unbelievable scenery
- Las Vegas, just ridiculous!
The beach at the hotel in Maui - not bad!
View during a jog we did in Big Sur

If you've made it this far, well done.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lakeland 50

Having now done this race twice, I have to say it is one of my favourite races. The two things I love about it are:

- the location (the Lake District), definitely my favourite part of the UK. I just wish it was a bit closer so we could visit more often.
- the atmosphere of the race. Maybe it is the same with other ultras, but everyone is so friendly and would rather help out other runners than try to beat them.

I had a free place in this thanks to winning the mixed team prize with Deborah and Will last year. We had finished in 13:23 but I was pretty sure I could go quite a bit quicker. My aim was to try to finish before it got dark (which would be a time of around 10:30), as that would make the navigation and terrain a lot easier on the last leg or two - I felt like this cost us a lot of time last year. However, I hadn't done any specific prep/training for this race - I felt pretty fit from Ironman training but had done no running on hills/offroad and only one run over 18M since April (which was the Ironman run!).

Alex and Jake (our dog) came up for the weekend and we stayed at a lovely guesthouse near Skelwith Bridge. They hadn't been to the Lakes before so it was great that the hills looked amazing as we arrived in perfect late evening weather on Friday. We quickly checked into the guesthouse and then I went to register. At the weigh-in I discovered that I was around 3.5kg lighter than last year (80.4kg) - I never weigh myself so this was interesting as I thought I might have lost a bit of weight training for Nice.

After an awesome breakfast at the guesthouse, we headed to Coniston for the race briefing. Nothing particularly interesting, although they did confirm that last year the first leg was 2M short because the lead runner had gone wrong on the 4M loop around Dalemain at the start (there is a lead runner for the 4M loop before the competitors are left to make their own way on the 46M from Dalemain back to Coniston). This year it would actually be 50M, so I mentally added 15-20 mins into my time estimates, which I had based on the times we did last year. We drove from Coniston to Dalemain and it was at this point I realised it was actually pretty hot - I was sweating just waiting for the start. I thought it was cold up north! I said goodbye to Alex and Jake and got in the start pen.

The race is basically 7 legs of varying distances with a checkpoint at the end of each leg where you 'dib in' (recording your time electronically) and can stock up on food and water. Each checkpoint is run by a local shop/running club/group of volunteers and some have a theme (e.g. disco). Each checkpoint is trying to outdo the others so they put on some fantastic food e.g. great pasta and smoothies at Kentmere, soup at Mardale etc. I had given Alex some estimated times for each leg as she was planning on seeing me just after Ambleside (near the guesthouse) and I'd signed her up to get a text message each time I dibbed in - this worked perfectly apparently!

On the same weekend is the Lakeland 100, a 104M loop which starts on the Friday evening. The 50M race is basically the second half of that loop. This means that while you're running the 50M you pass lots of the 100M runners who have been going for 24 hours or so - madness! Some of them didn't look good when I passed them, can't imagine why.

Leg 1 - Dalemain to Howtown (11.2M)

This is the longest leg, but by far the easiest terrain. All of it is runnable with just some small (for the Lakes, not for Hertfordshire!) hills. I felt like I was running fairly fast on the initial 4M loop round Dalemain but wanted to get a bit up the field to see how the fast guys did it. I waved to Alex and Jake as we went back through the start at the end of the loop and headed out on the route proper. I guess I was in about 15th place at that point, but didn't really know. Up the first main climb I walked the steeper sections even though I could have run them (everyone else around me ran up the whole way) as I knew it was going to be a long day. The long gradual descent down to Howtown was fun and I was trying to minimise the impact on the quads as I knew this would be an issue later due to all the steep descents. We were soon at Howtown - I dibbed in, grabbed a flapjack, downed a cup of squash and set off (didn't bother to refill water).

Time for leg 1:24 (estimate was 1:25, but with the extra 2M I was much faster than expected)

Leg 2 - Howtown to Mardale Head (9.4M)

This leg includes the highest point on the route (High Kop, around 670m I think). It is basically a long climb from Howtown to High Kop (gaining about 500m in elevation), a descent down to Haweswater and then 4M or so along the edge of the lake. The climb was just a long grind, hands on knees and getting increasing sweaty in the heat. I passed a couple of people and a couple of people passed me, but everyone was travelling at a fairly similar speed (around 2mph I would guess!). Eventually I reached the top and took a second to turn around and look back to Ullswater - you then feel quite proud of how high you've climbed.

