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The Three Best Investments I Have Ever Made in Triathlon

Posted on November 12, 2014. Filed under: cycle, first time ironman, ironman, run, swim |

It’s the season of goodwill. Again.

I can’t help but notice that the newspaper supplements and glossy magazines are full of gift guides. These are not random shit lists, hell no, they are targeted more effectively than a Tomahawk missile chasing down a goat herder in the desert. “Christmas Book Choices For the 13 Year Old Boy Who Likes Lord of the Rings But Doesn’t Like Harry Potter”. “Secret Santa Suggestions For The Letchy Guy From Accounts Who Lives With His Mum and Three Hamsters”. And so on.

However, I find myself in a special circle of hell when it comes to gift guides for the Triathlete Who Has Everything.

There are two very valid reasons why these frustrate me. Well, they are valid in my head anyway. And that’s important. To me.

Firstly, no self respecting triathlete will ever admit that they don’t have everything. No way. No chance. Never. Not not even if they had to mortgage their kids and turn their family home into a cannabis plantation to fund their kit obsession. They have at least one of everything but, extrapolating the fundamental bicycle principle of n+1, they MUST upgrade their featherlight-aero-widget from carbon fibre to space grade carbo-nucleo-polymers. Or something pseudo-sciencey like that.

But more importantly, if you added all of the claimed percentage time improvements from The Triathlete’s Gift Guide up, the lucky triathlete would actually finish an ironman before they start. In fact, I doubt Santa could even stop the sleigh with all that aero gift packaging and Rudolph off his tits on flapjack.

So, let’s stop the sleigh there for a moment, pause the last minute Christmas wiggle order, call the least favourite child back from their job cleaning chimneys.

When it comes to triathlon gear I am the curmudgeonly, bah humbug, Scrooge. When someone asks “what do you think about [insert latest shiny phallic gizmo with wildly sexy advertising] to improve my ironman bike split by 3 hours?”, I normally respond (probably really unhelpfully without asking about said gizmo’s marginal vital statistics), “But do you really, really want one?”. Because that’s what it is mainly about.

I have one basic principle – if I need it or will get great joy from owning it, riding it or eating it then I will buy it. If I start shopping with the loony perception that it is going to bring me the advertised speed savings then I immediately close the browser window and get the chimney cleaning kid to roll me another giant spliff from my own domestic dope farm.

However, all that said, I made some vague statement a while back when I wrote What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then – Tips For a First Time Ironman that I would write a post about my three best ever investments in triathlon. Then I realised it was a very dull subject for me and forgot about it for 6 months. Then I had nothing else to write about so I exhumed it. And here it is.

The first couple of years that I did triathlon I avidly studied the Tri magazines and collected kit like a magpie. “Ooooh, shiny! Here’s my MasterCard”. Then at some point I realised the Tri magazines pretty worked on a 6 month editorial cycle and I’d read everything they had published and most of their content was advertising. About the same time I realised that I wasn’t getting the expected compound improvements from each incremental piece of kit. In fact, more importantly, I noticed a more direct correlation between speed and training.

So I stopped buying shiny new stuff and just bought what I needed. For example, as a swimmer my wetsuit is one of my favourite bits of kit. While wetsuit technology has marched on relentlessly, I continue to wear my 6 year old Orca which now has so many nicks and abrasions in the neoprene that I could probably flog it on eBay as “cutting edge porous sharkskin technology” or some other hydrodynamicbollocks. I will probably be forced to upgrade it soon anyway as it seems to have shrunk as it/I have aged. ūüėČ

In my own personal messed up world of triathlon a tailored coaching plan and a good bike fit are triathlon 101. If this was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs a coach and a bike fit would be the equivalent of shelter and food so I haven’t included them on the list. And then the old triathlon rules kinda insist that we need the very, absolute basics of a bicycle, bike helmet, trainers and a wetsuit. We can obviously pour glitter all over the basics to make them faster/lighter/sexier but that’s not really what this post is about.

So, without further ado, the Luddite Triathlete Equipment Hit Parade:

A BICYCLE STAND

2250As when St John had his donkey fried on the road to Damascus (they only called him John back then), buying a bicycle stand was transformational for me.  Pre bike stand, the thought of washing my bike was the ultimate ball ache.  Post my metaphorical donkey frying, the days of balancing the bike on the forks and rear derailleur while I washed it were past. Now I am uber bike geek РI properly strip it down, clean it and lube it and, bizarrely, actually look forward to doing it. Like a weirdo.

