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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. 😉

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 – I 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

2215

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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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!!!!

 

THE BIKE

 

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.

 

THE RUN

 

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 https://www.justgiving.com/VJacob/ ) 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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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.

 

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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 Run

Posted on July 12, 2014. Filed under: Austria, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman regensburg, ironman tips, Klagenfurt, marathon, race report, race review, run |

When it comes to the Ironman, run is often a euphemism.  “A euphemism for what?”, you may ask – because it is indeed a foot race after a swim and a cycle.  Well, it is a euphemism for a never ending, shart stained, dehydrated hobble-waddle.  But that might put people off so we soften the description.

Let me share some important statistics with you:

Number of people who say “I will swim and ride conservatively and then smash the run because I am a runner” – trillions

Number of people planning to smash the run who actually succeeded  – absolutely feck all

Percentage of those that looked over the abyss but still crossed the line humbled and stripped of most of their dignity – 100%

These statistics are more directional than strictly actually factual but, more seriously, there are two types of runner in the world – those that have done the Ironman marathon and those that think they know what it is like to run 26.2miles in the sun just after cycling 112miles and swimming 2.4miles.  Without spoiling the surprise too much I can exclusively reveal that it’s just not fun except, perhaps, if you are winning at Kona.  Your legs feel like all the spring has been taken out of them; your stomach feels like a bucket filled with a heady cocktail of left over chip fat and all the fizzy drinks from MacDonalds; and your whole body feels like you have been put in a sauna wrapped in tinfoil.  It’s only really a question of whether you feel like that at mile 1 or at mile 26.

And the really tough part is that once you have done an Ironman marathon you can’t unknow what it feels like so, although I finished the bike feeling strong, I had a sense of impending trepidation (or more accurately doom) about this particular jog.  I picked up my run bag, sat in the changing tent and started the taut, laborious process of of bending down to loosen my cycling shoes.  While I could get my hands roughly to my feet I was tantalisingly short of the buckle.  Thereafter followed a process not unlike trying to touch my nose with my elbow.  Or more accurately trying to identify my arse from my elbow.  But removing my cycling shoes was quite important to me as running a marathon in cleats was likely to be uncomfortable.  After what seemed like an eternity bent double, bouncing my top half towards my feet a volunteer saw me contorting like the work experience guy at Cirque du Soleil and with two finger presses released me from my shackles.

Something unexpected slipped from my sock – my right foot had a bluish tinge and was quite swollen.  An elephant foot.  It was unexpected as it felt fine and I had no indication on the bike anything was wrong but, hey, a bit of colour on my celtic white feet just added some glamour.

As I started on my preparations I looked up and noticed a lady had strayed into the male changing tent – she had either got lost or had some really odd fetishes.  As she loosened her cycling shoes this particularly hairy, Spanish Ron Jeremy lookalike next to her dropped his tri suit and began the thorough process of applying vaseline to his entire body finishing with some particularly noisy slopping around his wee fella.  Whether either of them noticed the other will remain in the sanctity of the changing tent.  The Somme of the Ironman.

I popped in a gel, changed my socks and shoes, lubed, put a bottle of water over my head, handed my bag to a volunteer who gave me a sweaty hug and I set off to SMASH the marathon.  Except I didn’t.  I squealed like a puppy that had been stood on.  My right foot had a blinding pain that shot right up my leg.  Another step.  Same pain.  Bugger – this wasn’t in the SMASH IT plan.  I’m not sure I can describe the pain but basically mid foot, on the out side of my foot the last three toes and the sole of my foot felt like they were somewhere between an inferno and a bruise.  I assumed I had swimming goggles or something in my shoe so I took it off but there was nothing there.  Something was wrong with my foot.  This was going to feel like a long 26,2 miles.

Leaving T2 I reset my ailing Garmin and changed the display so at least I could see time and distance in the 4mm of screen that was visible.  This meant that I could stick with my tried and tested 4min run, 1 min walk strategy.  I did a kind of awkward walk/limp for the first 4 minutes which took me out of transition, over the bridge at swim exit and into the park.  At the end of 4 minutes there was no chance I would walk as the well beered crowd was three deep – pretty much the first group of people we had seen since the swim exit.  Every time you contemplated a walk the crowd went wild so I pushed on.  With a kind of one legged, limp, walk, hop I was already developing the fear that my Ironman shuffle was going to develop into the sideways run so often seen in the latter stages of an Ironman.  I suspect that I looked like someone who has tripped and then pretends to run as they look over their shoulder.  I was that awkward.  About this time I also discovered that it was unadulterated agony to turn right.  Which left me in a bit of a pickle as the course was a double figure of eight WITH EVERY TURN BEING A RIGHT HANDER.