The run from High Kop to Low Kop is my favourite part of the whole race - slightly downhill but not steep, soft ground but not difficult and you can just cruise down for 5-10 mins. Then the descent gets steep and painful. A few of us were close together and I knew we had to turn right on an indistinct (i.e. non-existent!) path towards the beck crossing near Haweswater, The others clearly didn't know where to turn, and I didn't know exactly, but I knew we'd gone a bit far. So I suggested we turn - a bit of pushing through ferns and we found the path down towards the waterfalls and the lake. The route from there was fairly simple along the lake, although the path is very narrow and rocky in places. I pushed on a bit towards the end and passed a couple of people, and was pleased to arrive at Mardale well ahead of schedule.

Time for leg 1:40 (estimate was 2:00)

Leg 3 - Mardale Head to Kentmere (6.5M)

I think this is the hardest of the remaining legs, and in my mind you've 'broken the back' of the race once you get to Kentmere as you're over halfway and have done the biggest climbs. Immediately out of Mardale you start to climb Gatesgarth Pass, a very steep and long stoney track. At one point you reach a crest, which you think is the top, and then realise you're only halfway up - I think I said some words to myself at that point.

There were no other runners with me at this point (for the rest of the race actually), so I just trudged on, occasionally looking back to the view to Haweswater and the other runners below. I could see one guy ahead - it didn't look like much of a gap but when I took a split it was over 3 mins (probably about 150m at the pace I was going!). Long descent on the rocky track down to Sadgill, trying (but failing) to protect the quads. Then a short climb from there to a slightly tricky bit of navigation towards Kentmere - but I like that bit as I know the route and there are some interesting bridges, stiles etc. I still felt pretty strong at this point, although I could feel the quads a lot on the downhills. Looking at my watch I knew I was again well ahead of schedule and should comfortably get round before it got dark - maybe even under 10 hours? Arrived in Kentmere to a warm reception and I think I set a world record for the time taken to eat a bowl of pasta!

Time for leg 1:17 (estimate was 1:40)

Leg 4 - Kentmere to Ambleside (7.3M)

I didn't know this leg so well as we didn't recce it before the race last year. I was starting to get a bit tired, although I felt strong on the uphills and flats. I was really looking forward to seeing Alex and Jake just after Ambleside (for some reason I get quite emotional about these things in these long races), so in my head I thought "get through this leg, the one after that I will see Alex and Jake, and then it's only 10M to go". Another long climb up Garburn pass, but not as steep as Gatesgarth, then a long descent the other side which was thankfully not as steep as some of the others. Cross the birdge at Troutbeck and then a climb up a road (the longest section on road), a gentle descent with great views to Windermere, and then you enter Skelghyll Woods.

The book says that after Jenkins Crag the path forks and either path takes you to a stone bridge - this is the only part of the route where it says you have a choice of paths. I couldn't remember where we went last year, but I picked the right-hand fork. Shortly afterwards (before I had reached a stone bridge) I hit another fork - hmmm, now I have no idea which way. However, I knew we were aiming down to Ambleside so picked the left fork downhill. Soon I could see the main road by the lake between Ambleside and Windermere, which I knew wasn't right. So I stopped and got the map out of my rucksack for the first time in the race. The route headed higher in the woods, so I retraced my steps and then just kept heading right. Back on track I cruised down to Ambleside, slightly annoyed, but it probably only cost me 5 mins.

The checkpoint in Ambleside was in a different place from last year and now had steps up to the checkpoint - evil! I spent a couple of minutes in there eating, refilling my water (which had run out a mile or so beforehand), and I noticed at least one person overtake me by not stopping for as long. But to be honest I didn't care, and had no idea what position I was in anyway (I guessed somewhere between 10th and 20th).

Time for leg 1:33 (estimate was 1:45)

Leg 5 - Ambleside to Chapel Stile (5.6M)

This is the easiest leg in terms of terrain, and I was looking forward to seeing Alex (and Jake!). As I left Ambleside I called Alex to check she knew I was ahead of schedule. The conversation started something like this:

Me: I'm just leaving Ambleside [proud of myself]
Alex: Oh, you're miles behind...
Me: No, I'm about an hour ahead of schedule
Alex: I mean you're miles behind the leader, he's already through Chapel Stile
Me: Well obviously I'm miles behind the leader....

