The One When Iron Nessie Did Ironman Austria

Posted on September 23, 2014. Filed under: Austria, bike, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, Klagenfurt, new ironman tips, race report, race review, run, swim |

You know when something is so overdue that you had forgotten that we were expecting it in the first place?  Well, that’s where I was with Nessie’s Ironman Austria race report.  She likes to take her time.

To cut a long story short Nessie, a veteran of waaaay too many marathons for one so young, saw me do an Ironman in 2011 and after pumping her gums about it for two years decided she wanted a piece of that.  Throughout the report she refers to me as IronCoach (and occasionally Stumpy on account of my freakishly short legs).  Possibly because I taught her to swim, maybe because I picked her up from the ground every time she fell off her bike, but most likely because every Monday night for 30 weeks I sent her a programme telling her how to organise her life and to MTFU.

Anyway, over to Nessie.  I would recommend a coffee and some cake.  Seriously a large thermos and a whole cake.  Anyway…….



Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic Marathon Gold Medallist, said “At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill.”  Well at mile 140.6 on Sunday 29th June, I felt like the love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone when I heard the race announcer roar the 6 words that had occupied my every waking (and sleeping) moment for the last 12 months –

 “VANESSA JACOB. YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.

As they’d say in Dublin – deadly buzz!


My Iron journey officially started at 4.08pm on Monday 1st July 2013 when I received the email confirming my entry to Ironman Austria 2014. It had unofficially started 2 years prior to that when my pal, Stumpy had completed Ironman Regensburg. As soon as he had been ordained into the Ironman Brotherhood I knew that I wanted some of that action. It was just a matter of finding the time and commitment to do it. When Stumpster said he had been granted permission to do another IM I knew that I was going to join him for the ride.


For the first 6 months post IM entry my days were occupied with pre-season training (a bit of swimming, a bit of cycling, a bit of running).  In January I received my training plan. In the profound words of Bad Boy Martin Lawrence, “this shit got real”. Literally.  The training plan I received had 3 sections

  1. Shit that is coming up
  2. Shit you need to do
  3. Shit you have done.

No one could ever accuse my IronCoach (Stumpy!) of sugar coating things.


Now I’m usually a fairly competitive person and have rarely entered a race prescribing to the notion that it’s the taking part that counts. I am also, however, not a total buffoon. I had done my homework and was painfully aware of the pitfalls that littered the Ironman race. When I signed up for Ironman Austria on 1st July 2013 I therefore only had one objective – to cross the finish line smiling and not foaming at the mouth requiring urgent medical attention.  I can say with absolute honesty that I had no interest or desire in achieving a target time for IM – the 17 hours the race organisers allowed was enough of a target for me!


My “Just get round” plan involved 3 swimming sessions, 3 cycling sessions and 3 running sessions a week. You didn’t have to be Stephen Hawkins to figure out that this meant that over 6 days (I was granted one rest day) I would have to do 3 training double headers… and then some. I wasn’t sure what was going to pack in first – my legs or my washing machine.


The 6 months between receiving the plan and boarding the plane to Salzburg passed in a whirlwind of training, eating, sleeping, and working. Over that time I spent

  • 77 hours swimming – approx. 231 kilometres or 9,240 lengths of a 25m pool – that’s a whole lots of budgie smugglers to dodge!
  • 120 hours cycling – approx. 3000 kilometres – 4 times the distance from Edinburgh to London
  • 73 hours running – approx. 770 kilometres – equivalent of over 18 marathons. Eddie Izzard eat your heart out


I discovered that the key to a successful IM campaign is not having the fastest bike or the lightest trainers; it’s having a support network to see you through the highs and lows. Balancing IM training with life is not an easy task but without an understanding other half it would be nigh on impossible. My other half backed me all the way (and even proposed halfway through the IM journey!). He never made me feel guilty for disappearing off for hours on end, decked head to toe in my finest lycra. Although I’ve since discovered that he may in fact have an Xbox addiction and my long periods of absence provided him the perfect opportunity to satisfy his gaming needs!!


Besides a wee sniffle I got through my 6 month training plan injury and ailment free. But as I entered my 14 day tapering phase disaster struck – I picked up a serious case of the lurgy/manflu/ebola. Feck.  Cue desperation measures and 2 weeks of quarantine in my flat inhaling large quantities of lemsip, night nurse, day nurse, paracetamol, menthol crystals, Vicks vaporub etc etc. Thankfully I started to feel better the day before we were due to travel and by the time we had plane, trained and automobiled it to Klagenfurt I was showing clear signs of recovery and no longer at risk of decimating an entire rainforest with my tissue consumption.


When we arrived in Klagenfurt to hook up with IronCoach, Pam and Rory I was certain I would be on that start line.  But I was even more certain that I would have to play it safe and stick to the game plan if I was to meet my IM objective of finishing without needing the help of a medical professional.


The day before race day was a hectic one. We had to register, attend the pre race briefing, have our first open water swim (of the year!!), collect my bike (one of the best decisions of my IM journey was to transport my bike to Austria with ShipMyTri bike – an outstanding service!!), pack transition bags and then rack bike and transition bags. All the while eating and drinking like it was our last day on earth. We left the apartments at 8.30am and got back at 5.30pm. Then it was time to pack bags for the morning, call the parentals to reassure the lurgy had passed and I was feeling ok, eat dinner and get to bed. Not quite the leisurely day I had in mind.


On race day the alarm went off at 3.45am – It wasn’t tiredness that plagued me when I arose; it was absolute mind numbing, arse clenching fear. After 12 months of preparation, D day was here and for the millionth time since signing up for IM I asked myself “what have I gotten myself  into?”.


Brief text conversation ensued with IronCoach:

IronCoach – “You up?”

Me – “Yup”

IronCoach – “Fuck”

Me – “Double fuck”


It was reassuring to hear my pal was also feeling the fear.


I launched myself into pre-race preparation. Quick shower, liberal application of sun cream, kit on, bag checked (Garmin, energy bars, water bottles,  tri top, tri shorts all present ),  bowl of porridge, jam sandwich, litre of water, bag checked (again). Time to go.


Into the car. Out of the car. Into T1. Out of T1. Into wetsuit.


I staggered through those early hours on 29th June in a trance and bar Rory serenading us with “Let It Go” in the car and my bursting into tears as we said our goodbyes at the start line, I really don’t remember that much of it.


The swim was my biggest fear of the day – I am no Michael Phelps. In fact I’m not even Michelle De Bruin (nee Smith) before the performance enhancing substances. Think Eddie the Eel…… with armbands and a rubber ring. As I stood on the beach of the Worthersee at 6.59am that morning, surrounded by my fellow nutters all rubber suited and latex capped up, the iron demons were at their loudest – “This is madness. 140.6 miles is a long way to go in car, let alone on 2 legs. Just hop the barriers and go have some bratwurst and beer etc etc”.


But then I remembered the game plan and IronCoach’s words of wisdom – hang back, avoid the human washing machine, take it easy but keep moving forward, get out of the water and you’re on the home stretch. (I had decided early on that if I was to get through IM I would need to take it in bite sized chunks on the day so I conveniently forgot about the 180km bike ride and marathon that awaited me on the other side of the swim!!).


The 10 second warning rang out. Calm and silence descended. And then the starter cannons went off – it was time to man up.


I had positioned myself at the very back of the pack on the beach (I was practically in the car park) so that I could take my sweet ass time setting off on the swim. As my fellow ironman pledges catapulted themselves into the stramash I tentatively tip toed in. Now I had fully prepared myself to be the last person into the water (and also out of the water –  my target swim time was 2 hours 19 mins 59 secs), so I was a little shocked to see I wasn’t the only person who looked like they were out for an early morning paddle. Seeing other people hang back really helped to calm my nerves – I wasn’t going to be on my own out there.


After 5/10 mins of wading into the water it was time to start swimming…. Or drown. Heart pounding, I dunked my head. Did I have a moment of absolute panic? Yes! But the amazing thing – it was literally that.  A moment.


The water was actually quite pleasant (compared to some of the arctic puddles I’ve experienced in Scotland over the last few years) and cold shock did not strike.Some breast stroke to bring down the heart rate and regulate my breathing, and I was off.  The 5 minute “head start” I’d given the rest of the field paid off and for the most part I had clear water ahead. Along that stretch out to the first turn buoy I witnessed some interesting swimming styles – one chap appeared to be doing breast stroke arms with front crawl legs. I do wonder if he made it out of the water.


Pull, breath, sight, repeat.


Before I knew it I had hit the second turn buoy, (without any kicks to the head) and was on my way to the canal….. Or so I thought. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite make out where the canal opening was, so that particular segment of the swim involved around 300 metres more than the race officials actually required.  Not to worry I made it eventually and readied myself for “the fastest swim of my life” that had been promised on the race briefing. Yeah, right! As promised the water was shallow. But it was not fast. In fact for the first time that day I found myself in a bit of a melee. It appeared everyone was struggling to swim in a straight line and I had to reposition myself a number of times to avoid flaying limbs. All the while trying to expel the twigs and leafs that were trying to invade my lungs.


10603645_10151965569243039_8516843335594483099_nThe spectators were out in full force along the canal and as it was so narrow they had a great view of the action. As we passed under the first bridge over the canal I heard Al and Pam shouting my name – no idea how they spotted me in the scrum of white caps but it did my heart no end of good!


Pull, breath, sight, repeat.


I saw the turn to the swim exit and could have cried with relief. I’d survived the swim – woooohoooooo!!!!




I had opted to swim “Garmin-less” so when I was unceremoniously dragged out of the canal I had no idea how long I’d been in the water for. Quick check of the clock as I trotted Bambi like to T1 told me it was 2 hours since the Pro’s set off – wooohooo that meant I’d exited the water in 1hr 45. Incredibly pedestrian time but I was delighted, I had until 5.15pm now to get round the bike course.


T1 was a leisurely affair for me. As well as forgoing the Garmin I had also opted to wear a swimsuit under my wetsuit – I thought the day was going to be long enough without having to set off on 180km bike ride in wet tri gear. Great on paper but in reality the whole drying/changing process took quite some time (even with the help of the T1 wetsuit strippers). Add to that an extended portaloo stop as the effects of the swim nerves kicked in and I was 16 mins 52 secs in transition. I’m sure most triathletes would have me disbarred from the sport for that but I was one third of the way toward becoming an Ironman and feeling on top of the world.


Now unlike the other 2,915 Ironman pledges I had decided not to upgrade my entry level road bike in any way – in retrospect I should have at least gotten some tri bars. I felt like I had shown up to a Harley Davidson meet on a BMX….. with spoky dokeys.  My steed is called Bob.  I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, or the guy with a full aero helmet straddling a carbon beast, but I’ll admit that seeing the sweet rides getting racked at transition had intimidated me (and brought out my green eyed monster).  They filled me with fear for the bike course. I had told everyone in the run up to IM that if got through the swim I knew I could make round the bike and run courses – it was time to test my mettle.


Bob was found with relative ease (another added bonus of hanging back in the swim – most folk have already set out on the bike by the time you finish!!) and I was on my way to the mount line. The race announcer was in full flight by now and as I clipped in to set off he bellowed “And next is Vanessa Jacob from Ireland” – Needless to say I felt like a champ. A quick thumbs up and smile for the camera as I passed Al, Pam and Roar and I was off.