In 2011 I rattled like a pharmacy as I ran, stocked up with all manner of helpful narcotics (immodium, ibuprofen and salt tablets) but for 2014 I had made the conscious decision to run “clean”.  That seemed a twat of a decision in that particular moment.  I am pretty sure some pain relief would have made the ungainly gait more bearable but, hey ho, no-one ever died of a sore foot (googles sore foot fatalities).

The 4:1 strategy worked a treat for the first 10k.  Just before 3k, I ran across Michael  (@smoker2ironman) walking. I knew he had started 15 minutes before so he must have been suffering.  I walked with him for a minute – his knee was bothering him and he was weighing up the DNF with the intake of voltarol.  I could have mugged him for his voltarol at that point but he needed it more than me.  I gave some painfully gibbered words of encouragement and then jogged on.

The first part of the figure of eight was hard work.  It was a really exposed flat section out to Krumpendorf and, when I started, some of the speedies were on their last lap.  This meant that it was harder than it needed to be with lots of jostling and maneuvering on a really narrow path.  As we arrived in Krumpendorf there was a short grass section that went down to a lakeside lido.  It was short and semi-circular and, you’ve guessed it, continual right hand turns.  I died a thousand deaths as this was at the start of a 4 minute run interval.  The thought of gnawing my foot off with my teeth crossed my mind.  I swore inside my head like a sailor at the folly of not packing a couple of ibuprofen.

Somewhere around the top of the Krumpendorf loop I started to run out of steam.  I am Scottish.  Despite the factor 50 I had run an hour without any shelter in a temperature somewhere above 25c.  I had actually dessicated.  I was sweating salt crystals.  I was literally at the point where my own tongue was uncomfortable in my mouth and my head felt like it had been microwaved while wrapped in a damp towel.  At the aid station exiting Krumpendorf I started Operation Desperate Measures.  4 sponges over my head, two tucked in my try top, 4 cups of water, a slice of watermelon and two handfuls of ice.  I walked until I could feel my core temperature start to come down.  As the ice cubes started to slip through my fingers I shoved them in my shorts.  From that point on I just survived between aid stations.

Back into the park area the crowd were getting really unruly as beer and sun took it’s toll.  My walks were now always coinciding with a group of English lads who now knew my name and shouted increasingly “motivational” encouragement every time I passed.  The shout of “come on Pirate” were receiving less and less enthusiastic “arrrrgggghs” as more and more moisture leaked out of me.

0745_057597The run out to Klagenfurt old town was again completely exposed and I found a line just along a high wall that provided some shelter as I watched my shoulders turn from blue to white to magnolia to scarlet.  In the old town everytime we rang a bell in an arch money was given to charity.  Three times in one pass I jumped to get that fecking bell.  At the turn there was another sharp right hander through a square that was set up with a huge screen for the evening world cup games.  The crowd were fun but still on the right side “Magaluf bar crawl”.  I got the bell again on the return and noticed a photographer. I mentally checked my face and was happy to realise that I was still smiling.

By now the strategy was run 90 seconds, walk 60 seconds and always walk the aid station.  Thankfully my stomach was fine (compare that with the Ironman Regensburg run) but my feet continued to get sorer and hotter.  I managed to stay one step ahead of the dehydration as the day finally started to cool.

I knew mentally that hitting the half marathon would be significant and, from the first lap through the park area, I knew exactly where the half marathon point was.  As I returned to the Iron Dome area alongside the Lend canal in the relative shelter of the trees I became aware of the casualties.  There were a number of sideways runners, a man that ran like he had developed piles the size of watermelons and the chap nonchalantly face down in a grass verge.  Like he was dead.  But he wasn’t.  Yet.

Just before half way I saw Pam and Roar in the park and gave them the thumbs up.  Feedback afterwards was that I looked WAAAAAAY better than Regensburg.  I went through the half marathon just under 2 hours 40 minutes which was considerably better than I thought it might be as the liquid leeched out of my body earlier in the lap.  But now it was just one more lap to go.  5 hours was gone, the finish was in the bag even if I crawled it, the last 21km would just be about moving forwards while smiling.

About three kilometres into the second lap I saw shady goings on up ahead.  A tall hairy yeti skulked out of the woods.  Not spectacular in itself but that particular yeti had come past me very fast on the bike about three hours before.

Me: “What’s up Nick?”

Nick: “Everytime I run I shit myself”

Me: “Hey, it could be worse.  Come on run with me for a bit”

Nick: “I’ll give it a go”

Nick’s innards: *gurgle, splutter, backfire*

Nick: “maybe I’ll just walk”.