Given I thought this leg was easy, I was surprised by the climb up to the open fell above Ambleside. It probably wasn't that bad, but was a bit unexpected. I was really struggling on the downhills now, stopping to walk occasionally to try to sort out the quads, but that wasn't really helping. I managed to run down the road to Skelwith Bridge, clearly this was not at all affected by the fact that I knew Alex would see me run down there!

"Running" in Skelwith Bridge
I wanted a bit of a break, so I walked with Alex and Jake for a couple of minutes along the river. She informed me that I was in 7th position, which was a bit of a shock, although I thought that was probably now 8th due to the person overtaking me in Ambleside checkpoint. This was a nice fast flat section, so I couldn't hang around too long and set off for Elterwater. This bit is a proper footpath along the river, so I ran the whole way (1.5M maybe) at what seemed like a good pace but was probably not particularly fast. Little twisty bit around there, lots of cheering at the pub and through the campsite and into the checkpoint at Chapel Stile. They had proper sofas there but I sensibly didn't partake as I would probably still be there now.

Time for leg 1:01 (estimate was 1:10)

Leg 6 - Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite (6.5M)

I looked at my watch and had over 3 hours to do the last 10M to get under 10 hours, so even walking should do it. Last year we walked this entire leg as it was dark (and we were tired), and it was so much easier in the daylight.

As I walked down a steep hill someone (Ben) overtook me for the first time in a while. I managed to stay with him for the rest of the flat bit and up the climb to Blea Tarn, and we were catching someone ahead. After Blea Tarn there is a very technical rocky section before Blea Moss, and Ben seemed to just fly through it while I was scrambling around - he literally gained about a minute in the space of two minutes. This highlighted my lack of experience on this sort of terrain. Somehow Blea Moss was still boggy despite the heat and recent drought, but I managed to keep my feet fairly dry. The downhill road (Wrynose Pass I think) was very painful, then the small climb over to Tilberthwaite. Suddenly there was a heavy rain shower, which felt lovely at that point! Jogged into Tilberthwaite, small top-up of water, flapjack and on my way.

Time for leg 1:21 (estimate was 1:45)

Leg 7 - Tilberthwaite to Coniston (3.5M)

Only 3.5M - how hard can it be?! Very.

From the car park/checkpoint, you immediately climb the Steps of Doom, some large stone steps up to the old quarry. Once you get up these you think it will get easier, but it doesn't - another couple of hundred metres of really steep climbing. Based on my breathing rate, I probably had a heart rate close to 10k race effort, and I was moving forwards at about 1 mph (literally). At the top of the steep bit I actually stopped for 10s with my hands on my knees to catch my breath. A short scramble up some rocks and then it gets a bit easier. At this point I caught a 100M competitor and realised how nuts that is - no way could I climb that after 24 hours or more of walking/running (and considering their race started at 6:30pm, probably at least 36 hours with no sleep). Had a bit of a chat with him as I passed and he seemed OK, although a bit "out of it", but he was actually jogging the easier bits and nearly keeping up with me. For the rest of the climb I looked back occasionally to check he was still on the right route as the navigation is not obvious here, particularly when very tired.

It opens out at the top of the steep bit and you follow the path around - the book says various things like "pass the small cairn on the left" or "pass the big rock on the right", but to me there are just lots of rocks everywhere. The key is a single tree which denotes where to cross a small stream. After a while following the path I was starting to worry that I hadn't found the tree, and started muttering to myself - where are you lone tree? Why do you mock me so? (OK, I was probably starting to get a bit delusional.) Finally I turned a corner and saw the lone tree - crossed the stream and continued uphill to the summit. Now just the horrible descent to the Miner's Bridge - big rocks everywhere and very steep, basically too difficult for me to run, especially with no quads left, although I expect the fell runners were skipping down it. I stumbled down to the main path and tried to run the whole way down to Coniston, but I probably walked once or twice for a few seconds. My watch was reading 9:0x, so I was going to be way under my estimate. Hitting Coniston the pain seemed to disappear as I ran through the high street, past the pubs with beer gardens full of cheering supporters. It's amazing what adrenaline can do and I felt great on the last 400m to the finish line. Final dib in and finished in 9:10. Immediately someone gave me a print out with my times and ushered me into the hall for more cheering, a medal, t-shirt and food.

Time for leg 0:52 (estimate was 1:05)
Time overall 9:10 (estimate was 10:50)

At this point I found out the winner had broken the course record in 7:39, unbelievable running.

So overall, very pleased with the race and enjoyed most of it (not the downhills!). I guess I could find another 20-30 minutes with some proper training. I don't plan to do this again anytime soon, although Alex was so inspired by the race that she is threatening to enter for next year and would require a navigator!