The game plan for the bike was pretty straight forward – eat/drink every 20 mins and keep a steady pace of 20 to 25 kph. Could I have gone faster? Yes. Was I willing to take the chance of bonking and feckin up my chances on the marathon? No.


The first 30km of the bike course was pretty uneventful. Breathe, eat, drink, repeat (while silently chanting “please don’t get a puncture, please don’t get a puncture”). As IronCoach has said in his outrageously long race report, large segments of the bike course weren’t particularly well supported so when I did see a random Austrian perched on a deckchair, necking a brewski I gave them my biggest grin and thumbs up. This elicited a cheer of “zuper, zuper!!!” and “HOP, HOP, HOP” every time. Hearing those words never got boring.


On the road out to Faaker See there was a two way stretch where we crossed paths with pledges heading out towards Rupertiberg. There I spotted IC in his jaunty yellow pirate outfit – a shout of “Dougie” and he saw me. “You ok?”, “Yep”, “You?”, “Yep” was the sum total of the conversation. He was looking strong and looked to be on track to shave a chunk of time off his last IM time. Then it was onto the Faaker See with me.


IM Austria boasts a largely flat and downhill course with 2 significant climbs –the first at Faaker See and the second at Rupertiberg. Race briefing had confirmed my hopes/dreams that each loop consisted of approx. 55km flat/descent and 35km climbing. Totes manageable….. at least on the first lap. Second lap was far more challenging particularly as then the heavens opened, the thunder roared and I looked like a drowned rat for what wouldn’t be the last time that day!


10632742_10151965570193039_4236030404538668150_nThe first real ascent was fairly unremarkable – short sharp climb, followed by a longer, shallower drag for about 6km. At the top, however, waited a wee treat in the form of a bottle of Coke – the ironman equivalent of crack cocaine.


I had caught up to a pack of riders about 20km into the first loop and rode with them for most of the lap. I found myself in an intriguing game of cat and mouse – I would pass them on the uphills, they would zoom by me on the downhills shouting “wwwweeeeeeeeeeee”. This baffled me – on the ascents I overtook them with relative ease yet on the descents they flew by me. I would only find out after IM that gravity was playing a huge part in their glee…. Now I’m not in any way a small girl but a few dozen Greggs sausage rolls would have considerably upped my pace downhill (that and a set of tri bars).


About 25km after Faaker See we hit Rupertiberg –somehow  I had blanked the image of the course profile map from my mind and was a little shocked to arrive at the bottom of it to discover that it consisted of not 1, nor 2 but 3 short vertical climbs. Feck. A very slow ascent ensued but I finished it feeling breathless and not in need of a stretcher. Result.  Another bottle of coke grabbed from one of the feed station attendants and I was on my way back to transition to repeat the loop again.


A check of the watch – loop one done in 3hrs 35 mins. Again unlikely to get a call up to represent Ireland at the next Olympics but bang on target pace and legs were still feeling strong.


Eat, drink, breath, repeat. (Interspersed with chants of “almost there”, “please don’t get a puncture” and singing “Eye of the Tiger”)


Needless to say there were some low moments on that second lap when the Iron demons started to whisper in my ear. However they were no match for 6 months of training, an all-consuming need to get my grubby paws on that all important finishers medal and a paddy off her head on “iso” and coca cola.


As I cycled down the final stretch into T2 I spotted Pam, bouncing up and down shouting “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE”. Then as I dismounted I saw Al being restrained by marshals from jumping the barriers and doing the triathlon equivalent of a pitch invasion. “NESSSSSSSSSSS YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!!!”. Hahahahaha.  It would appear we had all fooled ourselves into thinking an actual real life 26.2 mile marathon was IM code for a 5km run.


I wobbled into T2 (think bambi again but this time on ice….. in a pair of manolos) to dump Bob and assess what damage 7.5 hours sitting on a bike had done. Arms, legs, back, shoulders, feet…… all stiff but no real pain. Result.


My hands however were a different matter entirely. Cyclist’s palsy had struck at about 120km, resulting in a loss of all power in my left hand (for the last 60km I had to operate the left shifter with my right hand….which was slightly inconvenient. Given the next/final part of the journey to IM involved running I figured the hand wasn’t going to be a problem. Unless of course I ended up crawling at some stage and let’s face it if it came to that a sore hand was likely to be the least of my problems.


I won’t go into details on the chaffing, let’s just say there was a lot.


I then got down to official T2 business – visit to the portaloo, fresh socks, cycling shoes swapped for trainers, helmet replaced with cap, generous application of sun cream (the afternoons biblical storm had been replaced by the mercury hitting somewhere north of 25 degrees and blazing sunshine), bottle of water necked and reassurances from the marshals that I now had over 7 hours to drag my sorry irish ass around 42.2km.




1453425_10151965570333039_1179726102484402620_nAl was waiting at the transition exit to dish out hugs and check that I was still compos mentis.  As I suspected regular updates were being sent back to Ireland on my mental and physical state. My mam and dad were glued to a pc anxiously awaiting news that I had crossed the finish line – they had a VERY long day.


The run course was 2 (quite narrow) laps of a (kind of) figure of 8 – taking in the park which housed the Iron Village, Krumpendorf (a municipality apparently – I think that’s Austrian for small housing estate but can’t be sure!), the Lend Canal and Klagenfurt town centre. It was packed with spectators and the atmosphere was electric – hardly surprising given 99% of the spectators had been on the sauce since breakfast. After the relative solitude of the last 7.5 hours on the bike this was exactly what I needed to carry me to the finish line.


I’d soon discover however that the downside of this 2 lap, figure of 8 formation was that you passed within touching distance of the finish FOUR times before you got to head into the lights. This for me was to be one of the hardest things about the run segment of Ironman Austria.


Now the game plan for the marathon was to start with a walk, then after a mile or so follow a run (jog)/walk strategy (4 mins on, 1 min off) for as long as I could. Unfortunately my brain went bat shit crazy with the buzz of the course and I foolishly started to run straight out of transition. About 800m into the 42.2km I  face planted. A full on comedy, flat on the face, looking like an arse, face plant.  And for the second time that day I found myself being unceremoniously dragged to my feet as 2 of my fellow IM pledges came to my rescue. “You ok??”, “Yep think so”, “Well GO GO GO GO!!!.


Sense returned and I settled into the planned walk/run strategy.  I hit up the first aid station and guzzled water, iso and coke in an attempt to combat the searing heat and inevitable dehydration. There was a dazzling array of fruit, energy bars and saltines on offer but my tummy was starting to revolt from being subjected to cliff bars and soreen since 7am so I politely declined the grub.


I’ve heard and read a lot about the “Death March” and like most stuff on the tinternet I had chalked it up as exaggerated Ironman folk lore.


It.  Is.  Not.


It was absolute carnage out on the course. Sure the pro’s/age groupers were bounding gazelle like to the finish line but the rest of the field were shuffling like cast offs from the Walking Dead.  Pledges who had lapped me on the bike were now sitting road side dribbling on their expensive tri suits. It was clear that this last leg was about survival and I quickly realised that if I was to avoid slipping into the Ironman abyss I was going to need something to distract me from the miles that lay ahead of me. So I started chatting to my fellow competitors.


I met Marie from London who was on her 2nd attempt at becoming an Ironman (she had collapsed at mile 21 of the run the year before. She had gone out too fast and didn’t focus on nutrition – take note). She was really hurting and I would find out later that she unfortunately didn’t make it to the finish line this time either. I then met a guy from Cork, who owned a bar in Klagenfurt and invited me to a post- race lock in.  Then another Paddy, a Brummie and an Israeli.  I realise now that this reads like the opening line of a bad joke.


About 10km in I saw IronCoach. We stopped for a hug and a chat – and a telling off from some of the grumpier pledges that we were standing in their way. I offered to hug them too but they were too preoccupied with finding the next portaloo.


1908426_10151965570498039_8139347546460581133_nWe both then waddled off on our separate ways with calls of “see you soon”. Oh the naivety – I had another 4 hours to go! I then met another chap who I recognized from out on the bike. “Nice flower!!” – I hadn’t started to hallucinate; he had a pink chrysanthemum stuck into his cap.  We settled into a comfortable pace and ended up “running” the rest of the course together.


As I made my way out to Klagenfurt for the first time I saw Pam and Roar again. Rory was playing a blinder – it was now nearly 7.30pm (he’d been up since 4.30am) and he was still dishing out hugs and kisses.


I plodded on chatting to my new pal Mike and before I knew we had rung the charity bell in the town centre and were headed back to the park to start round 2.


The crowds on that first lap were incredible.  They were going wild – waving cowbells, flags and pints of Stiegl. They cheered us as if we were Olympic Athletes, and any acknowledgement of their support sent them into a frenzy. “Go Ironlady Go!!!!”.( FACT – 2,916 athletes registered for IM Austria. Only 374 of them were women.) There was a large Irish contingent in the crowd (we’re everywhere) and one particular group became my personal cheering squad on the run – traditional irish phrases of encouragement were bellowed every time they saw me “G’wan ye good thing” and “Keep her lit”.


The course started to quieten down on my second lap as the speedier pledges started to make their way to the finishers chute. The finish line party sounded in full swing as I went by for the third time! 13 miles to go – reassurances from the diehard spectators that “the hard part was over” and that “almost there”!! At least I think that’s what they were saying – they had started to slur their words at this stage.


It was then that the tummy cramps, chaffing, sore feet etc. became harder to ignore and the timed run/walk strategy was abandoned. Walking was no longer dictated by the chirp of the Garmin timer, our crumbling bodies were now firmly in control of when we would run and when we would walk. It’s said that the body will do what the mind tells it – well after almost 14 hours of activity my body was starting to revolt.


The portaloos also took a turn for the worst then. Inevitable I suppose considering they were servicing almost 3000 athletes with the triathlon equivalent of “delhi belly”.


As the sun started to set the heat finally started to abate. Wooohhoos all round….. for about 20 mins. And then the heavens opened again and we were subjected to yet another bout of thunder, lightning and pissings of rain. Ironman started to lose it’s glamour in those last 10 miles as we squelched along in the darkness babbling mindlessly to distract ourselves from the task in hand. It was here that IM camaraderie really kicked in – at one stage there was a group of 5 of us grinding out the miles. Comments of “Sure what else would you be doing on a Sunday?”, “That goddamn bar better still be open when I get there”, “Has chaffing ever been fatal?” etc etc.


I really only have 2 gripes with IM Austria – the first is the lack of lighting along the run course. Cut off is midnight so common sense should tell you that many pledges are going to still be out on the course when night falls. A few torches wouldn’t have gone astray. My second gripe is that the last competitor does not get the same treatment as the first. As were headed back towards the hallowed finish line aid stations were being packed up – there was still over 2 hours left on the race clock and the pledges still out on the course needed refreshments more than anyone had all day at that stage.


As we power walked up the canal we finally started to hear the music booming from the finish line. At 2km to go were finally “almost there”. The adrenaline started pumping again and we broke into a trot.