0745_077027Gastro trouble is never far away in the Ironman and that afternoon I learnt something I didn’t know about the Ironman run.  In Regensburg we did 10km laps  so you only saw the few people you were running with but in Klagenfurt there was often two and sometime three way traffic.  And what became apparent with all that traffic was the noise.  The noise of The Farts.  I remember seeing a sign at Kona last year “Never trust a fart in an Ironman”; well I can testify that the whole of Klagenfurt were putting their trust in the sphincter.  It was like everyone had squeaky shoes, like McCartney had given up on Hey Jude and was conducting a perpetual dulcet Frog Chorus.  Whatever the Ironman run is, I can confirm that it IS NOT pretty.  Or fragrant.

Pushing on for 30km I saw a scarlet heided paddy coming towards me.  Nessie was out on the run.  Cue an exceptionally sweaty, coke and gel stained hug.  We stood and caught up for the first time in 10 hours.  In the middle of a tight path, attracting grumpiness from the shuffling men on the death march, farting their way home.

At the top end of the Krumpendorf loop I needed a pee.  I could have gone into a bush.  I could have held onto it.  I could have peed my tri-shorts while I ran.  But no, I went into a portaloo.  I can truly say I have never seen anything quite like it.  As I nod at the trough I often like to rest my head on the wall.  I am just shy of 6 foot and THIS WAS NOT AN OPTION.  What hell had occurred in here?  How did someone’s bowels get sprayed quite so high up a wall?  As I stared at the small urinal feature in the portaloo I tried to pretend there weren’t two GIANT jobbies on the toilet seat but I couldn’t. I wretched constantly for my whole visit and even if there was a huge family sized packet of ibuprofen, hell even morphine, in there I wouldn’t have touched it.  If I ever pee myself in public I will trace the public john phobia back to Trap 2 in Krumpendorf.

0745_089822Back in the park I saw Pam and Roar again and heard that Ness was on her way back in from Klagenfurt.  I pushed on and about a kilometre later saw her in the other direction – “Nearly there paddy, you’ve got this now”.  Just before the old town some young chap on roughly the same walk/run plan as me.  Eventually we agreed to go it together.  From this point on, about 7km to go, we mainly walked.  We both probably could have run more but some social connection was important to us.  We chatted about anything and everything – he was from Ottawa, the airline had lost all his kit and his wife was also doing the race – we saw her during our march.

In the old town square the football was in full swing.  But plenty of the crowds backs were turned to the screen.  They had rearranged the beer hall bench to create a channel for the runners.  A drunken guard of honour.  The Gauntlet.  But by now the crowd were calling us Ironman, there was no doubt any more.  The thoughts of a smash and grab on the pharmacy were passing.  The grin got wider.

With 2km to go I suggested we run it in.  The final kilometre sign was a lying bastard. I estimate that is was about 8 miles long with  40 right hand turns, an underpass and the only uphill on the course.  Pirate Happy Chap cheered me from her balcony.  The lights shone, I passed under a gantry, I high 5’d a million people, I turned into the finishing chute, I ran until I wanted to vom.

“Dougie, from Great Britain, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”.  2 years and 11 months later it was as sweet as the first time.

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And just when you thought it was all over there is one more episode to make the Ironman Austria Odyssey complete.  And that will answer the age old question – what happens when you finish an Ironman.

Until then, have a beer and embrace the fact that you can fart without fear.

THE ENTIRE IRONMAN AUSTRIA ARCHIVE

 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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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 – Ironman 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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Setbacks And Leaps Forward

Posted on January 20, 2014. Filed under: 5k, edinburgh parkrun, ironman, Ironman Austria, Ironmanflu, man flu, recovery, rest, run, swim |

December proved to be tricky.  Almost as soon as the thirty week training plan started, I was struck down by a particularly virulent strain of manflu – we call it ironmanflu.

SETBACK #1 – IRONMANFLU

What followed was a classic case of me not following my own advice, then remembering what I should remember, and then finally getting to the point that I should have been at several weeks earlier.  I remember reading somewhere years ago that pro cyclists take a day off a week, a week off per month and a month off per year. I don’t know if that’s true but it sticks in my mind.  And after a steady run of training from July, I should have taken advantage of a break.

Instead, a chest infection plagued me through December and everytime I had a day clear of snot I tried to run or cycle and pretty much went back to square one. Eventually, mainly out of frustration, I chucked in the towel and took the time from Boxing Day to the 3rd of January completely off training.  And, miraculously, I was cured.

SETBACK #2 – THE SENSITIVE ONE

Alongside ironmanflu I developed another issue in December.  This paragraph is best skipped if you are of a sensitive disposition about matters below the lycra line.