The next day we went for a nice walk up Black Fell which was very close to the guesthouse, and Jake in particular loved it (especially when there were sheep nearby!). My legs felt OK, but coming back down caused more damage and they are still pretty sore (3 days later and counting). Hopefully I'll be recovered soon and can start some training for Kona - 10 weeks on Saturday!
Black Fell (Crag?) with Jake

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ironman France

It's taken me a bit longer than planned to get around to this, and no pics at present (will be added later!), but finally got a few minutes to write a report. [Edit: OK, it took a bit more than a few minutes, sorry it's so long!]

Training had more-or-less gone to plan (see previous post), with a focus on cycling given that is by far my weakest of the 3. Had some good long rides at the Tour of Wessex, Chiltern 100 and other weekend rides with the "Uperstars".

Alex and I decided to drive down (I hate taking a bike on a flight) and meet Matt, Heather and Andy in Nice where we had booked an apartment in the old town from the Thursday to Tuesday. So Alex and I left on the Wednesday afternoon, stopped in Chaumont for the night on the way (amazing thunderstorm while we were there) and got there on Thursday afternoon. Parking in Nice was "interesting", particularly given the size of the car (which became known as "Butch" for reasons I can't quite recall!). But we eventually got to the apartment - great location right in the heart of the old town, although I did worry that it might be a bit noisy - not a major problem for me as I sleep through anything.

On Friday we went for a short swim, registered and then the 5 of us drove part of the bike course - basically cut up to Coursegoules and drove down the descent. This made me feel a bit happier as it wasn't really technical at all, and I wasn't too bothered about seeing the climbs (I had been assured that they were not steep). Had lunch and then went out for a short spin on the bike with Andy just to check everything was working OK. As expected, the strength of the sun in the middle of the afternoon was a bit worrying, but nothing could be done about that!
'The Tri Force Three'
On Friday evening we were treated to a Samba band outside the apartment, which was quite entertaining and drew a huge crowd. They left after a while, but then returned just as we were trying to get to sleep! I got to sleep anyway, but the next morning I was amused to hear that one of our party (those of you who know all of us might be able to guess who!) had gone outside to tell them to move on, as there were Ironmen trying to sleep! Amazingly they actually listened and left us in peace.
Matt's make-shift bike rack
Saturday morning was a short easy run with Heather. The rest of the day was spent mainly relaxing, except for the time at the bar when George North scored that awesome try, which got my heart rate up a bit! Plus bike racking etc. in the afternoon. We had dinner in the apartment, some pasta with tomato sauce and chicken (exactly what was needed) very kindly cooked by Heather. Then the obligatory ice-cream - we went to the same gelateria (or whatever the equivalent French word is) every day I think, mainly as it was the only one with rhubarb ice-cream, and Matt became addicted.

Sunday morning
I managed to get to sleep early on Saturday night (9:30ish I think) but woke around 2am, started thinking about the race and gave up trying to get back to sleep. Pretty soon the others were getting up anyway. For some reason I didn't really feel nervous, and that was the case for the whole time - the main part I was worried about was the swim start as I'd heard some interesting descriptions.

Down to transition around 5am, pump up tyres, go to the loo, find Alex, go to the loo again etc. The queue for the loos was quite long, so I was still in transition after 6am (6:30am start time), but Alex spotted me on the way out and we said goodbye through the transition fencing. Everywhere was rammed with spectators and competitors, but I got down to the beach around 6:15am. The info said no warming up after 6:15, but there were still people in the sea, so I jumped in and floated around a bit. I'd head over to the left of the start by the slower pens, figuring if I start at the front of them I might get a clear-ish start (although I imagined lots of others would have a similar plan). By "warming up" I was able to get on the front of one of the slower pens - a bit cheeky, but I was fairly sure I wouldn't be annoying others as I should (in theory) be faster than most of the others in that pen.

The swim
We watched the pros start (5 mins before us), and eventually they were counting us down. I got a pretty good start and didn't really have anyone around me - fantastic! In fact, I couldn't even find anyone to draft for the first 200m, exactly the opposite to what I was expecting. I was quite far left, but seemed to be on line with the first turn (which was a km out to sea). Eventually the arrowhead narrowed and it got a bit "interesting", but nothing too excessive. I felt like I was swimming OK and wasn't in any difficulty, just occasionally getting annoyed with one or two guys stopping in front of me to sight or swim in random directions into me.
I'm in there somewhere!