And then, even more weirdly, just from the pleasure derived from general fettling, I got interested in how the bike worked and arranged to “shadow” my local bike mechanic when he next serviced my bike. ¬†The result is that I can now maintain everything on my bike myself and, more importantly, I can do roadside repairs that will get allow me to limp home from any mechanical.

A bike stand is not sexy. It is sturdy and dependable. As my bike now is. Having waited at the side of the road for a lift I am all for dependable bikes.

 

 

PHYSIOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT

I think on my alternative grumpy Santa gift guide, the single best thing that I have spent money is having a physiological assessment done. ¬†Which is quite surprising, really, as it involves getting naked, a man drawing on your body, attacking you with calipers, repeatedly piercing your fingers and then telling you that you are fat. ¬†Well, that’s what happened to me anyway.

I am a strong believer that every training session should have a purpose and the physiological assessment is the third part of the holy trinity after a heart rate monitor and a good coach.  Basically a coach sets your programme for your objective, you monitor it with the HRM and the physiological assessment advises what you are monitoring.

What my testing told me was that I ran too hard when I should have been running easy and I didn’t push myself hard enough for a really hard session. ¬†So basically I was a very enthusiastic headless chicken. Indeed I would have been significantly more effective doing a vigorous funky chicken.

It’s not an essential investment if you really understand your perceived exertion. But I don’t. When I am deeper into the season I am more aware of my intensity levels but I need to work religiously with my HRM early in the season to recalibrate my perspective. For about ¬£100, it transformed how I trained and I recommend it. Like some kinda multisport Victor Kiam.

 

SWIM WATCH

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OK. A caveat before I start here. I’m about to mention brands but I ain’t no brand ambassador. Indeed I shall even mention Garmin positively though I wrote Dear Garmin (You Chubby Ginger Tosser) which was hardly, as you can probably imagine from the title, a glowing endorsement.

Back when I was a lad, and swimming pools were basically puddles with roofs, I trained up to 12 hours a week, every week for about 15 years. And my life was rigidly controlled by a black speedo clock, with a yellow sweep hand with a red tip on one end. The 25 times table was hard coded into my soul and I could calculate times and rest periods in an instant.

Many years later, I returned to the pool for triathlon and I could barely see the clock and I doubt I ever completed a 200 because I always lost count somewhere between 1 and 8 from which you can draw your own conclusions about the quality of chartered accountancy training. Alternatively I may just have forgotten the number of the previous length on account of my glacial pace.

Anyway, I got a Garmin swim to count lengths for me. It was brilliant, and as an added bonus because I was recording real time swim data for the first time ever it kept my pacing and rest intervals honest. I’ve still got my Garmin Swim but on account of GingerTosserGate I now also have a Suunto Ambit. If I can work out how to staple a heart rate belt to me in the pool I will also get HR data in the pool. The swim tech revolution is happening.

 

 

And that’s about it. Buy it if you love it, but unless you are up front bothering the Lead Bikes, don’t expect the marginal gains to book your seat to Kona. Somewhat dully, the formula for that is still train hard, train smart, train consistently and recover.

Have a jolly merry Christmas and, if you have got a pointy helmet as a gift, rejoice that your new tolerance for outrageous headwear means that you didn’t really look such a tit wearing the hat from the cracker in the past.

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Dear Garmin (You Chubby Ginger Tosser)

Posted on July 16, 2014. Filed under: cycle, first time ironman, Garmin, Garmin Forerunner, Garmin Ironman, Half ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, ironman swim, Ranty McRantface, run, swim, vlm 2012 |

Dear Garmin

 

I have a problem.  And let me say it is you not me.  How many times do you have to let me down before I have to drop you in the bowl of an Ironman portaloo to fend for yourself?  This time you have pushed me too far.

 

I’ve always put my trust in you even when you don’t deserve it. ¬†Back in the old days when I was a right chubby wibbly wobbly I got a Forerunner 50 and a foot pod to measure my progress. ¬†We go back a long way so we can be honest and say that the calendar function was of far more use to me than the thousandths of seconds on the stop watch. ¬†But, back in those days, you just worked.

 

Then when I was preparing for the Rome Marathon I decided to treat myself to a 405cx.  It saw me safely round what is still my marathon PB but did you record my heart rate?  Did you monkeys.