10635699_10151965570118039_5841724345701894527_n1km to go and the pace picked up.


500m to go. Narrowly avoided disaster as Mike had a rush of blood to the head and started to run off in the wrong direction – he clearly felt he hadn’t put enough miles in that day.


200m to go . Something incredible happened. A friend and former colleague of mine passed away in 2010 following a stroke. Linda was 46. I’ve done a lot of fundraising for the Stroke Association in her memory over the last couple of years (shameless plug ) and whenever I race I always think of her. Well at 200m to go they started playing her favourite song. I like to think she’d orchestrated that especially for me.


100m to go. I’m turning into the finishers chute.


20m to go. I’m now bouncing like a lunatic. It’s fair to say I thoroughly milked my final metres.


No more metres to go. “VANESSA JACOB. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. Absolutely feckin brilliant!!!!


A friend sent a quote to me shortly before Ironman. Mohammed Ali said “ I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ Well, now  I am a champion.


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Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Posted on July 8, 2014. Filed under: Austria, bike, cycle, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman tips, new ironman tips, nutrition, race report, race review |

Take a gel.  Grab a gulp of clean, fresh water.  Put on some comfy shorts.  It’s time for 112 miles of Austrian bike ride.

I used 1,700 words to describe a 67 minute swim where my head was largely in the water.  On that basis I will need 10,147 words to describe the basic cycle before I even start talking about the scenery.  (Joking!).  (Probably not joking).

Firstly, let me come back to the swim.  I got a lot of feedback that people were deterred from Austria by the description of the swim.  DON’T BE.  Sure, ANY Ironman swim is tough, a beach start particularly so.  The mass beach start is an absolute spectacle but it is not a huge amount of fun.  And the canal would be thrown out of The Hunger Games for brutality.  There are no cuddles once you are in the water.  But, tactically I made an error that put me in the middle of the bosh for a prolonged period.  You can avoid it altogether and hopefully if IronNessie writes a race report she’ll explain how she totally avoided the stramash.  It is completely possible and I coached her how little time you lose if you choose your start strategy carefully.  Unfortunately I am too dim to heed my own advice.


The Aero Pump Arrangement

Anyway, I walked through the long transition zone, stripping off my wetsuit, picking up my bike bag, re-lubing, carefully drying my feet and putting my shoes on.  I had to loosen my helmet to put it on and then again when I was on the bike which seemed really weird at the time but, with hindsight, I suspect that whatever had happened in the swim had caused some temporary swelling.  There was certainly an unusual pain in my head, neck and shoulders for the first 50km or so and after that I can’t really remember any discomfort.  Post race the helmet was loose again so who knows?  I fetched my bike, walked out of transition and headed out for 180km (112miles) on the road.

Now, the bike course was the main reason that I chose Ironman Austria in the first place – it is famously quick.  Ness’s calculations and the race briefing were that there was 35km of ascending and 55km of descent or flat on the course.  However, the more I researched it the clearer it became that while it was quick it was certainly not easy.  Austria is kind of standard ascent for an Ironman but what makes the difference is long, straight, smooth descents.    It was surprisingly difficult to get ascent data for training – from various sources I saw 1200m, 1400m, the race briefing said 1600m and my own dying Garmin said 1814m.  I think the correct answer is somewhere between 1600 and 1800 but it certainly didn’t feel like it.  But this was not new news.  By the time I put my toes in the Wörthersee I was very familiar with the profile of the course and my training had sought out similar hills in preparation.

I always worry about the bike.  It is so important to overall performance in the Ironman but it is my weakest and newest sport so typically I feck something up royally.  The biggest and most surprising news about Ironman Austria was that I didn’t.  As soon as I got on the bike it felt different from 2011; I was comfortable; I knew what I was doing; I was confident.  More importantly the whole ride was on Plan B and it worked perfectly.  Plan B was required for 2 reasons – firstly, my Garmin was absolutely jiggered so I had to go on feel rather than data and secondly, I knew I couldn’t stomach Powerbar in the heat so I immediately switched to bananas.  Everything had been tested – not as thoroughly as Plan A – but IT JUST WORKED.

0745_043225Coming out of T1 the congestion was incredible and the referees, sensibly, ignored the drafting distances.  Pretty quickly, I was down on the aerobars and pushing 40km/h on the flat without puffing too hard.  And for the first 50k or so I would describe the going as gently undulating.  With the fogged up garmin I could see current speed and lapsed distance rotating every 10 seconds or so.  Cadence and heartrate, which I had used for training were completely obscured, and total race time was absolutely waterlogged.  So, trusting the plan, and letting the day develop as intended I didn’t even ask anyone the race time – I just focused on how I felt and tried to constantly ride *just* within myself.

There are two main climbs on the course – Faaker See and Rupertiberg.  From the altitude map Faaker See looked 6.5km long but in reality other than a short spike at the start it was unremarkable.  Rupertiberg looked pretty benign – short (2km) but stiff (150m); but became my absolute nemesis as it climbed over three sharp rises with an aid station perched at the top.  As I read in previous race reports lap 1 was a cruise and then Rupertiberg really nipped on lap 2.  If my Garmin had the decency to record my heart rate this would have been the only time I red lined.

0745_040728One of the things I found remarkable about the Ironman Austria bike course was how quiet it was.  There were long stretches when all I could hear was the the tweeting of birds and the click of many, many, many freewheels.  In Regensburg, the course felt like a constant party but in Austria with the exception of Klagenfurt and one other town in the course there was a lot of quiet time.  Sure there were people on Rupertiberg on the first lap (and an exceptionally irritating, borderline sexpest DJ – “GO IRONGIRL, GO IRONGIRL”) but the weather must have deterred the advertised “Tour de France” style crowds.

Also remarkable were The Randoms.  Often on a random stretch of hill were a couple of random people on camp chairs, off their tits on beer and schnappes, blowing whistles and horns with no obvious means of getting to or from the apparently random place they were at.  To be honest they seemed bemused by the bikes going past them so it may have been their standard Sunday afternoon and we were just getting in the way.

I had been thinking about Ness’s swim, hoping that she had followed advice and stayed out of trouble.  After the smaller loop of the bike course there is a brief section of two way traffic and pretty miraculously I heard my name shouted in the dulcet paddy tones.  I looked up and she looked well; I was happy that she was out of the water and I estimated that she was about an hour behind me.  If she could hold that pace on the bike I knew she would beat cut off.

I can’t really remember the order of events now.  At some point, I think towards the end of lap 1, it rained.  And it properly rained heavily.  There were police and marshalls in the towns on the descents slowing us down.  One building was covered in red crash matresses against the wall.  Some aero-alpha-clown decided to overtake a long line approaching that sharp right hand greasy turn, locked his brakes and just about took me out.  He probably saved 3 seconds.  I damn near lost 3 kilos.

Subsequently, I discovered that I went through 92km in 3:09.  I didn’t know it at the time but that was on target pace for my original plan of 6:30 and my final estimate of 6:40.  I also finished lap 1 in Regensburg in a similar time so I’m kinda glad I didn’t know as I unraveled rapidly after the halfway point in Regensburg and thinking about that would have been wasted energy.

0745_047442My nutrition plan was metronomic – at each aid station I launched both bidons, I took on 3 pieces of banana, a fresh bottle of Powerbar and a fresh bottle of water.  Between aid stations which was about 40 minutes I aimed to finish the banana, the Powerbar and as much water as I needed, drinking to thirst.  I can honestly say that I never suffered any GI problems at all and I even needed to pee on the bike.  (If you like gruesome detail – in Regensburg I peed in the lake and then didn’t pee again until Monday lunchtime.  And that included a lot of beer consumption.  Dehydrated doesn’t begin to describe it.).

Lap 2 was more of the same – short, sharp uphills, long flats and straight downhills.  The scenery was nothing short of stunning apart, of course, from the gaudy triathletes.  Now, at race briefing they said there were lots of toilet facilities on the course.  I have no reason to doubt this but if it was true they were stealth portaloos, camouflaged by the CIA.  Pretty much round every bend was some musclebound chap indulging in some dirty protest, stripped to the waist launching a golden stream into the undergrowth.  Every woodland area had half a dozen bikes dumped in front of it.  But not everyone was so frivolous with time.  One particular pointy helmet bellend, not wasting a moment to protect his flimsy dignity, took the time to balance his billion euro bike against a road sign, squat and take a dump by the road side while assuming an aero position sideways on to the incoming traffic on the grass verge.  From the side he looked like he was riding a tiny, invisible bicycle in his pointy helmet and half a tri suit…….until you noticed the exhaust discharge.

Just before Rupertiberg for the last time I felt like my hands and triceps were cramping so I stopped for the first time in about 5 hours and wolfed down two salt tablets.  As I stood there at the side of the road the overwhelming urge to pee came over me.  Following the lead of the aero-shitter I would not waste one excess second on mere ablutions – so I did it right there – over my bike frame, bidons and into my shoes.  “No worries”, I thought, “that can be my dirty secret”.  At which “DOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE” as Nick shot past.  I shook my urine soaked feet, squirted a full bottle of water over my lower half and bike and set off again in distant pursuit.  About two kilometres down the road Nick, obviously inspired, had cycled right up to the edge of the woods and was leaving a trace of his own sugar spiked DNA on the Carinthian countryside.  This was far from the last time that I witnessed Nick dealing with matters of a sanitary nature.  I should mention that, ballast expelled, he overtook me again.  Just a bit of toilet jockeying for position.

At the summit of Rupertiberg I could turn my attention to the run for the first time.  Unusually, I felt good.  While the thought of a marathon wasn’t thrilling, it didn’t make me involuntarily vom all over my pee stained bike.  A quick body scan suggested everything was in working order – back was tight but not sore, a twangy nerve on my right hip was twanging but not crippling, knees felt as supple as 42 year old knees ever feel.  Although I wasn’t sure of race time or progress, I certainly felt like a 5 hour marathon was do-able.

On the descent of Rupertiberg and the final 35km the wind picked up.  The last 5km into T2 were brutal against an unrelenting headwind.  For the first time I was in the small ring and really struggling to push forwards against the wind.  For each push of the pedal I swore – quite the most foul profanities I could think of.  I’m not sure whether it helped forward momentum but it was cathartic.  About 1km out I saw Pam for the first time and sat up off the bars to wave.  Disaster almost struck approaching T2 as the dismount line was immediately around a blind corner and the marshalls were looking bemused at the triathletes concertinaing into each other as they rounded the corner.  A bit of frantic, maybe even panicked waving would not have gone amiss.

Al was right at the bike dismount and, having seen Ness at the end of lap 1, shouted that she was about 90 minutes behind.  I didn’t know my own speed at  this time but it felt like she was going to make bike cut-off with time to spare.  My mind was calm.

6 hours and 33 minutes.  50 minutes faster than Regensburg and bang in between my expectations set last October and two weeks before the race.  Happy as a pig in shit but blissfully unaware until after the race.

Again, I walked through transition, deposited my bike in the rack, popped into the portaloo, grabbed my run bag and readied myself for the run.  As you should, because it will be properly epic.


 Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Ich Liebe Dich, Österreich

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Swim

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Run

Ironman Austria 2014 – Beyond the Finish Line

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Picking Up The Pieces

Posted on May 2, 2014. Filed under: Austria, bike, brain training, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, marathon, motivation, triathlon |

I haven’t written much recently for two reasons. Firstly, I had nothing very interesting to say and, secondly, I couldn’t really be arsed saying it. And from that pyre of positivity comes a blog. I warn you now, there is self pity. Feel free to hit the back arrow immediately.

This Sunday coming marks 8 weeks to Ironman Austria; and consequently there are only six weeks left of heavy training. Let me shout that a little louder in case you missed it THERE ARE ONLY SIX WEEKS LEFT OF HEAVY TRAINING.

If something you were REALLY looking forward to was 8 weeks away you would think it was a glacially paced eternity away. But, when you have been working towards one event that relies on you being at your peak so as not to suffer, 8 weeks feel like they are trickling through your fingers.


So, why the self pity? Well, I’ve had a chest infection. It floored me. And then just as I was getting back on my feet wee Roar picked up a virus which meant, other than I HAD to receive a face full of projectile vomit, that I was home alone with him when there was planned training. I was unreasonably frustrated, at being grounded on the back of two weeks missed training, brought on by the oppressive sound of the ticking clock inside my head.

I can just about admit it to myself now, but the chest infection took a greater toll on me physically and mentally than I expected. Physically I am still struggling to find pre-Christmas run pace and mentally my confidence has taken a massive knock. I hadn’t realised how fragile my confidence was; I have very painful memories of a 6:10 ironman marathon which I put down to easing off training in the last months and the memories of suffering came flooding back.

Roll-forward to Thursday morning when I was sitting outside the pool in the pissing rain with my own personal black cloud above my head. For once, I wasn’t procrastinating about getting into the pool but rather starting a 5 mile run which I knew was going to be cold, miserable and involve mucky lung clearance. Two twitter buddies urged me in the most polite way possible to HTFU (thanks Bean and Lozz) and Rach reminded me about the message that I had written for my brain and then tactically forgotten in my foul mood.

To cut a long, tedious and particularly tortuous story short I ran and I had a word with myself on the run. Sure, 9 weeks out from an event is not the best time to feel like shit, but equally there are some good things going in my favour. While my brain likes to dwell on the morose, there are FACTS that just make reality more palatable……

– since I signed up for IMA I have swum 183km, cycled 4,400km and run 486km
in my 30 week training plan I have swum 87km, cycled 2,263km and run 386km
– since my broken toe mended in September I have no injuries. The longest run since EVER.
– I have been doing weights since last year and have the strongest core and legs since EVER
– in a year I have only had 4 weeks with no training whatsoever
– swimming is a dream – I am clearing 10k a week and pace per 100m is dropping by about a second a week. (Proving that tackling procrastination is worthwhile)
– I am climbing hills in on the bike faster than I ever have. (This is not really a proud boast, just a fact, I am still as slow as a mountain gorilla on a penny farthing)
– I have only missed one long road ride.

So. I am going to declare that a reasonable Iron CV to go into the last two months with. With laser focus I can nail the last six weeks of training.

I WILL nail the last 6 weeks of training.


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The Outside

Posted on March 12, 2014. Filed under: bike, computrainer, cycle, Ironman Austria, Uncategorized |

I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

That is the first time that Freddie Mercury has opened a post on my blog.  And I can say with certainty that it will be the last.  I have been thinking about The Outside a lot and I need to write about it.  Probably incoherently.

It has finally happened.  The cyclist’s solstice.  Two days of sunshine.  It is that critical point in the year when I have to bathe in P20 sun protection on account of being a celt.  I will spend weeks as The Singing Detective but in a month’s time I will have the mahogany face, arms and legs with the pristine tan lines that only mental cyclists can take pride in.  However, triathletes cannot take pride in this the same way cyclists do.  As we look absolute tits when we wear sleeveless tri tops exposing acres of white, bordered by razor sharp  tan lines.  Two years on I have just about lost the Alcatraz scars that I thought were permanently seared into my shoulders.

So, brilliant news – cycling season is here.  Yet the sun brings a choice.  And choice is never good.  Get on the turbo or head to The Outside?

20140306_113430THE OUTSIDE vs THE WEATHER

The most obvious deterrent to riding in The Outside is the weather.

I suffer an extreme version of the Great British obsession.  I don’t know what it is about cycling that makes me think about the weather so much.  As soon as the polar bears stop trying to pinch my scarf, I will be out in open water.  Even if the water is still so cold that my teeth hurt and peeing in the wetsuit only warms me up to hypothermia level.  I NEVER run inside for fear of actually triggering a sweat tsunami and boiling my brain down with a constant background of crap telly.

But I spend 6 months of the year riding on the turbo.  In the Garage.  In the Inside.

Nothing individually phases me.  I don’t mind the rain.  I can ride in the snow and frost.  I hate the wind but MTFU and all that.  But between October and March unless there are babes on the beach in bikinis I would never contemplate going to The Outside.  It’s a funny one because I ALWAYS enjoy it when I get out, even when riding flat out in the small ring, DOWNHILL, and barely moving against the wind (that actually happened.  A proper SHUT UP LEGS moment).


It takes more time to ride outside.  It just does.  More kit to put on, more kit to wash, bikes to wash, degrease and lube.  It might be minutes but piled on top of a 10 to 14 hour Ironman training week it is still borrowed time.

The turbo is also pretty efficient – no traffic lights, no junctions, no downhills.  So if every minute is focussed on the training objective the turbo is a real asset to a time-stretched Ironman.  But cyclists can get all judgie about turbos, and some even troll good folks on twitter.  That’s just not on.

Everyone gets that riding outside is essential.  Hills build strength, position on the bike is better, rolling resistance on the road and with wind are more challenging.  We get it.  But sometimes with a 10 to 14 hour training week we have to make judgement calls.

photo (15)


I love riding my bikes and I particularly love riding them in The Outside.  But at this stage of the season I am man enough to ‘fess up to The Fear.

I’m comfortable with my bike handling skills, I can hold my own on the road and I’m even a big enough boy for any debate at traffic lights to end in my favour (however, the altercation with Fat Man during the Big Weekend 2011 may not have been my finest moment of manhood.)

But I can’t be the only cyclist whose shoulders are constantly tense listening to approaching cars from behind and wondering whether they have seen me in all my stroboscopic flashing, hi viz glory.

I’m a driver too.  A pretty good one, I think, but whether in the car or on the bike I witness things on the road that horrify me and question the humanity and intelligence of some of my fellow road users.

The Deliberate Intimidators are the most conspicuous offenders; but they are clearly just guys with tiny knobs who are unlikely to want “a chat” at the next traffic lights.  The Idiot Misjudgers are the first specimen of really dangerous characters but really they are simpletons to be pitied – who thinks giving a cyclist on a pot holed road 6 inches to spare when driving a couple of tonnes of steel is going to end well for anyone?  But there should be a circle of hell reserved for The Important.  The absolute knobjockeys who think that texting, phoning, tweeting or whatever while driving is a good idea.  Because they are too Important to wait until it is safe to do.

I am a considerate cyclist but I will own my share of the road.  If I am riding with someone and it is safe to do so, we will ride two abreast, a right the law affords us.  I am very reasonable.  However, if you drive too close to me, cut me up or knock me off my bike you had better prepare yourself for a whole maelstrom of anger.  And bad words.  And perhaps even the forceable removal of bits of your car.

I am not A Cyclist.  I am Dougie.  I am a Daddy.  Think about that when you overtake a cyclist.  Please.

I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.

And that stream of consciousness is all I really have to say about The Outside.

In other news, last week was the biggest training week since pre Ironman taper in July 2011.  Individually I have enjoyed….

At 4000m the longest swim since the Great Big Shit Swim at Outlaw 2012

At 65km and 750m ascent the longest ride since the Escape from Alcatraz in 2012

And at 10 miles the longest run since London Marathon 2012.  Luckily, unlike London, I neither vommed or suffered the trots during this run.

The show feels very much on the road with 16 long weeks to go.

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Body + Belly + Brain = The Formula For a Sub 13 Hour Ironman

Posted on October 23, 2013. Filed under: Austria, bike, brain training, cycle, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman regensburg, Klagenfurt, nutrition, run, swim, triathlon |

Before we get into it, let’s sidetrack for a moment – where do you stand on the nature versus nurture debate for elite athletes?

Sports Gene Front Cover Final_EpsteinDo you believe Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory that you get great by practising? Or do you subscribe to Epstein’s sports gene that says you have to be born with the right bits and pieces?

Personally, when I was a competitive swimmer I was blessed with strong, broad shoulders and huge lungs but I spent every single one of my 10,000 hours trying to find the extra milliseconds to make up for only being 5’11” when the average elite swimmer is 6’3″.  Gladwell’s theory may work for playing draughts or learning the banjo but when it comes to higher, faster, stronger then, for me, it’s a simplified side-show.

So, what’s the point of this diversion?  Simply to illustrate that we’ve only got what we’ve got but practice, knowledge and determination can take us an awfully long way.  My last blog nailed my nuts to the mast – I will do an Ironman in Austria in a time that starts with a 12.  But between now and then I need to get faster, lighter and stronger.  That’s what this blog is about.

I have thought about this long and hard and I have boiled it down to three things that need to improve – each one relying on the other.  There is no shortcut on the road to Klagenfurt.


If I don’t improve the body I will be de-railed before I start.  The body and the brain can conspire and leave me short of my target.  In 2011 I trained to “just get around”, and I did get around.  Just.  I trained to last the distance but that was it – so what is going to be different?


I need to plan and have a point to every training session to make it count – is it for speed, strength, endurance, technique? Have I got the weekly balance right?  It’s gonna hurt, there are going to be days that I can’t face the planned session, but Ironmen are forged in sweat and darkness in the winter months and I need to HTFU and get on with it.


I have to face it, I am injury prone.  I have a weak ass.  I have already started on strength and conditioning work to keep the big muscles in the back and glutes strong and avoid the injuries that stem from this weakness.  I will continue working on non-sport specific conditioning training right through to race day to ensure that the body remains strong.


Whatever great excuse comes up I need to hit the key sessions as long as I am fit to do them.  I can’t catch up a dropped session, whatever my brain tells me!


Yup, I know I should.  It’s important.  I will.



WANTED: For killing more Aberdonians than pneumonia

What I know about “sports nutrition” I learned when I was a swimmer in the 80s.  Basically, when I was swimming 14 hours a week, plus playing rugby, waterskiing and doing general kid stuff I just had to eat massive volumes so as not to die of starvation.  Not much thought went into the quality.  After a two hour morning training session (which we would fashionably call a fasted session these days) I would have a Mars Bar (ideally supersize), a carton of orange juice, a pastry and a buttery.

For those unfamiliar with the buttery or Aberdeen Roll, it is often the last supper of Aberdonians – not because they request it on Death Row, but rather because it is the final straw that blocks their arteries.  It is a very salty pastry made of lard and served with butter.  And jam.