The first loop is 2.4km, then a short beach exit and a second loop of 1.4km. If you not familiar with the "beach" in Nice, it is made up of large loose pebbles which shelve off very steeply into the water, and I was slightly worried about the exit given I had virtually had to crawl out on the practice swim! As expected as I tried to get out I stumbled a lot and I think I got cramp in my calf. On the way back in, the pebbles slipped a lot (basically skied into water!), and I got a full-on cramp in my right hamstring. But I was now well out of my depth due to the slope of the beach, so I flipped over to try to stretch it, saw I was about to be mown down by hundreds of swimmers, and decided I'd better just get moving! The pain was really bad for a minute or so and it felt like I was swimming with one bent leg, but then it started to ease off. It did feel like there was still a knot there though and I was concerned about how that might affect the bike and run.

From then on, the rest of the second loop went fine, until the last 50m when I got cramp in my calf. But I was close enough to get back (and calf cramp is not as bad as the hamstring!). Again, I nearly fell trying to get out, but I guess everyone had similar problems. Once I was properly on my feet I glanced at my watch and was pleased to see 58:xx - I was expecting more like 62 given the lack of swimming training, so far so good. Then I heard Alex cheering me, which was great, and shouted at her as I ran past her in T1.

Offical time 58:55 to the mat.

No real problems except that I couldn't find one of my socks. Turned out it was still in the bag after I'd put the wetsuit in there, so had to empty it all out and put it back in again! Probably cost me 30s or so, but never mind. I think Heather gave me a shout at the exit of T1, but it was all a bit of a blur!

Official time 4:54.

I was actually looking forward to this as the course looked awesome and I'd done some good training. However, immediately there were people flying past along the flat section, mainly on TT bikes. I was on my Felt AR4 with clip-on aerobars (and Zipp 303s kindly provided by Alex's brother Nick!) and in hindsight I would have used a TT bike - I think I was on my clip-on aerobars for well over 50% of the time, and probably wouldn't have lost much on the descents on the TT bike, but who knows. I was trying to hold back, but my competitive nature meant that I probably went out a bit hard on the first 20km flat section.

After the flat, you turn sharp left and there is a steep climb (the only steep bit on the course) - probably averaging 10% for nearly a km. I loved this bit as I overtook loads of people without really pushing it - in general I overtook people on climbs and lost time on the flat, which is a bit weird for someone of my size. It then continued rising slightly for the next 10km or so and somewhere there I caught Andy. We had a bit of a chat about how fast everyone else was going and we stayed in sight of each other for maybe 10km before I started to pull away.

Up the main climb I just kept a nice tempo going, not pushing too hard, and overtook quite a few people (I think only one person passed me on the climb). I really enjoyed it - some great views and it wasn't too warm. The top was actaully slightly in the clouds, so as we descended I got a bit cold. I didn't enjoy the flat section around 90km and was actually looking forward to the next climb - I just find I can't keep pushing on the flats and get uncomfortable after a while. Not enough time spent in TT position I guess, and also our weekend training rides tend to be easy with hard climbs, rather than longer efforts, so might need to do a bit more training on my own unfortunately.

I wanted to be out of T2 by 6:30 to give myself a chance of 9:30 overall (which I thought would be a "safe" Kona slot!). I needed to average about 20mph to achieve that, and at the top of the final climb my average speed was 17.4mph. But the next 40km were virtually all downhill and my average went up to about 19.5mph. The descent ended with about 20km of flat to go, and I was really not looking forward to that bit. Fortunately at that point a massive pack (probably about 20 people) came past, most of them not even attempting to move out of the draft zone. I dangled off the back, keeping more-or-less out of the draft zone, but you still get a good advantage following a pack of that size even at 10m off the back. That got me back to the seafront and then it broke up - I was happy to sit up at that point and try to get my legs working for the run.

As we approached T2 my watch was already past 6:25 so I knew I was going to have to have a good run. But my legs felt better than in Austria, so I was still optimistic, although the sun was now out and it was pretty warm.
Rolling into T2

Official time 5:22:11.

No real dramas, although I wasted a few seconds trying to find where to drop my bag - I'd put my shoes on where I picked my bag up rather than at the seats, then couldn't find the right place and a couple of people I asked didn't know!

Official time 2:53.