 

I have a Garmin Swim. ¬†Probably my favourite piece of kit that I own. ¬†But, then again, that was only an upgrade from a big black and yellow speedo sweep hand. ¬†It’s basically a digitised sun dial.

 

But, here’s the thing – I am an Ironman. ¬†Hell, no – I am a two time Ironman. ¬†And Ironman timing is where you have really seized¬†the opportunity to let me down in style.

 

Useless oversized ginger lump of shit.

Useless oversized ginger lump of shit.

I knew I needed a watch with a long battery life back in 2010 when I first decided to do Ironman. ¬†I decided not to be shallow and set looks aside. ¬†When people pointed out that you were orange and quite a substantial unit, the unkind yet prophetic¬†even said you were fat and ugly, I stuck up for you. ¬†When they called you a chubby ginger, I said it’s what’s inside that counts. ¬†You came with me on runs, bike rides, on and off road and we swam in the sea, lakes and rivers ¬†You even escaped from Alcatraz¬†with me,¬†gliding through San Francisco Bay like outlaws on the run from a federal penitentiary. ¬†A modern day (rotund, ginger) Bonnie and rubber-clad Clyde. ¬†We did 3 marathons together. ¬†But you let me down EVERY¬†time it really mattered.

 

Sure, like any ginger, you were temperamental. ¬†Getting feedback out of you was like getting blood out of a stone. ¬†Although a stone doesn’t need rebooted, manually reset, uninstalled, reinstalled, updated or balanced on a metal coat hanger while praying to the ANT+ gods. ¬†While my heart should have been at the centre of your concerns you spent more time ignoring my heartbeat¬†than listening to it; and occasionally you just made up completely random numbers like I wouldn’t notice. ¬†Recording 35 beats per minute while climbing an 11% incline is like peering over the Daily Mail with faux concern and saying “yes dear?”. ¬†And occasionally I had to sit in the garden for 20 minutes for you to find the satellites in a wide open cloudless sky.

 

F5F7A085B6BB30A4DEDCCEFFD5F54D_h498_w598_m2But normally you can trust your constant companion to turn up and support you in the most crucial moments. ¬†So, you can imagine my disappointment when, 6 hours into the bike leg of my first Ironman,¬†you made a noise like a Smash robot being strangled. ¬†Not a short, sharp¬†sigh. ¬†No, more like long drawn out autoerotic asphysiation. ¬†A taunting, sneering noise. ¬†And when the noise faded your¬†screen was clear. ¬†Void. ¬†Blank. ¬†Vacant. ¬†Your memory had gone. ¬†If it wasn’t for the finish line photos and the medal there would be no proof that I had actually completed an Ironman. ¬†There was nothing to upload to Strava. ¬†I hold you solely responsible that I had to do a second Ironman. ¬†Just to keep Strava straight.

 

You were still under warranty so you were replaced at the end of 2012. ¬†I knew that you weren’t really the old you but I pretended that things were still the same. ¬†As the London Marathon, the Escape from Alcatraz and many 70.3 came to pass I started to trust you again. ¬†We trained together through last winter to get ready for Ironman Austria. ¬†I smiled wryly in May when your strap sheared – a tangible sign, a fond reminder of the hours and hours we had spent on the road, the trails and in the water together. ¬†But what a fecking waste of ¬£15 replacing your strap turned out to be. ¬†I tried to be nice and you shoved it back in my face.

 

0745_000816

Not only are you a deadweight on my wrist but you clash with the blue trim on my wetsuit. I hate you.

As I emerged like a swamp beast from the Lend canal one hour and seven minutes  into Ironman Austria (based on Ironman timing obvs because as we are about to discover Garmin timing was totes fecked) I looked down and was confronted by FOG.  The race photographers captured the moment for posterity.  Perhaps we should have a caption competition?

 

No worries, thinks I. ¬†The fog will melt away during the next several hours of hot day. ¬†Hell no, it wouldn’t go. ¬†So, as it turns out I carry a heavy lump of ginger uselessness around Austria for 13 hours 53 minutes and 21 seconds. ¬†Once again, Ironman timing not Garmin timing.

 

On returning home two remarkable things happened. ¬†One – you automatically uploaded all my Ironman data (obvs not heart rate because that would be too fecking complete) without any need for the ritual sacrifice of a feral goat or a wire coathanger. ¬†And then Two – you died. ¬†To paraphrase Monty Python: ¬† ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! ¬†THIS IS AN EX-GARMIN!!