Despite fuelling like a wheelie bin I still had a six pack and looked a picture of sporting health.  Roll on 25 years and my fuelling habits have not developed massively.  But as my activity levels have dropped and the years are taking their toll on my metabolism – I am, a fat Ironman.  So, with both eyes firmly on a sub 13 Ironman I turned to a sports nutritionist.  The building blocks of the sub-13 hour plan are:


Over the last month I have re-learned how to eat healthily and I am pleased to say that I am seeing the results – weight is dropping off, I have bundles of energy and I don’t appear to be losing any power.  And it has been relatively simple – more protein, veg, and healthy fats; no sugar, refined carbs or starchy carbs.  Oh, and I get to eat 5 times a day.  I have never felt fuller or healthier.  I am still missing pizza.  And chips


As I get closer to race weight I will start to reintroduce starchy carbs but by then my body will have changed how it metabolises fat so racing will be more efficient. Given that a badly executed nutrition plan (also known as a damned near fatal dose of the trots) was the start of IM Regensburg falling off the rails the race day plan will be tested, retested and retested again at race pace intensity.  Ain’t no trots gonna get me this time!


So far so logical but unfortunately, as humans, we don’t live as logically as we think we do.  Our emotions (oh yes, tough guys , you too) unconsciously hijack us from time to time.  And worse than that, despite all our best intentions, we are de-railed by old, unhelpful habits.

Are you reading that and shaking your head?  Are you convinced you are the boss of your brain?  Maybe you are; or maybe your brain is having a giggle at your expense.  Here, as the lovely Jennifer Aniston would say, is the science bit:

  • most of our habits are developed before we are 7 years old – a lot of these are unhelpful, for example, you get sweeties as a reward for doing something well.  The list of these is endless!
  • our habits are powerfully hard-wired into our brain and we are not normally conscious of them
  • our brains most primal function is to keep us out of danger and to steer us towards reward.  If you think about that for a second this is an anathema to ironman training – where we break down our body to get stronger, we flirt with injury and we deprive ourselves to hit targets.
  • when things go wrong, our brain is likely to release chemicals that actually reduce our ability to cope with it.  As an example, a puncture could leave me all fingers and thumbs and unable to change it.  Panicked at the delay I could push too hard to catch up and by the run I could be bent over puking.  However, if I am conscious of my brain’s tomfoolery, I can calmly take control and recover.

But the good news is that this is brain science not rocket science!  The brain, like the glute or the tricep, is absolutely trainable.  The old habits will still be hard wired in there but you can re-wire over the top of them.

These sounds tough, but it’s not really.  The key is to learn to watch your thoughts, to be mindful.

You may already be scoffing at this heeby-jeeby nonsense.  I certainly did when I first came across it.  In fact those that know me have probably spluttered their Stella onto their iPads, but bear with me.  I have practised mindfulness (secretly – which is interesting to notice in itself!) for 6 months – in that time I have learned – to eat better, to train harder, to avoid injury, to notice when my emotions hijack, and to identify the habits that need rewired.  You can’t change who you are but you can promote some of your decisions from your sub-conscious, notice what your brain is doing and make more conscious decisions.

I  liken mindfulness to the old cartoons – you notice the devil and the angel on each shoulder.  Normally they are muted and invisible.  They silently steer you through life without you even noticing their tussle at the wheel.   But if you are mindful you listen to their arguments and then make a conscious decision based on what you hear.  I make a choice to overrule 40 years of habits.

The concept of brain training is going to be a bit marmite – but the science stacks up and it is working for me. I’m going to leave it there but if you want a bit more in future posts, let me know in the comments below!


Sub 13 hour Ironman 2014 = Body + Belly + Brain.

Each relies on the other. You can’t race without training the body, you can’t train with fuelling the belly, and unless your brain is working at it’s best the body and the belly can’t be at their best either.

It’s a departure from my usual formula – HTFU.  In the last 3 months I have not dropped any training sessions and my nutrition is bang on plan.

This is working for me. What works for you?

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The Day I Sat in a Car in the Rain

Posted on September 16, 2013. Filed under: bike, brad wiggins, cycle, rapha condor jlt, tour of britain |

I have been lucky enough to do a lot of fun stuff.  I have been entertained in some of the great rugby and football stadia of the world.  I went to a rugby international in the old Parc des Princes, I was at the opening of the Stade de France.  I have been to Twickenham, Lansdowne Road, Stadio Flaminio, the Arms Park, Hampden, Old Trafford, Ibrox, St James Park, Celtic Park, the mighty Pittodrie and Murrayfield more times than I care to remember including a famous Scottish victory over England to secure the 6 Nations.  I flew in a Learjet to the Rugby World Cup at the Millenium Stadium and I have been helicoptered into Silverstone.  So, what was it about sitting in a car in the pissing rain that made it the best sporting experience I have ever had?

First of all, let me explain – it wasn’t any old car; and it wasn’t any old rainy day.

20130915_091433Last week by simply retweeting a message from Skoda UK Cycling I entered a competition.  The next day I received a message that I had won the prize.  I maintained a healthy scepticism until I had won beyond all reasonable doubt – the probability of a wind-up was unreasonably high.  As a cycling fan, the prize was priceless – ride in the lead team car of the Rapha Condor JLT cycling team for my local stage of the 10th Tour of Britain.  Wow.  And breathe.

Now, I had planned a 4 hour ride for myself and a reluctant swim for Sunday morning as part of Project Ironman 2 but with a tickly throat and impending barking cough I was already considering discretion to be the better part of valour.  But to have an excuse was all kinds of perfection coming together.  The end of a rainbow!

I was literally up at the crack of dawn to head down to Peebles.  I had contingency plans on top of contingency plans to ensure that I made it on time.  No worries, I thought, if I get there early I can enjoy some bikeporn and look at big buses.  Of course that was foolish because everyone was clearly still in bed.

First Bikeporn of the Day

First Bikeporn of the Day

As I wandered the quiet streets of Peebles the Madison Genesis team were just getting set up so I amused myself watching them for a while.  Eventually the need for coffee became too great so I wandered up to the “Breakfast Club” hospitality area and grabbed a Costa.  I met Jonathan from Skoda UK and then, as we watched the preparations continue outside, a biblical storm erupted.

The scale of the event was overwhelming – 30 police outriders and over 30 members of the motorcycle escort group who I know fondly from their support of triathlon, 19 teams and a system of rolling road closures that would see the whole caravan safely through 210km of rural Scottish Borders.

With 20 minutes to go I was taken to the car, met some of the team and John Herety, the Directeur Sportif who would be my host for the duration of the race.  As I was to find out John is one of the legends of British cycling – an ex pro rider and national champion who has done just about everything there is that is worth doing in management.  And he knows everyone!

My ride for the day

My ride for the day

I was fascinated by the spare bikes in the roof – all set with the gear in the big ring and mid way through the cassette.  As a rider who starts in the small ring from my completely flat driveway I had an instant respect for the pros.

The riders were signing in really late as a result of the rain – it was going to be a long day on the road so why get wet any earlier than necessary?  The Team Sky, OPQS and Movistar “camper vans” were mobbed as fans crowded in for a glimpse of Brad or Cav or Quintana.  Soaked to the skin, the crowd got a momentary glimpse through brollies and anorak hoods as the riders rode to the start.

Each wheel could be exchanged for a house in Galashiels

Each wheel could be exchanged for a house in Galashiels

Kristian House, one of the senior riders jumped into the car for a chat – I saw Kristian win the Edinburgh Nocturne the last time it ran – a race that should definitely be brought back!  I wished Kristian good luck as he jumped out to be replaced with Jim, our mechanic.  Jim was carrying enough expensive wheels that if we had ebayed them would probably be able to feed a small Borders village for a year.

Race radio crackled in the car “10 minutes to go”, “5 minutes to go”, we fired up the engine and the riders disappeared at two minutes to go.  Then simply, “The Tenth Anniversary 2013 Tour of Britain is now rolling”.

If ever there was a time to clench my cheeks it was now.  We weren’t moving at the speed that caused Burt Reynolds to say “put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye” but there was certainly the chaos.  As we sped down Peebles High Street John looked across and said “It may seem mad, but it is organised chaos”.

Let me try to explain.  All team cars go into a draw for a number which gets stuck on the back of the car.  If a car gets called forward to the peloton the it is the lower numbered cars own responsibility to regain their position.  Communication is done by the horn and basically the DS needs eyes in the back of his head as well as the three mirrors!  So as we sped out of Peebles, with the race still neutralised there were dashes through the convoy with horns blaring until all the cars found their rightful space.  As car 5 we had a pretty clear view of the Chief Commissaire’s car and the back of the peloton.


Hugh Carthy of Rapha Condor enjoying a brief break in the weather

One of the highlights of the day was listening to race radio – a bit like the referee feed in rugby – I think it would be a brilliant addition to add that to TV commentary.  As the team cars can’t see the peloton and there are no radio links to the riders in the ToB the race radio is a lifeline.  They effectively describe the race for the team cars – if a break has gone they name the riders and announce the times, they describe how the breakaway and the peloton are riding and most importantly they call the team cars forward when the riders need something.  “Rapha Condor to peloton – clothing” was our most common call but the most repetitive call of the day was “Sojasun to peloton”.  A very, very busy team car!

So, what was it that I enjoyed so much? I guess, if you are not a cycling fan it is quite difficult to understand.  The race, the peloton and the whole caravan are kind of an organic beast.  Seemingly without too much conversation, everyone understands what to do, where to go and how the race is likely to develop.  It was a privilege to sit in a team car, in the middle of the race and talk to one of the most experienced and knowledgeable DS that this country has.

How did the stage develop?  Well, Kristian went with the break straight from the start and was second in the first King of the Mountain.  Shortly after he won the second King of the Mountain to lead the competition for the first KoM jersey with one climb still to go.  The breakaway got out to 6 minutes – the second team car went up (involving a window to window kit transfer for Kristian) when the gap stretched beyond two minutes.  The response of the peloton was fascinating – they didn’t respond.  Sky and OPQS took to the front and effectively marshalled the peloton to maintain the breakaway’s lead.  The weather was truly foul with a constant headwind and the guys out front must have really been suffering, even as they slowed the peloton responded by……..peeing.  Every time the gap closed the peloton drew a truce and the blustery hedgerows or howling moors echoed to the cascade of a golden river.  I think three or four times there was a mass stop, readjustment of the lycra and re-group.

Lord Wiggles and Matt Hayman returning from yet another pitstop

Lord Wiggles and Matt Hayman returning from yet another pitstop

The crowds were impressive, Scotland really came out to support their stage.  Most were in heavy duty waterproofs, some looked like drowned rats and one kid on a particularly exposed stretch had even gone topless!  I suspect his mum probably had to take him to hospital to be defrosted.

Just sitting in the car was the most fantastic experience.  Rarely will you ever have the opportunity to accelerate hard down the wrong side of Dumfries High Street with hundreds of people and cops lining the road and not be arrested.  With John being so well connected we had window conversations with the Commissaires, David Brailsford, Nigel Mansell and for a while we towed and took some abuse from Cav.  Sitting a few feet off of Quintana’s back wheel you can appreciate how small he actually is (he weighs about half what I do, basically he is about the size of my thumb) and marvel that with all the technical clothing he still tapes up his overshoes with gaffer tape!