The run
As I left T2 I glanced at my watch - 6:29 exactly. Hmmm, basically need a 3 hour marathon. I heard Alex shout something like "you've got some running to do" (she knew I wanted to be out of T2 before 6:30), and thought "yes, I do"! It's 4 out-and-back laps, so 5.25km each way times eight. So I knew I needed each leg to be about 22:30.

At this point I should say that it was awesome having Alex and Heather on the course cheering us on. Heather was at one end and Alex at the other, and given how loud they were shouting, I could hear one of them for the majority of the course! (OK, a slight exaggeration...) Knowing they were there really pushes you on.
Let's do this!

As usual, it felt like I was running really slowly at first, so wasn't sure whether to be pleased or alarmed to do the first "out" leg in close to 20 minutes (under 2:45 marathon pace!). Kept telling myself to back off, just cruise the first couple of laps. The return leg was still too fast at 21:45ish. I told myself I could really back off the next lap and then start to work on the 3rd. I was still overtaking everyone - one guy came past with a big bushy beard and we ran together for a bit. It was getting really warm and I remember thinking it must be horrendous with a big beard. I had a gel but that gave me a bit of a stitch so decided no more of them. I was drinking quite a bit of water, pouring the rest on my head, but nothing else, and no walking at all. I promised myself I could have coke on laps 3 and 4, but not before, which gave me something to look forward to.

Lap 2 was 22 mins out and about 22:45 back, so halfway in about 1:27. Too fast, but some time in hand for the inevitable slowdown. I think it was at the start of my 3rd lap I saw Freddie van Lierde heading for the finish chute - I looked at my watch and saw 8:0x and thought that must be wrong, but it wasn't and he beat the course record by something like 12 minutes - ridiculous.

I started to get really hot on lap 3 and decided to start running through the showers - the danger of blisters was now fairly small with not far to go. They were absolutely freezing - literally took your breath away, but I think it was a good decision. "Just get to lap 4, then it's just 10k". Lap 3 was about 23:20 and nearly 24 mins - my legs still felt OK, but it was the heat that was the problem.

Picked up my last chou chou and decided it was time to man up. I had about 47 minutes to get under 9:30, and I couldn't think of a good reason why I couldn't do that. But I had a slight change of plan and decided to walk briefly in the aid stations to get a proper drink and run fast in between. There was a guy running well just ahead and I managed to catch him, but he kept passing me in the aid stations.
One lap to go....

Out leg was 23:40ish, so a bit quick than the previous, but would need to be close to 23 for the last one. Stopped at one more aid station and then put my head down for the last 4km. I was trying to use my quads more as cramp was starting to come on in my right hamstring (from the swim?), and it felt like I was running quicker. I'd dropped the guy I'd been "racing", and also passed the guy with the beard who had pulled away about 2 hours earlier. As I turned into the finish chute I looked at my watch and it was ticking past 9:30 - nooo! I looked behind and as there was no one close I walked the last 20m to enjoy it.

As it turned out, I'd forgotten that I started my watch 20s before the gun, and my official time was 9:29:56! So lucky that little walk at the end didn't push me over 9:30 - that would have been annoying.

Official run time 3:01:03.

Alex was right at the finish waiting for me and she gave me a kiss through the fencing (must have been very unpleasant for her!). I asked what sort of position she thought I was in, but she said quite far down my AG, so probably not Kona. Another Austria - getting a good time, much faster than prior Kona times, and not getting in. But when we got back to the apartment, I saw I'd come 10th in my AG and expected maybe 9 Kona slots, so a pretty good chance.

Just after I'd finished I was shocked to hear about a fellow Brit (from the London area, about my age) had crashed on the bike course and passed away. Really made me think about what I had just done, what our family and friends go through while waiting for us to finish and my aim of get a Kona place felt a bit irrelevant really. And I'm not sure the organisers announcing this while people were still out on the bike course was such a good idea, a certain amount of panic ensued from supporters....

By the time I'd had lots to eat, Andy had finished (10:08) - for a while on the run I thought he was holding the same gap on me, which definitely spurred me on! Matt was struggling on the run and had a way to go, so we headed back to the apartment once we were able to get the bikes out of transition.

Heather was texting to say that Matt was really struggling and was thinking of dropping out. However, some "words of encouragement" from various people, and he stuck at it and made it in under 14 hours. a great effort considering he been sick for most of the run.

None of us were up for doing much that evening - for some reason we were all quite tired, including the supporters, so got an early night.

Kona allocation was at 2pm, so in the morning we got the train to Monaco for a bit of sightseeing. I loved looking at everything there, although it all seems a bit "Disney".