 

I’ve done two Ironman and you couldn’t be arsed to join me at the finish line for either of them. ¬†That is a pretty shit way to behave after all we’ve been through together. ¬†After all the time I spent defending you when people sniggered at you on my arm. ¬†It turned it you were actually a big, fat lump of orange uselessness.

 

And now you’ve given me a problem. ¬†I need a replacement, but I just can’t trust you any more, Garmin. ¬†You will undoubtedly launch something sexy and new, but ridden with bugs, and then start developing the next big sexy thing leaving me with something expensive that *almost* does what it promised too. ¬†Sure Polar, Suunto and Tom Tom are vying for my affections but, if I face reality, a Casio digi calc watch would actually have been more useful to me than you were. ¬†Now I look at you lying on the shelf, lifeless yet sneering at me with your shiny new strap. ¬†We shared some great times but I guess, in the end, you always were a chubby ginger tosser at heart.

 

It’s been fun but probably best we don’t talk any more.

 

Yours

 

Ironman

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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.

20140629_054718

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¬†W√∂rthersee 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 РFaaker 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 Рshort (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.

THE ENTIRE IRONMAN AUSTRIA ARCHIVE

 Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Ich Liebe Dich, √Ėsterreich

Ironman Austria 2014 ‚Äď The Swim

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Run

Ironman Austria 2014 – Beyond the Finish Line

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Manning Up

Posted on March 31, 2014. Filed under: cycle, ironman, Ironman Austria, strava |

IMG_20140311_110234Last week, I *may* have been feeling a bit sorry for myself when I wrote this.  I was floating in a mental Bermuda Triangle somewhere between chronic CBA Syndrome and some very real, lingering bug.

But I’m not very good at sitting still when I have The¬†Plan. ¬†Ironman Austria is getting no further away. ¬†It is getting no shorter than 140.6 miles. And I am getting no younger. ¬†So a word was needed to be had with oneself, in a threatening manner.

Back in September, I knew that this was likely, and I had a stern chat with my brain; that has proven useful this week.  I also wrote The Plan which I knew would be my magnetic north when the sea got turbulent.  Together with a heavy prescription of Rule #5, I manned up last week and got straight back onto the horse.

The first sign that I was in full HTFU recovery was when I went to the gym on Wednesday. ¬†I take a bit of a beasting, I am working on pull ups. ¬†The previous¬†week I managed 4 sets of 4 pull ups, the last two with support. ¬†This week I was doing sets of 6 pull ups without support with push ups in between sets. ¬†The gym chap asked if I was sure I didn’t want support. ¬†“I have to do 140.6 miles in 14 weeks time without support, it’s time to man up”, I responded. ¬†He gave me a confused yet sympathetic¬†look that said “you’re special, but not in a good way”.

IMG_20140326_154337On Wednesday, I went  cycling in shorts, fingerless mitts and a family size vat of factor 50.  It was a pleasant 3 hour ride but there was one notable high and one notable low.

The high was the quality of the ride – cadence and heart rate were exactly where I needed them and on two¬†of my benchmark climbs I recorded my fastest ascents in the last two years. ¬†On one of my “favourite” climbs, in one of my favourite places, the wonderfully named, Auchmuirbridge to Arnot segment, I recorded my best time by 20 seconds. ¬†This is cool. ¬†The Powerbar that came down my nose as I gasped for breath was not.

The low was that as the sun started to fall it became apparent that it was a few weeks early for fingerless mitts and my hands started cramping with the cold.  Having watched Milan РSan Remo the week before, I knew the pro peloton have two strategies to cope with this Рa bottle of hot tea or a tactically aimed golden shower.  Fearing the Constabulary would not be understanding as I warmed my clawlike hands with pee, I opted for the former.

So, I pulled in to the side of Loch Leven ordered two coffees, drank one and poured the other in a bidon.  Whenever I cramped I would pour some coffee on my hands.  My formerly pristine white bar tape now looks like the site of a dirty protest.

2014-03-31 20.34.24On Saturday, I PB’d at parkrun. ¬†I’m not really sure how. ¬†The run-up was not perfect preparation. ¬†On Thursday I ran 13 very fun but energy sapping miles in the woods. ¬†On Friday evening I did a 60+30 brick. ¬†So, as a consequence I woke up on Saturday morning with little desire to run 5k and achey legs.