After 100 miles the break was eventually caught but Kristian hung on for second place on the final KoM taking the jersey for the first stage.

The final 12km were in the grounds of Drumlanrig Castle – really narrow, technical and tree lined.  Inevitably, at a narrow, sharp left turn there was a pile up.  Race radio called the crash, and named the teams that they could see.  It was out of our line of sight about 6 cars back.  Jim grabbed wheels as mechanics ran past us.  The blockage cleared and thankfully no-one was hurt and there were no Rapha Condor riders.  There followed a rapid chase to get back up to the peloton.  My cheeks still clench a little when I think about it.


Cav snarling his way back to his camper van

Three kilometres from the end the team cars were diverted from behind the peloton and off we went to find the van.  Cav was favourite to take the stage but as he rolled past me on the way to the OPQS bus there were a few tell-tale signs that things hadn’t gone well.

As I walked up to the podium presentation with Jonathan and Emily from Skoda I could tell from the big screen that Cav hadn’t even made the top 10 after getting boxed in.  Elia Viviani took a convincing first and obviously we could cheer Kristian on taking the first polka dot jersey.

So, the most fantastic day following the pro peloton sitting in a car on a rainy day.  I knew the DS had a challenging job – but no idea how many tasks they are juggling.  I knew pro riders were tough but, as a cyclist in Scotland with considerably more padding than these guys, I now have even more respect for what they do day in day out in all weather.  The conditions were truly foul and the route took over an hour longer than expected – the riders must have been absolutely frozen to the core but I never actually heard one complaint.

I have now decided that riding in a car behind the peloton is the only way to travel.  But sadly, that was then and this is now.  It is time to get Project Ironman 2 rolling again after a weekend off.

Thank you Skoda, thank you Rapha Condor, thank you John.


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The Superhumans

Posted on September 3, 2012. Filed under: big swim, big swim nottingham, big swim nottingham 5000m, bike, david weir, ellie simmonds, london 2012, MAF, make a wish, make a wish foundation, make a wish foundation sponsorship, marathon, olympics, outlaw ironman, outlaw triathlon, outlaw triathlon relay, paralympics, richard whitehead, sarah storey, swim, Uncategorized |

It has certainly been a while since I updated the blog.  And there is good reason for that……. firstly, the last events that I did were horrible and secondly they traumatised me mentally but, more significantly I now realise, physically as well.
Before the week is out I promise I will go through some catharsis by writing about it but as a sneak preview to get you (literally) gagging for it here are a few key excerpts……”sausage sandwich”……”threw up in my own mouth”……”eating swan shit”…….”naked in shower with a mentalist”…….”kicked in head”.  OK, now do you understand my reluctance to write about it??  This year I have run a marathon with gastroenteritis, escaped from the unescapable Alcatraz through choppy, icy, shark infested waters and peeled my own skin off after 8 wind, salt and sun swept miles running around San Francisco Bay.  But really the Outlaw weekend tipped me right over the edge.
So what has dragged me out of my cave to face this cruel world.  Shame.  Shame has damned well made me show my face again.  Shame grumbling about a few aches and pains while I am glued to the Olympics and then the Paralympics.  Especially the Paralympics.  Just, purely and especially the Paralympics.
 The legacy and the emblem of London 2012 has been “inspire a generation”.  Without a shadow of a doubt 29 gold, 17 silver, 19 bronze medals and countless wow performances will have inspired some people to switch off the x-factor, bin the xbox and dust down a bike or a pair of trainers.  For anyone that is over 15 years old now – that is our legacy – to inspire the next generation not to aspire to vacuous, instant, disposable C-list celebrity but to want go ride the velodrome, or throw a javelin or learn to box.  It’s a pity that the main event was closed by a poor celebrity led ceremony that seemed as relevant to a new proud, inclusive, confident, successful modern Great Britain as dull, old, crack fiend Russell Brand.  Oh dear, the closing ceremony was so irrelevant that he, unforgivably, was part of it alongside Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.  Thank god the doping authorities had packed up their sample bottles.
But the most phenomenal legacy that I have heard from London 2012 was the able bodied kid that wanted to be a paralympian (I really hope they don’t do anything too impulsive)! I didn’t plan to write this today but I have been so inspired by a “super human” group of athletes who refuse to focus on what they can’t do but what they can do.
I was sceptical and slightly nervous about the Paralympics at first.  Was I watching just to be politically correct? Hell no, 5 minutes in front of the telly and I was confronted with something that rarely happens.  All of my preconceptions smashed by reality.  Any doubt that I had that this is elite sport like the Olympics was instantly dispelled when seeing the reaction of those that missed their dreams.  Tom Aggar, the burly ex rugby player who has dominated rowing since Beijing who came 4th and was clearly devastated as he was interviewed while still strapped in his boat on Dorney Lake.  Sam Ingram a blind judoist won a silver medal but could only contemplate that he had lost gold as he shook his head repeating “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  Or Will Bayley, a ping ponger, who collapsed to the floor sobbing at winning his silver, inconsolable even when his German opponent lay on the floor to hug him.
Every 5 minutes I have a new favourite sport – partially sighted tandem racing in the velodrome, the T34 freestyle relay in the pool – proper ass clenching edge of the seat stuff.  But we also had the most fantastic winners.  We should be proud to have some of the best of the best in the world…..
Sarah Storey was born without a functioning left hand and became a Paralympic swimmer.  After 5 golds she hurt her shoulder and became a Paralympic cyclist.  She then won 2 golds in Beijing.  She trained for the able bodied Olympics and and just missed out on a place in London.  To make up for that disappointment she now has 2 more Paralympic cycling golds with another two events to come.  Legend.
Ellie Simmonds, the poster girl of London 2012, was born with dwarfism and at aged 13 in Beijing won 2 golds.  Her 400m freestyle on Saturday was possibly the single most exciting event I have ever seen.  It had everything – a pantomime villain (but only in the Paralympics could a 17 year old who lost the use of her legs after being in a vegetative state for 2 years and is now recovering be the bad guy).  The shoulder to shoulder battle of Ellie’s short scrappy stroke against Victoria’s long, elegant inch perfect pull was the ultimate exhibition of pure, scrapping, will to win.  When she was interviewed there could not have been a dry eye in front of Channel 4.  Legend
Richard Whitehead is a double leg amputee marathon runner.  The International Paralympic Committee decided not to let Richard run the marathon because they said he couldn’t race against arm amputees – so he changed to the 200m and promptly became world champion.  Just watch. That’s all.  Legend.



David Weir, legendary wheelchair athlete and 6 times London Marathon winner, provided possibly the second most exciting race I have ever seen after Ellie’s.  He controlled the race from start to finish and showed the other paralympians that they were rolling round HIS track.  Another legend.
And so it goes on – in the pool, on the track, in the velodrome, at the ping pong
Channel 4’s coverage of what is clearly a poor TV budget relation of the Olympics, has been exceptional.  In fact, although the BBC creates some wonderful packages of content it found itself stretched far too thin on commentator capability, poor choices of presenters and some of the technical aspects of sports I love were just inept.  However, C4 has the most fantastic presenters,  brilliant commentators and pundits and in Adam Hill’s The Last Leg probably one of the best sports humour programmes of the year.  Paralympic sport is complicated and confusing – Channel 4 made it accessible without patronising.  And they used Public Enemy’s Harder than you Think as the theme tune.  It’s in the video link above – just watch and listen.
And that was what shamed me out of my cave.
Now I need to write about my traumatic swims.  Booo.
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Final thoughts on Escape and the Next Challenges

Posted on June 27, 2012. Filed under: big swim, big swim nottingham, big swim nottingham 5000m, bike, charity, cold shock, escape, escape 2012, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, ironman, ironman regensburg, MAF, make a wish, make a wish foundation, make a wish foundation sponsorship, outlaw ironman, outlaw triathlon, outlaw triathlon relay, race report, race review, speedo, sponsorship, swim |

I have now escaped not only Alcatraz but also San Francisco, California and the United States.  As I sit back in dreich Scotland I can look back with pride on being an Ironman AND an Escapee.  That is one mighty tough course and despite the time of my swim my Garmin trace shows that I almost got the swim right.  But that last left hand turn at Marina Green cost me over 10minutes and a shed load of energy.  My toenails that were a little shoogly after VLM finally gave up the ghost and ended up in my socks at the end of the race.  A magnificent experience! As promised the next two events can now be unveiled and will, unfortunately for me, be on back to back days and, unfortunately for you, they are both open water swims and therefore as dull as a murky boating pond.  Open water swimming is always murder.  There are inmates at Guantanamo that broke after waterboarding when threatened with a 200 metre open water swim.  It is dark, it is cold and people swim over, under, beside and through you.  Your goggles come off, you are spooked by all sorts of flora and fauna and your fellow dookers inadvertently punch your lights out.  And some folks wear speedos. The first event is something that I committed to the day after Ironman Regensburg at the Pirate prize giving.  Knowing that Ironman was not on the authorised list of events for 2012 but wanting to sail again with the Pirate Ship of Fools I agreed to join Pirate Gladys (a bloke and chief Pirate mincer) in a relay team – a year ago that seemed an innocent enough conversation in a German beer garden.  A year passed and it turned out it was a real commitment and not just a tipsy biergarten promise.

So, on Sunday at 6am I will take to the water at the National Watersports Centre, Holme Pierrepont and start the Outlaw with 1050 other triathletes (although technically as a relayist with only one sport I can drop the tri and I guess I am just an athlete which, to be honest, is one of the few times I could rightfully wear that title).  The Outlaw is probably the best Iron distance race in the UK and most of the guys that I start in the water with are racing to hear “you are an outlaw” 140.6miles and many hours later.  The smackfest of an iron distance swim is probably the bit that most people who are doing a relay instead of the individual event are trying to dodge.  I am a simple guy with one strength so I am one of the few daft enough to think this is an honour!

It seemed crazy to travel all the way to Nottingham to swim 3.8km so thats when I did something a touch rash and decided to enter myself in a 5000m swim.  Oh yes, you read that correctly 5000 metres, 3.1 miles and probably an hour and a half of sensory deprivation.  The Big Swim seems to run in parallel with the Great swims but at this distance I, for one, would describe it as a Great Big Swim.  I do this on Saturday afternoon with a handful of dedicated swimmers, apparently some Olympians and without doubt a rowing lake full of fellow muppets.  This is extreme muppetry and I may actually have to sponsor myself  just to have an additional incentive to get to the end of the  misery as quickly as possible.  I aim to get straight on to a massage table after the swim and get my poor, reconstructed shoulders knocked back into shape and then hopefully have a comfortable night’s sleep to get myself ready to do my relay team justice on Sunday morning.  This is a Great Big Nasty Old swim that I look forward to having finished already!