To cut a long story short the point where my saddle meets my left sit bone (to be clear that is part of my arse) chafed, rubbed and eventually exposed an open sore about the size of a 50 pence piece (if you are reading from outside the UK and don’t know the size of a 50p, then imagine a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon, at least that is how it felt).  Sitting on the saddle was like being vigorously prodded with a red hot poker conducting a massive current.  There was no dignity involved in this injury or it’s resolution but suffice to say I can once more sit on my saddle without suffering.

The sensitive can start reading again now.  Do not even think about scrolling back up for a wee look.  Arse butchery is not a spectator sport.

LEAPING FORWARDS #1 – BACK IN THE POOL

At the start of November I had video analysis done on my swimming stroke.  It was eye opening.  I have swum for 37 years, I swam competitively for nearly 15 years, and I was a swimming coach – yet I have been recently swimming like an octopus in a Mexican wave.  One complete shoulder rebuild, one shoulder needing rebuilt, a smashed wrist and a torn bicep left me swimming however I could manage as opposed to how I knew I should.

During November I dabbled with drills in the pool and then stopped swimming altogether, in the huff.  My plan of swimming Ironman Austria in under an hour hanging in the balance.  The problem I had continually was the neuromuscular link – I knew what I should be doing, I knew what it should look like, but I had no idea what it should FEEL like.   A pint with an old friend and Ironman in December led me to Alan Cardwell, an accredited Swimsmooth coach.  Swimsmooth has always appealed to me, as a former swimming teacher I really like their technique and the cut of their jib and discovering that I had a local coach re-lit my swimming rainbow.

I spent an hour with Alan in the pool this morning and in just an hour I got the feel for the water back.  Alan broke down the stroke flaws and then built the stroke back again how it should be.  Not only did I feel how it should feel, but I also felt the benefits.  On arriving at the pool I was cruising 100m at roughly 1:40, by the time I left I could hold 1:35 without swimming harder.  It was awkward, it was clunky, but it was the start of a reinvigorated swimming approach.

Unusually for me, I am actually looking forward to my next swim.  Project sub 1 hour Ironman swim is very much back on.

LEAPING FORWARDS #2 – THE RUNNING LEGS

12015326906_3eb4411470_zBack in November before ironmanflu I was happy with running after a long summer of injury. The day before I was struck down I had recorded my longest run in months at 7 miles.  After only a handful of runs during December I was really worried that I was back to square one.  But no!  Luckily after 10 days of building back I managed a 7 mile run last week and knocked 12 seconds of my parkrun time taking it to a supersonic 26:59.  It may not be fast but it was absolutely everything I had – I averaged 93% of maximum heart rate for the 26 minutes and was ready to fill a bucket by the end!

I even starred in the parkrun photos this week!  OK, when I say starred, I mean a bit of my arm was almost in the picture. I couldn’t understand why the girl in black didn’t look more alarmed until I realised that her headphones protected her from the rasping breaths, grunting, spitting and snotting noises that were approaching her from behind.  If you could see my face you would see proper hurt.

On a more somber note, before Parkrun there was an impeccably respected moment of silence for poor little local boy, Mikaeel Kular, whose body had been discovered only hours before.  It makes me proud to be a runner that every single head bowed and we were left with our thoughts as the birds sang disturbed only by the hum of news helicopters hanging over his house.  Runners really do feel part of the community they run in regardless of where they live.

FINAL THOUGHT

I read a lot, probably more than is healthy, and I love reading blogs of people preparing for endurance events.  Often they inspire but often they just jolt me and give me pause for thought.  Two that complemented each other perfectly had that effect at the weekend.

Firstly Michael Barnett wrote a blog about his cracking 5k personal best.  His inspiration was a Runner’s World article that said breaking 25 minutes for 5k marked you out as a committed runner.  BOOM, that comment hit my brain like a hammer.  The cogs started turning……

My current best 5k is 26:59

My best ever 5k was 25:43 in 2010, so……

Despite running 3 marathons, completing one Ironman and 3 half Ironman and more 10ks than I care to remember …..

I AM NOT A COMMITTED RUNNER.  Bollocks to you Runners World!

However, I then read another blog by Miss Running Bean that reset my running compass.  “If you run, you are a runner”.  Hell yeah!

As people start new experiences with a new year – if you run you are a runner.  If you swim/bike/run you are a triathlete.  If you swim/bike/run 140.6 miles under your own steam without outside assistance you are an ironman.

It really is that simple.

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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 – 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 “well built” 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.

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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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – each 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 – 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:

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 – 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!

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 – to 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 – this 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 – this 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 – 17minutes

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 – an 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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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 FULL ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ 2012 ARCHIVE

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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