This would prove to be¬†an interesting park run because it was the first time that I was fit enough for an absolutely balls to the wall effort. ¬†I tend to self-seed myself a bit too modestly and the first 800m included quite a bit of obstacle dodging. I struck a lot more matches than I intended getting through the traffic and before I hit the first kilometre marker I had pins and needles in my legs and I was convinced I was going to pass out. ¬†A glance at my watch confirmed that I was already running at about 95% of maximum heart rate. ¬†It was a flat out effort which was humbling as OAPs and kids skipped passed me but, in my defence I was about 9stone heavier than all of them put together. ¬†My splits were pleasantly (actually not pleasant. ¬†Actually very uncomfortable indeed) consistent at ¬†4:46, 5:03, 5:03, 5:01, 4:51 to bring me in well under 25minutes. ¬†This might not strike you as a particular speedy time but handicap adjusted for lard and ancient I would whup Mo’s quorn filled ass by miles.

I will always remember the moment that I crossed the line.  Not because I celebrated my PB by dancing Gangnam Style.  No, not that at all.  But because I projectile vomited my porridge on my trainers.  THAT is how to celebrate.

So, that’s it. ¬†Everything is back on track with the exception of the previously reliable weight loss trajectory. ¬†I have analysed all the stuff to try and get under the skin of this particular problem. ¬†After much number crunching and control testing, I have concluded the problem is cake. ¬†And beer. ¬†Unfortunately they will have to go.

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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 Рcycling 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).

THE OUTSIDE vs TIME

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)

THE OUTSIDE vs THE FEAR

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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The Click

Posted on January 28, 2014. Filed under: brain training, cycle, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, Klagenfurt, marathon, motivation, nutrition, run, swim |

Sometimes the iron life is like trying to push water uphill. ¬†Despite your strength and agility it is an unrelenting, and unrewarding pastime. ¬†I often have conversations with people who think that I find it easy to go out for a run – some days I do, and other days I would rather boil my own feet in ¬†hot oil. ¬†And going to the swimming pool can be another circle of hell all of it’s own.

But, other times it just clicks.

I genuinely have no idea what makes the difference. I have thought about it a lot recently as I struggle to find my way.  Sometimes motivation comes like a rampant wild fire and consumes me but other times, mainly January, it is like a damp match in a snow storm.  The difference, I think, comes when I can truly join the dots from here and now, straight through to my objective РIronman Austria.

I am not renowned for quoting latin but a line by the Roman poet Ovid resonates. ¬†In fact, had I been confident it doesn’t say “chicken donner with chips and don’t spare the chilli sauce” it would probably have been tattooed for posterity on my leg after Ironman Regensburg.

“Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim.”

It could be the ironman maxim “Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you”. ¬†And that is where I find myself now – I have clear line of sight from here to 7am on 29th June, I have joined the dots. ¬†I know exactly when the pain will be useful to me. ¬†It has clicked.

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Through illness and recovery, December and January were unsatisfying. ¬†It is difficult to describe – the body was functioning and I was doing the training hours; the brain was engaged and I was training with purpose. ¬†But my heart wasn’t in it. ¬†For the last ten days though, all body parts have locked onto the target like a heat seeking missile.

So, what’s changed?

BODY

Well, basically it’s working which is a genuine novelty. ¬†However, more than that it is getting strong. ¬†At the tail end of 2013 I was getting frustrated as sport specific strength work was not yielding power gains. ¬†I was doing the right stuff with the right effort levels, so what was wrong? ¬†After a lot of soul searching I put it down to 20 years of office work – my core was as strong as overcooked spaghetti and my glutes were refusing to chuck their contribution into the legwork kitty. ¬†So I hit the gym – deep squats, heavy deadlifts, some pilates and so on and now, finally, I am noticing immediate changes in how I pedal and how I run. ¬†It may be psychological but hell, at this stage, I’ll take it.

NUTRITION

Christmas proves to be very disruptive, I had a great nutritional plan pre December and then a combination of ironmanflu and ready access  to trifle and bacon forced me off the rails.  I now have laser focus on the hills in Ironman Austria and the final miles of the run and the toll that any additional timber will take.  It literally is like a light switch has flicked in my head.

SWIMMING

After last week’s swimming lesson, I have a new lease of life in the pool. ¬†A sub 1 hour ironman swim is not only within my grasp but beatable. ¬†Each length that was a turgid purgatory in November is now an opportunity to hone my stroke, to test race skills, to develop a relentless cruising pace. ¬†I am a born again swimmer.