We got our cash together and checked out the slot allocation on the way to the hall where they'd be allocated. 8 slots in my AG, so I needed two above me to not take their places.

There were some very bizarre rolldowns in one or two of the womens AGs (e.g. any 30-34 finisher could have had a Kona slot), but as usual not quite so many in the men's. In my AG, early on (maybe 3rd place) there was a rolldown, then another at about 7th place, so we're off to Kona! There were 3 rolldowns, so it went down to 11th place.
Kona baby!

Had a good night after that, a bit of champagne, cocktails etc., but still feeling a bit too tired for a really big night out!

On the way back we had a nice stay in Lyons to break up the journey. At some point I realised that I had to do another IM in 3.5 months, which was a bit alarming. But at least I can go there with no pressure (it's not as if I'm going to place very highly) and enjoy it.

As usual, there are some people who have really helped me to achieve my goal:
- Andy, Matt and the other Uperstars, it's great fun training with you all and gives me a lot of motiviation to train (don't want to get mocked for being slow)
- Heather for her amazing cheering and the pre-race dinner!
- other friends and clubmates for all their good luck messages and words of advice/support
- most of all, to Alex, for more amazing cheering, being so supportive and basically looking after my life while I spend too much time training. At least the World Champs are in Hawaii and not Tajikistan! (Note I have nothing against Tajikistan, just made up a place not regarded as a holiday destination...)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Final (probably!) update before IM France

A quick one as we're a bit busy at the moment having moved house at the weekend, trying to work for the first half of the week and packing to leave tomorrow!

Now the training's basically finished, a brief summary of what I've done in 2013 up to now (24 weeks):

Swim: not much! 43M or about 22 hours - less than an hour a week (scary now I see that!), although most of that was in the last couple of months.

Bike: lots (for me). Nearly 3,000M or about 159 hours.

Run: average. About 830M or 98 hours. Just ticking over at about 35M per week, but had a couple of pleasing runs (marathon at end of March and a 10k PB a few weeks ago).

But the key is that I think I've done more training than Andy. Also, the training wasn't evenly spread, with a large volume in May (75 hours), which I'm hoping will have given the overload to add a bit of strength.

So as previously mentioned, my target would be to qualify for Kona, which I suspect will need about 9:30 or thereabouts. The plan would be roughly 60/5:20/3:0x, plus transitions, but I don't really have a feel for whether that bike split is doable on that course, and if it's hot the run will probably be a bit slower. Forecast is looking OK at the moment - warm but not ridiculously hot as it has been in some other years.

Anyway, nothing can be done now other than making sure I'm fresh and ready to go on Sunday morning. And trying to get a bit of a tan to reduce the sunburn during the race!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sportive season

Just a quick update on the last couple of weeks - the key training was 3 days of sportives (2 days of the Tour of Wessex and the Chiltern 100). I also somehow beat my 4-year-old 10k PB in the first of the midweek league races at Welwyn with 32:35, which also took the club record by 3s (apologies to Tom, particularly as he led me round 8k of the race!).

Tour of Wessex
I went down to Dorset on the Saturday to visit the family while some of the "Superstars" were doing the first day. So when I got there early on Sunday I was expecting them to be a bit tired and we would start off steady. But no, Tom went off at about 22mph for the first couple of hours, and we were flying past all of the earlier starters in our nice matching new kit! (See pic below for the kit.) The route went down to the south coast, over the Purbecks with a few nice hills, but nothing too severe. I really enjoyed it and we averaged about 20mph for the 116M, including a couple of short food stops.

The next morning my legs didn't feel like they had too much in them, despite eating a huge roast dinner at the pub the night before. After agreeing to start nice and steady, again we did 43M in the first two hours along the flat, mainly caused by Tom. The climb up Porlock toll road wasn't as bad as I expected, just a long steady climb, except for a minor tumble at the top when someone came past me on the inside at the same time as I was pulling in to let a car through! But the following 3 hours was not pleasant - the combination of wind over Exmoor, relentless steep hills and mechancial issues (Andy's rear wheel - not an imaginary problem this time!) caused a bit of a sense of humour failure. The icing on the cake was taking a wrong turning, inevitably down a big hill which we then had to climb back up. Even when we got to the flat last 20M, I was hanging onto the group, and when I did eventually recover enough to lead for a bit, some hangers-on attacked up the final hill. But I hung on and we got round 114M in about 6:50 hours including stops.