Holme Pierrepont is also a bit of a personal trip for me.  Twentysix years ago, when I was a front runner in a few sports rather than a middle aged back of the pack plodder, I was at a British Waterski Racing Team training camp at Holme Pierrepont.  On my last run of the last day of the camp I came off my ski at just over 70mph, displaced the front of my face to the back of my head and was left with a few aches and pains.  Being a tough kid and probably half concussed I obviously manned up and felt fine so my dad drove us 8 hours to Aberdeen and then I had a pretty grim sleep and a wee swim in the morning to “loosen up my shoulders”.  I was then sent straight to A&E.  I had broken three bones in my neck and spent the next 6 months in a brace!  I haven’t been back since (to Holme Pierrepont, not to A&E, which I have visited many times since) but 26 years later I know exactly where it happened and I look forward to swimming right through the spot on Saturday afternoon, pausing for a second to reflect that I could so easily, and justifiably, have given in to the perpetual, grinding aches and pains but instead do what I do.  Brrrrrrrr.

The main event on Sunday is the individual iron distance race.  It has been humbling to watch the online forums (I am not an uneducated oik by the way.  I know the plural of forum is fora but that just doesn’t sound right so I am just overruling it’s use in my tiny little corner of the world wide tinternet) ablaze with questions from maiden ironman decimated by self doubt and fear of the unknown with too much time on their minds as they taper.  The fantastically inclusive family of Ironmen, and in particular the Pirates, reassure, support, tease, abuse and cajole the newbies knowing that on the day everyone will be a great sport and help anyone in need.  I know a few prospective Ironmen read this blog; my tuppence worth is this….. You will have a sleepless night.  You will stand looking at the lake from the edge with your head full of nerves and thoughts of failure, injury and a broken nose.  And then as the washing machine stramash begins you will go through what I call Phase Too.  This is too rough.  I am too old.  I am too unfit.  I am too weak a swimmer.  It is too cold.  (Or his nasty big brother – it is too hot).  I eased off training too much in the taper.  My rubber suit is too tight.  That dunking took too much out of me.  I’ve eaten too little.  I’ve eaten too much.  Allow your mind a few moments to exercise the “too” scenarios as your breathing settles into a rhythm.  And then take control. Remember, for a moment, the anonymous quote I put in the VLM blog update.  “At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill.” In the final weeks of peak training, when you did those 7 hour rides or the long bricks or the big weekend, you took something out of Pandora’s box that you can never put back in.  The only “too” that is important to you now is that you are too tough to kill.  You have the immense mental strength that overrides any physical conditioning or any weather conditions that might blow up on the day.  In under 17 hours you will be an Ironman.  You have already changed your life, your outlook, your attitude; when you cross that finish line you will have a name for it.  You will be Iron. The blog I wrote the morning after Ironman Regensburg signed off with “At the moment I hurt and the memories of the low spots are still fresh in the mind. The mental scars will fade and the physical scars will be covered by the the late summer sun but I will always be an Ironman.” But the night before Regensburg I posted the much more eloquent words of Kara Douglass Thom from “Becoming an Ironman”…….. “Ironman will trivialize past hardship and prepare you to minimize those to come. It makes dreams come true. You have what it takes to bridge aspirations into accomplishments. Crossing that line embraces self: confidence, sacrifice, reliance, invention, worth. Finishing makes you your own hero.”

Race strong Ironmen.  Be your own hero.

Pour a large gin, put your feet up in a comfy chair, turn the volume to 11 and celebrate how bloody tough we are




The Alcatraz Test Swim

Escape Complete

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Swim

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Bike

My Escape From Alcatraz – Some Pictures

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Run

Final Thoughts on Escape

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My Escape from Alcatraz – The Run

Posted on June 20, 2012. Filed under: bike, cycle, escape, escape 2012, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, MAF, make a wish, make a wish foundation, make a wish foundation sponsorship, race report, race review, Rory, run, san francisco, sponsorship, triathlon, virgin london marathon, virgin london marathon 2012, vlm, vlm 2012 |

So, we have done the iconic swim, the scenic bike leg, I have shown you some gorgeous pictures of San Francisco and now everything is going to turn nasty.  Mud, sunburn, lycra photography and a killer obstacle course will assault you head on if you choose to read further.  OK?  Your choice, you were warned!

As I squeezed my bike into a tiny space in T2 I probably took a bit longer than I normally would as some oik had racked his bike in the tiny little corner of San Francisco I could temporarily call my own.  Pam and Roar had found a space at the fence and gave me a big cheer.  As I sat down to get my trainers on I suppressed one last snigger as an American lady demanded very loudly of a volunteer “where is the nearest portapotty??”.   Portaloo may sound very British but at least it sounds grown up.

Skipping the queue for the portapotty (teee hee) I shrekked out onto the run course for the last 8 miles of my Escape attempt.  All bounce had gone out of my legs and I was plodding in my usual indelicate Shrek style but with the added impediment of feeling like I was wearing concrete trainers.  The run course, from recollection, was along the coast and therefore, obviously, all at sea level.  Stupid boy.


The thing about the Escape was that we got an email every week educating us on bits of the course and things we needed to do and in my skim read I seemed to completely miss the important things about the race.  One of the key things being that unlike a civilised run such as the London Marathon this was an assault course that probably qualifies me to get in to the Marines now that I have completed it.  In addition, the challenge of gravity was even tougher as I was probably carrying a stone or so more than my racing weight.  This was especially ironic given that my preparation for London was scunnered when wee Roar gave me the projectile vom and the trots.  Seems I had got my appetite back quite effectively.

Anyway, the briefing that I had “skimmed” covered pretty much everything…….

“The road surfaces will be asphalt, chip trail, sand, sand steps, and grass so please pay attention to your pace and the runners around you as some of the course is narrow with athletes running in two directions.

The stairs up to the GG Bridge are narrow and this is not the place to pass people. You will also run through an old Civil War era tunnel so duck and once again keep an eye out for other runners coming from the opposite direction.

The Land’s End trail is rolling and beautiful; stay focused, but take the time to enjoy the scenery.

As you wind around the trail and the historic remains of the retired US Army Base Presidio, the trail has you passing the aid station at Mile 3 at the highest point of elevation on the run course (300ft). At this point you transition to the bike lane of the road that offers a short, winding and fast downhill and a nice smooth surface change.

When you hit the beach you will naturally feel bogged down as the energy return is minimal when running on the sand. The Equinox Sand Ladder is an approximately 400-step staircase made of sand and wooden beams and is located near mile five of the run course. Use those wooden beams of the steps to push off as you climb and touch every one with your own rhythm. Use the cables and the wooden posts of the Equinox Sand Ladder railing for your advantage as there is no shame in getting some help. Take it slow to avoid burn-out. If you are not careful you can waste a great deal of energy on this portion, even the Professionals will walk up the Equinox Sand Ladder while using the cables to pull themselves up the steps. Once you reach the top of the Equinox Sand Ladder, it is not “all downhill” to the finish line, you still have about five to ten minutes of climbing until you hit the aid station at Mile 5.

Stay totally focused on form and breathing. Repeat a positive mantra if needed to get you to the Marina Green finish line. This will be a finish-line feeling unlike any other in the sport!

As you cross the finish line, enjoy the moment, absorb the passion around you, feel it, embrace it, pass it on, life is good.”

A lovely last line of an email to receive but, at this point, enjoying the finish line was 8 miles ahead of me.  As I headed on to the run course I felt like I had been basted in dripping and someone was holding a magnifying glass over me to fry me with the sun.  While I was out on the run course the mercury hit 30C, a totally unseasonal high for San Fran leaving me with momentoes of the race that will probably stay with me for a very long time.

Anyway, the first mile or so was on old fashioned tarmac and I was pretty comfortable if a little leaden under foot.  And then the “It’s a Knockout” assault course started.  The next two and a half miles or so, through Chrissy Field, were on what I could best describe as grit.  Every step felt like I was wheel spinning and by the time I had gone through the aid station at mile 2 my calves were taught and burning and I swallowed my pride for my first walk.  Don’t get me wrong I am not talking about a seaside stroll but rather a purposeful, manly stride out.  After my first walk I started jogging again and got a loud “aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrr Pirate” and then ran with the lady and talked Pirates for the next mile or so.  It was only at this point that it dawned on me this wasn’t your standard run.

I knew it wasn’t time for the Sand Ladder  and was taken aback as I turned the corner and looked straight up towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  This was proper knackering, walking up, hands on knees in a queue.  It was literally two lanes of traffic with no overtaking in any direction.  After the initial rise there was a sharp left hand and then right hand turn.  At this point I saw two people almost go over the edge as they overcooked their speed on the downhill.  As we reached the top of the hill there was a large crowd and at this stage a lot of the really fast guys were on their way back in.  The cheering for the homebound guys was “thats your last hill done” and having seen a lot of the run course from the bike I knew I was going to be buried in my own hurt locker for the next hour.

As I picked up my pace to a granny jog one of the fast boys coming in the opposite direction tried to overtake and just about took me out.  If my arms weren’t still numb after the swim it might actually have hurt me.   After picking all my bits and pieces out of the grit and waiting a second for my brain to stop shaking like a jelly in my head I started jogging on again only to be rudely interrupted by the tunnel.  If there was a health and safety guy with a clip board on the entry I am sure he would have insisted we take our shades off so that we could see properly in the tunnel but being tough guys there was just a wee bit of yellow tape stuck to the roof.  I may be a short arse but even I had to bend right over at the far end of the tunnel to avoid any further decapitation.  As we climbed out of the tunnel we went right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge at it’s lowest point where, again, there was a large cheering crowd leaning over the Bridge pushing us on.

After I ran up and then down some more stairs at the ruins of the Baker Battery I was in the final slog to the three mile aid station at the highest point on the run course.  Good times.  Straight after the aid station we gave away all the height we had just attained as we hurtled down towards Baker Beach.  Bad times.  Grabbing a Cytomax at the aid station I tried to relax as much as possible into the downhill.  It started gently running alongside the bike course still, at best, two people wide and then just after we saw the gasping wrecks reaching the top of the Sand Ladder we started to plummet really rapidly onto the beach.

Simply skimming the race director’s instructions may have been time efficient but didn’t serve me well.  In my head we were only on the beach for a couple of short steps but as I descended I could see the aid station and a long two way trail of runners through the mist on the beach.  This was my lowest point of the race as every step was murder and I could feel my shoes fill with sand.  As we got closer to the aid station it was clear that this wasn’t even the turnaround point and the red windbreak and cone on the most miserable, cold, isolated corner of the beach was our half way point.  The surf on Baker Beach was immense and the temptation to run in the wetter sand was tempered by the waves crashing down on our right as we made our way back along the beach.  Sodden trainers at the four mile point would just have opened up the way for a whole day of painful feet,  The vapour from the waves provided temporary relief on my shoulders and face which were now starting to smoulder and give off an aroma like over BBQ’d sausages!

At the end of the beach the true horror of the Sand Ladder unfolded in front of me.  Was it the distance between steps?  The state of the wire cables?  The temperature?  The altitude?  Nope. No.  No. No.  In a triathlon of nasty surprises (if, like me, you haven’t read the instructions) they kept the biggest one for right before the Sand Ladder.  I have re-read the race instructions thoroughly and I can confirm that nowhere did it warn you that Baker Beach is a nudie beach.  Oh yes, in that little corner of the beach, in the shadow off the Golden Gate Bridge the good people of San Francisco let it all hang out on a Sunday morning – international triathlon taking place or not.  Old men, old ladies, stretching, bending over and doing whatever stuff the nudists do when they do stuff on the nudie beaches.   I tried to avert my eyes but, out of a morbid curiosity, I took a peek and it certainly put the horrors of the Sand Ladder into perspective!