There are still 5 months to go according to the countdown on the blog.  That changes to 4 tomorrow.  It really was time for my mojo to join the equation and pull me ever closer to the beach at Klagenfurt.  Finally, everything is pointing in the right direction.

Now, if Wincey Willis would just sort the weather out…….

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The Phoney War is Over

Posted on December 2, 2013. Filed under: Austria, cycle, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman regensburg, Klagenfurt, run, swim, triathlon |

Today is IM minus 30.¬† Thirty weeks to Ironman Austria, my A race for 2014. ¬†Thirty weeks to Ironman 2 ‚Äď The Sequel.

Ironman training is often based on a 30 week plans so IM minus 30 has significance.  It brings structure.  It sharpens focus.  The game is on.

I signed up for Ironman Austria at 5 past 11 on the 1st of July, and 24 hours later it was sold out. ¬†Having taken a couple of years out from heavy training I knew that my weak and regrettably ‚Äúwell built‚ÄĚ frame needed to be eased very gently back into training (and even more gently back into lycra) between July and IM minus 30. ¬†Within 10 days I had broken my big toe and my blaze of glory spluttered and stalled. ¬† ¬†And so it began.

Untitled

By mid-September the elephant toe was broadly functional and the show was back on the road and that road to Klagenfurt was stretching out ahead.

Without a shadow of a doubt, I have rose tinted specs when I think about training ‚Äď glorious sunrises and sunsets, the thrill of a PB, the sensation of stepping in the front door dripping with sweat with the hard work done for the day.¬† You even believe it when you tell people that it only takes a few weeks until you start to feel the benefits again – the legs, the lungs and the brain get stronger quickly. ¬† But STOP THE BUS. ¬†I need to capture for the record, and to remind myself when I look back at this ‚Äď that is all bullshit.

When you are training you hurt.  It’s not a pain that stops you training, it’s often not one that you even talk about but generally you are managing some niggle or other.  When you are training you are always starving.  But you are also trying to manage your weight so you have to make difficult choices  about what you ram in your gob when your body is screaming out for instant sugary satisfaction.  When you are training you are tired.  You squeeze training into unsocial hours and then doze off when you least expect it.

But there is something about that pain, that hunger and that tiredness that is simply Nirvana.  It is a feeling of achievement, it is the feeling of striding towards a goal.  It is why we come back and do it again.  And again.

So, what’s happened in the last 5 months while I trained to be ready to TRAIN?

  • 2100¬†km of cycling over 85 hours
  • 140¬†km of running over 15 hours
  • one broken big toe has recovered
  • 96¬†km swum over 36 hours
  • 10¬†kg of bodily timber shed
  • 9 hours of strength and conditioning work

Not a finished product, not even a fraction of the preparation that is still to come but a decent base, a waypoint en route to a sub 13 hour Ironman.

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And what is still to come in the next 30 weeks?¬† Well for sure there will be the bonny stuff ‚Äď I will see some great sunrises and sunsets, the deer, the buzzards, the badgers and the hedgehogs.¬† I will grin as the weight of sweat sodden training kit hits the floor with a reassuring thud.¬† There will be the constant tightening of the belt as each kilo of excess ass drops off under the twin pressures of clean eating and hard training.

Unfortunately it is also going to be ugly.¬† Tentative running on black ice, the slog of knee deep snow, the sleet, rain and hailstones coming out of the dark.¬† Dodging bad drivers and their obsession with texting, tweeting and facebooking while screaming their mantra of “MUST GET IN FRONT, MUST GET IN FRONT” even if the concept of racing a chubby cyclist to the next traffic light seems futile. ¬†And who can forget the deep, dark places that you go to 6 hours into a long ride on a hill, facing a headwind?

But as I mark off  IM minus 30 on the calendar I do it with a sense of lightness, a smile on my face and a genuine excitement to crack on.  Having experienced the sweet taste of an Ironman finish chute once I am ready to do it again.

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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 Рeach one relying on the other.  There is no shortcut on the road to Klagenfurt.

BODY

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?

TRAIN WITH PURPOSE

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.

TAKE OUT SOME EXTRA INSURANCE

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.

DON’T DROP SESSIONS

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!

REST, RECOVER, TAPER

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

BELLY

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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 Рnot 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 РI 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:

FUELLING TO TRAIN

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

FUELLING TO RACE

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!