My legs were pretty dead for the following few days, so had a bit of an easier week except for the Tri Force duathlon on the Saturday where I put in a bit of effort. Then on Sunday we had:

Chiltern 100
Knowing the route, and having done the Tour of Wessex, I was much more confident about getting round at a decent clip. It basically went to plan with the majority of the group staying together (Tom got a couple of minutes ahead in the last 20M and we dropped a couple of guys), and we reigistered 7 of the top 10 times. 5:35 for me for the 105M.

The "Uperstars" at the finish of the Chiltern 100
So, that was the last long ride, and I'm looking forward to a bit of a rest before 23 June!

Last night was the next midweek race - Tom got his revenge by kicking away from me in the last mile or so, but he'll have to wait to get his club record back as the route had to be changed to avoid some roadworks!

I'll try to do one more update before the IM with a bit of a summary of my training and the "plan" for the race. The main aim will be to not lose to Andy or Matt, who both seem to be going worryingly well.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mallorca trip and Ironman approaching

So, I'm now back from our training trip to Mallorca and the Ironman is getting alarmingly close. We had a great time in Mallorca - 7 of us cycling plus a few partners (and Kirsten, our team masseuse!). The things I will remember most from the trip are:

- the amazing roads for cycling, including some fantastic climbs (see pics below)
- the epic Saturday ride of 106M including climbs of Orient, Soller, Puig Major and Sa Calobra (
- the "interesting" swim we did at St Vincenc (Matt remembers it like this although it probably wasn't quite that bad)
- the amount of food demolished at the evening buffets
- the lasagne fiasco on the night we decided to eat away from the hotel
- John insisting on mounting his camera on some descents so he has evidence of what a great descender he is (I note he didn't record any climbing...):
- Bongo Bongo
- Andy's insistance that there really must be something wrong with his rear wheel, when there clearly wasn't
- just having a laugh with good mates.

Training-wise I did 25 hours in the 5 days, roughly 21 hours of cycling and 2 each of running and swimming, so a pretty decent training block.

Various pics of the trip below:

At the top of the 14km climb of Puig Major

Top of Randa - nice view in the background!

Resting at Randa - note copious amounts of water/Coke!

Better view of the Bongo Bongo top

Looking down Sa Calobra - the most amazing road I've ever seen (10km of tarmac sprawled over a steep hillside to a small cove)

Another part of Sa Calobra - hard to do it justice in a photo

The group at dinner - less John, who was probably trying (unsuccessfully) to obtain an edible lasagne
All in all, a great trip - thanks to Tom for organising!

Since then, I had a few easier days and then back into normal training. I think my swimming is coming back to an acceptable level, and I had a good 3000m at the latest Southern Athletics League fixture (9:14), so my running seems OK (although 3k does not really bear any relation to an IM!). My cycling certainly should be stronger now, so hopefully it's all coming together.

Tour of Wessex this weekend (days 2 and 3), then Chiltern 100 the following weekend, then taper!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April update

The end of the month seems to have come around really quickly, so I thought it was time to write down what I've been doing in April. Essentially, nothing particularly epic, just some solid training and trying to build for Nice. A summary of the month's training:

Swimming - 5 hours, 15km (not enough!)
Cycling - 33 hours, 609M (decent, but still need more work before Nice)
Running - 20 hours, 165M (seem to be running quite well, just need to maintain)

So 58 hours in total, which is a solid month's work, but I think May will need to be better if I want to get a good result at Nice.

Highlights of the month were:

1. Starting to ride my new bike - a Felt AR4 which I will be using at Nice. Really like it!
2. A great ride 97M over the Chilterns, effectively picking up the Chiltern 100 route and following that for 60M, so it included Whiteleaf, Wardrobes, Kingston Hill etc. It also included a very pleasant pub lunch en route - this was necessary for Paddy to be able to make it home!
3. The first Southern Athletics League fixture of the year. Not really useful Ironman training, but good fun! I was pretty pleased with a 15:46 5000m given I had done a 90 minute turbo in the morning and then cycled to Uxbridge for the fixture. I then somehow won the 1500m (my first ever 1500m win!) in 4:25 - not a great time but it was a little bit tactical. The cycle home into a stiff headwind was not pleasant!

Plan for May is at least 70 hours, but we're off to Majorca next week so should be able to cram in a lot of cycling in those 5 days. Then there's the Tour of Wessex at the end of May (I'm just doing days 2 and 3). Then it won't be long until Nice - scary!