So there I found myself.  At the bottom of a sand dune 400 steps high (with two pigging photographers camped out on it), with just the Pacific behind me, cliffs on my right and a dozen old fellas doing some exotic yoga moves on my right.  The only way was up.  To be honest I don’t think the Sand Ladder was as bad as I imagined it to be.  I walked up it as instructed (as if I had a choice??!).  It has been said before, in my opinion unfairly, that I have stumpy legs so maybe it was my problem that the steps seemed a long way apart.  We were advised not to take 2 steps at a time.  If I could I would be chuffed to bits.  The first photographer caught us mid way up the steps and the last one captured the relief at the top by requesting daft poses. This photo, by the way, is not a daft pose and I still haven’t seen his work!

As promised in the race briefing the next mile or so after the sand ladder was back up hill to the aid station and by this time the people that were outward bound were in really bad nick and I was starting to pass a lot of people.  As the heat increased nearer to midday you could literally feel the last drops of liquid being squeezed out of you like tipping a cup of water in the Badwater Basin (and we will come back to that at some point in a future blog).  Every couple of minutes I got a shout of “thats a great uniform buddy” from one of our US cousins which made me feel a bit like a cheerleader but at this point I could see the salt drying on my pirate suit as the last minerals exited my body.

The downhills were now starting to hurt as much as the uphills as the pounding on my knees from the incessant gradient shocked with every step.  At the bend on the downhill steps where we had almost lost a couple of Escapees on the way up, a guy hurtled past me and only managed to pull up right on the bend.  Despite his exhaustion he took the remaining steps a little more gingerly.   On the final steep staircase I heard shouting from behind “oooouuuuuutttttttt myyyyyyywaaaaayyyyyyyyy”, followed by “1, 2, 1, 2” and a lot of groaning.  With the noise I expected an exocet to come past me but instead a girl came past with a retort of “I effing hate running”.  We exchanged a few niceties and then kept broadly the same walk/run pace.  She was clearly in a bit of trouble with dehydration but was clearly going to finish at some stage.  As we got to 2 miles to go at the end of Chrissy Field I said, “c’mon I’ll pace you in” and we started to jog together.  I stayed right on her shoulder, encouraging as we ran back into the bigger crowds.  With about a mile to go we passed some Brits and I got a loud “aaaaarrrrrrr Pirate” and I thought there is no way I am going to try and explain that to a dehydrated American at this stage of the race.  I kept saying “I can see the end of the road”, “I can see the finishing chute”, “I can see the finish line”, “we are nearly done”.  She (because I don’t know her name, I only know she is from Anchorage) thanked me for running with her and I talked about Ironman and how everyone looks out for each other and help each other through the dark bits.  As we turned into the finishing chute she stopped dead.  I ran back and perhaps a little indelicately yelled “DID I SAY YOU COULD STOP THERE??”.  At which point she blinked, perhaps taken back a little at the yelling man in yellow and black, and started running again.  I left her 50m from the end so that we could get our own finishers photos and she keeled over as she crossed the line.


I said it straight after and I will say it again.  The Escape was my hardest won bling.  Ironman was a whole different battle but I was fitter and more mentally prepared for the race.  The swim, the hills and the heat meant that I was locked in my own hurt locker for large chunks of the event.  I was covered in the salt of my own sweat, it wasn’t apparent on the finish line but alabaster boy was burned to a crisp and I was filthy from the grit and dust from the trail.  It took two showers to get the mud off my legs, each shower hurt my sunburn and my wetsuit burn around my neck and two days later I was still walking around San Fran with my age sharpied on my left calf.  But like London before I loved every second of it and I would go back and do it again like a shot.

Remember though, it’s not all about the bling, and I really need your support to make a difference this summer.  You can follow the “sponsor me” link to read more and in the next couple of days I will unveil the next challenges.
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The Alcatraz Test Swim

Escape Complete

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Swim

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Bike

My Escape From Alcatraz – Some Pictures

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Run

Final Thoughts on Escape

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )

My Escape from Alcatraz – The Bike

Posted on June 14, 2012. Filed under: bike, cycle, escape, escape 2012, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, ironman, ironman regensburg, race report, race review, t0.5, triathlon |



After my last blog post for a triathlon swim “Froth, Speedos and Bulging Eyeballs” my blog seemed to attract a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. The most referred search term from google was “bulging speedos”. Twenty four hours on since i posted the Escape swim seems to have been attracting the right kind of attention!

T0.5 or the warm up run as the race organisers called it was an exceptional transition compared to the average triathlon where you only need to stumble a hundred metres at the farthest. The run from the bags to Marina Green to the bikes was half a mile or so lined by a lot of screaming supporters. With ice cold water sloshing about in my ears, just recovering my sense of balance and with totally inappropriate footwear for a run I made my way as quickly as I could to the bikes with the odd stagger and stumble along the way. Unusually for running any race whatsoever I overtook about a dozen people on the way into T1 where we had to run to the far end of the racking area and then back to the bike. Just before entering the funnel to the racks I got an unexpected cheer from my much depleted Sherpa squad of Pam and Roar. For the rest of the Sherpas it must be a case of “if it’s not an ironman we ain’t coming!”

Despite setting up my transition area in the dark it was really quite orderly and I put on shades first (even with shades on you don’t look cool in yellow and black Lycra!), then socks and shoes, clipped on the helmet and I was away. It was still another couple of hundred metres until I reached the mount line but at least the swim was done.


I clipped in straight away and having set quite a high gear for the flat start got on my feet to get underway. The first couple of miles were really congested with shouts of “on your left” echoing up and down the beachfront. The pan flat terrain gave me an opportunity to reflect on the Race Directors briefing.

“Within the second mile of the bike course you are climbing. This course is hilly and technical.

There is 1200 feet of climbing and descending on the bike course as well as ten left hand turns and ten right hand turns over the 18 miles so be advised that you will be either turning or shifting every few minutes on this bike course. By mile 2.5 you have climbed from sea level to 300 feet.

Stay in control as you descend downhill by the Lincoln Park Golf Course. Maintain control as you descend 0.8 miles from the VA hospital to the Great Highway. Use caution and stay in control.”

I love it when the word control is used three times in three sentences. The message wasn’t wasted on me. Last time I went fast down a hill I broke my shoulder and turned my leg into mince so I considered myself proper warned.

I have heard the term technical in reference to cycling before but I didn’t really know what it meant and I was too embarrassed too ask. Having now biked a technical course I am very clear on the meaning – in my words “a course that involves a high probability of dying”. This was either going to come from the lung busting climbs or from the perilous downhills where I kept my brakes on full and felt my back wheel lifting off the ground they were so steep. You could sense ass cheeks clenching tight through a thin veneer of lycra all over the place.


The course was fast out through the Presidio and then, as warned by M.andel, it switched back and started to climb steeply through the trees. A San Franciscan lady that I spoke to on the Belle had talked me through the course and warned me that it was all about the gearing and “don’t think you are at the top of the hill until you are heading downhill”. That proved to be excellent advice. In my lowest gear I started to grind up the hill and I instantly spotted the difference between a European event and a West coast US one. In Europe there are really, really strong bike/runners so I spend all day going backwards after the swim. In California I found myself overtaking as many people as overtook me. As I am no Lance this is clearly a region where a lot of triathletes have their background in swimming. Not skinny-assed cycling.


The first climb was ominous for one reason. I had been told it wasn’t the hardest! We climbed with a number of switchbacks, ass in the saddle, quads burning and breathing coming heavily. I could feel the streams of sweat start to flow down the sides of my head and down the back of my neck. A similarly cuddly triathlete who was ascending shoulder to shoulder with me did shout “skinny bastard” as some malnourished bikist shot past us as if he had been threatened with a Sunday morning croissant. Mid way up the climb the pro men were coming down the hill like rockets seemingly untroubled by the “technical” nature of the course. As we topped the first climb there was a short downhill and then a glorious climb up through trees to the Legion of Honour. The one and only aid station was on the summit, the highest point of the ride. As we took the last bend we had Superman and Wonder Woman run alongside and I took the opportunity to high 5 the Cookie Monster! I took a cup of water at the start of the station and a cup of Cytomax at the end. About 6ml went in my mouth and I wore the rest for the remainder of the race.

Then came the technical bit. From the Legion of Honour we went straight down a road that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Somme with a sharp right hand turn at the end. We then continued to descend through a residential area and then the world in front of me disappeared. As I hurtled towards the edge with sweaty fingers cramping on the brakes I could only look at the exceptionally good cyclists struggling to get climb back on to the earth in the opposite direction. I would love to have taken a better look at the stunning Cliff House on the descent but, to be honest, I would rather have had my eyes closed. The headwind became strong and icy as we continued down towards Ocean Beach and onto the Great Highway.

We turned left into Golden Gate Park and as we gently climbed MLK Drive away from the Pacific it warmed and I actually overtook other riders on a climb. The park was stunning, with roads in perfect condition, having recently had a makeover for the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Golden Gate Bridge. As I switched back to JFK Drive for the descent back out of the park I pushed my rental bike a little hard on the gear change and slipped my chain. It was only a momentary unplanned stop to put the chain on but where do you wipe your oily hands when you are wearing a yellow suit??

The ascent at Cliff House was everything I had anticipated on the way down. The lady on the Belle had tipped me off well – turn right out of the park, bear left and then be in the right gear when you start to go right again. Oh, and never anticipate the top. It hurt like you wouldn’t believe with my quads filling with lactate and taking the opportunity to get on my feet every couple of minutes. I couldn’t pull on the handlebars for extra power as my hands were black and greasy with oil after my unplanned mechanical repairs. The road was strewn with people walking the hill, or taking a long zig-zag route up it with little consideration for anyone coming from behind. Eventually, I pushed my ass really far back on my saddle, pushed hard and rocketed forward and over the last hump. The locals were all outside their houses cheering us on and then almost as soon as it had started it was over and we approached the aid station again. This time I just smiled at the Cookie Monster, saving the effort of a high 5 with a Sesame Street character and managed a whole cup of Cytomax.

As I descended down through the trees towards the Bay there were a couple of cop cars and a cyclist down on the right hand side of the road. A quick glimpse confirmed a lot of road rash and what looked like a pretty mucky facial injury and I was sure that was the race over. Later when she overtook me in the final stages of the run, head bandaged like a mummy and her Tri top in shreds I had the opportunity to consider what a tough bird she was!

In the final few miles I fought a personal battle with a bean pole who was about 20 feet tall and on a mountain bike. I am pleased to announce that in the final metres, in the race that he didn’t even know he was involved in, I triumphed over the bean pole.

With my legs absolutely drained and my quads aching I free wheeled to the dismount line and walked into T2. I was momentarily paralysed when I realised that some cad had racked his bike in my space but with a bit of shoogling I got mine racked. Bike shoes off, run shoes on – it was time to run! From memory the run was flat – doh!





The Alcatraz Test Swim

Escape Complete

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Swim

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Bike

My Escape From Alcatraz – Some Pictures

My Escape From Alcatraz – The Run

Final Thoughts on Escape

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

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