BRAIN

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 Рyou 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!

PERFECTING THE FORMULA

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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It Has To Start With a 12!

Posted on October 15, 2013. Filed under: brain training, cycle, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, Klagenfurt, run, swim |

0036_46525Fourteen hours, fifty eight minutes and eighteen seconds.

As I ran in the dark through the woodlands of Regensburg I came to terms with missing my target time.  God knows, I had few options but to accept my fate as I dodged in and out of the most foul Portaloos and bushes in Southern Bavaria.  As my target time came and went I focused purely, simply and doggedly on becoming an Ironman and when I crossed the line I was elated.

However, like a grain of sand in the chamois of my cycling shorts my finish time preyed on my mind.  First an awareness I had not reached my potential, then an irritation and then I knew that I would have to do something about it.

My target time for Ironman Austria is the same as the one that I had optimistically hoped for in Regensburg Рto finish under 13 hours.  My time has to start with a 12!

As they say, “it all starts with a dream”, but unless you open your eyes and stare the dream down in the daylight it will never become a reality. ¬†So what does all that mean for Project Austria 2014?

I followed a “just get around plan” for Regensburg, as initially that was the extent of my dream but as time went on I wanted a good time. ¬†However, I never changed my plan. ¬†There is a expression that I am very fond of that “if you keep doing the same thing, don’t be surprised if you get the same results”. ¬†Having spent my whole career in corporate planning, and more latterly, having worked as an executive coach I know a number of things to be true:

  1. You need a clear tangible vision of what you want to achieve
  2. Sharing the vision increases your attachment to it and the likelihood of doing it
  3. You need a plan. A vision without a plan is just another pipe dream.
  4. Behavioural change is needed or you will end up where you have always been.

This is a two part post Рthis one is WHAT? What am I going to achieve and how will I know on 29th June 2014 if I am on track to do it?  The next one is HOW? How will I change my behaviours, my approach and my relationship with the target to put myself in control of the wheel?

So here it goes…….

VISION

IT HAS TO START WITH A 12.

WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE?

Let’s take a look at the pieces…

SWIM

In Regensburg, other than avoiding a black eye, I couldn’t have had a better swim and I finished in 1:06. ¬†But I can do better……with about 6 weeks to go I got really frustrated with “black line fever” and stopped pool swimming altogether. As a consequence I was only ¬†really doing two short open water swims a week – no drills, no tempo efforts, no strength work – just open water plodding. ¬†This time will be different.

In Klagenfurt I will come out of the water in 59 minutes at the very slowest.  As an ex-competitive swimmer, and in the first event of the day I have no excuses Рthis is my joker.

BIKE

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In Regensburg I was flying on lap 1 and fell to pieces on lap 2. ¬†Two things did for my race on the day – bike position and nutrition. ¬†However, it didn’t all go wrong on the day. ¬†With hindsight, I didn’t start that bike ride in the best condition that I could have done. ¬†In training I had focused on endurance and had neglected strength and speed – it seems obvious now if that was how I trained then that was how I would race – I would go the distance, but slowly. ¬†I was also about 5kg too heavy which just sapped my energy climbing. ¬†I finished slightly the bike over target last time out at 7:23 but, more importantly, I left myself mentally and physically crippled for the marathon.

Ironman Austria will see me finish the bike, fit to run, in 6:30. ¬†There I’ve said it. ¬†I have to do it now!

TRANSITIONS

Transition went alright in Regensburg with the exception of refusing to let volunteers help me change my socks.  I will aim for the same total transition time in Austria Р17minutes

RUN

So the Regensburg run was pure purgatory.  A badly set up bike had crippled my back and poor nutrition execution drew me irresistibly towards the Portaloos. It took me a glacial 6 hours and 10 minutes to run 26.2 miles.  I can actually walk it faster than that!

When all else runs to plan, that will leave me 5 hours and 14 minutes to complete the marathon. I have no intention of taking that long.

And that is it Рan Ironman time that starts with a 12!  All I need to do is get faster, lighter and stronger.  How I do that will be the next post.

Leaving nothing to chance, I have started already.

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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 Рthe probability of a wind-up was unreasonably high.  As a cycling fan, the prize was priceless Рride 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 Рan 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 Рall 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 РI saw Kristian win the Edinburgh Nocturne the last time it ran Рa 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.

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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 Рreally 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.

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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 Рbut 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 Рthe 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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