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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, 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 Swim

Posted on July 7, 2014. Filed under: first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, ironman swim, ironman tips, race report, race review, swim |

Toes grasping at cool sand, a priest reads a blessing “may the lord see you all return home safely today” or some other holy chuff.  F’sakes.  The rather jolly Austrian national anthem draws to a close.  2,500 stand shoulder to shoulder cocooned in rubber suits, latex on heads, making imaginery final micro-adjustments to well loved goggles.  It should be a ludicrous sight but we are immersed in the moment; the final seconds before a long training journey is put into practice.  The announcer calls 10 seconds to go and the silent stoicism is broken as 2,500 rubber clad gimps turn to the stranger next to them, tap them on the back, shake hands, offer a hug and wish each other, and no-one in  particular, good luck in any of 50 languages.  We face forwards, the cannon booms, red and white fireworks explode over the still, milky blue Wörthersee in an ethereal Austrian flag.  En masse, without words, 2,500 people step forwards.  Ironman Austria is GO.

Of course, Ironman morning doesn’t start on the beach.  It starts hours before.  Days before even.  There is a theme with Ironman Austria that I won’t labour.  It is a fantastic race, deservedly considered one of the best in the world  but it is all, well, it is all very vague.  There appears to be a huge amount of assumed knowledge and, as the site is vast, that results in a huge amount of unnecessary walking.  There is no signage, there are huge crowds and nobody really knows what is going on.  So bike racking on Saturday afternoon (I was given two different racking times) through to the swim start there was just a general level of confusion.  It just didn’t have the slickness that I would expect for such a huge event.

Anyway, with that minor gripe aside me, Nessie and the Sherpas – Al, Pam and Roar ate pasta on Saturday evening and the grown up Sherpas drank beer.  Due to the general vagueness we decided to go early and as in Regensburg 3 years ago I took control.  “The car will be leaving at 5am.  Don’t assume I’m joking”.  And so we retired and I pretended that I was going to sleep in the 6 hours before my alarm went off.  I guess I did, but not nearly as much as I didn’t.

At 4am I went into auto pilot.  Up, porridge, last check of bags.  Shower, P50, lube, optimistically spray some Lynx, suit up, warm layer on top.  4:45 wake up Pam. 4:55 lift Roar from his bed.  5:03  Give Ness the 3 minutes late death stare.  5:03:30 the car departs.  5:04 Roar starts singing “let it go” by repeating let it go in increasingly unintelligible octaves until the car windows shatter.  5:15 Parked.

Ness and I went to T1 to ready the bikes and “perfectly prepared IronNess” asked me if I would come to her bike and pump up her tyres.  Dumbass.  As I aero-tape my pump to the frame I met Michael (@smoker2ironman), a long time twitter buddy who happened to have a handy track pump so we chatted as I inflated and then he introduced me to Nick (@thehisknibs) the other man that had been along for the twitter ride since we signed up.  But, after talking about it for 3 years I wanted to spend the last hour with my real life buddy.IMG_20140703_190544

IMG_20140703_110206

So, as I found Ness in the ladies section she was already to go, but with flat tyres.  We had been assured that there would be mechanics and loads of track pumps in T1 so I never took mine but with all the Austrian vaguery loads may have translated into absolutely none.  Anyway, in what I thought was very un-Ironman behaviour I asked three people to borrow pumps before a passing chap eventually did.  The whole time the pumps that had spurned me sat next to me unused.  Iron ladies can be rude.

IMG_20140703_110546

Anyway, we refound the sherpas and the next 30mins were a blur of (more confusion), rubber suits, lube and my banana in a wetsuit jape.  And then it was time to head to the Strandbad to start the longest day.  As we turned, Roar shouted “RAINBOW” and, right enough, in clear blue skies over the Strandbad building was a double sided rainbow.  As if the Wörthersee was not beautiful enough it was framed in the most perfect rainbow to welcome us to the swim start, only my bicycle turning into a unicorn would have been more magical.  We followed the stream of rubber clad morphs towards the Ironman arch, wading through spectators experiencing general, well, confusion.  And then we popped through security in a blur of paparazzi and we were on the water front.  I had stressed to Ness that getting in the water for a quick warm up was critical.  But we couldn’t get to the water.  We wasted minutes squeezing through the crowd, all similarly dry and confused until eventually we were told we had to leave the secure area to get to the warm up area.  OK. 10 mins to go.  The crush was unbelievable and there was no chance we could get out, warmed up and back in. So, I looked at Ness and said “you’re going to have to trust me on this one”.  We headed to the cold showers and had 5 mins getting chilled down and wet and made it back just in time for the 3 minute countdown.

“You’ve got this buddy.  Hang back, take it easy, keep moving forwards”.  Hug.  Steamy goggles.  Separate ways.

Cue dumbass decision #1.

I woke up on Ironman morning knowing that I needed a perfect swim to hit my 1 hour target.  I am an experienced (some would say grizzled veteran) swimmer so this should have been basic stuff.  I was doing 400m repeats in the pool comfortably coming in at 1:02 pace and on Saturday I did 2700m bang on 1:03 pace.  If the Lend canal was as quick as everyone said for the last kilometre I could do 1:00.  But it was tight, and the last thing I needed was a schoolboy tactical error.

IMG_20140706_074239The only explanation I can offer for lining up on the beach 5 back from the front just to the left of the centre pier is that I was flustered by the warm up confusion.  I had intended to be front row towards the left pier.  In the final 30 seconds I took 4 large sideways steps but never moved forward. In the picture I am at the top of the balloon  shadow.  Yip, where ALL the people are.  Then BOOM, the cannon set unstoppable forward motion in progress.

It was 5 steps into the water.  I was in the most congested part of the lake.  I was up to my neck wading before there was any point in taking my feet off the bottom.  Even then there was only space to swim at a 45 degree angle.  And then BANG.

I’m not sure what happened.  I have no recollection of the swim for the first 1200m or so and after that it was a case of remembering “water side down” as my brain rattled in my head.  I had no facial bruising so I don’t think I took a kick in the face but i was tender on my neck and shoulders for days and I struggled to look forwards on the bike.  My best guess from forensic bruise poking was that a hand came down on the back of my neck.  I have no idea whether I swam the first straight or whether I was just carried by the draft but my first clear recollection is pretty much hitting the first turn buoy.  And that recollection was that my timing chip felt loose on my ankle – I have no idea what kind of mauling we took on that start but I struggle to remove a timing chip at the best of times so it was a rough old swim start.  The back straight had loads of space (or I was off course) but as we turned for home I was completely blinded by the sun as expected.  The thing about the Lend canal is that it sounds big but really we would probably call it a waterlogged ditch so even without the rising sun it was a practically invisible target.  The swim down the home straight to the mouth of the canal was the ultimate zig zag swim as the buoys seemed off course and some flags that seemed to obviously mark the canal were the decorations on some bloke’s decking.

IMG_20140628_183524Even 5m from the tightly gripped mouth of the canal I was unclear of the route in and then, without warning, there were rocks in my face and scraping my feet in the shallows.  I pulled my head up and cramped my hamstrings.  The rest of the swim was done with poker straight legs.

Now, here I take issue.  At the race briefing Paul Kaye prepared us for the “fastest swim of our lives”.  Personally, I experienced the most brutal swim of my life.  Or the most twig and leaf mouthed swim of my life.  But not fast.  Like the famous fish in a barrel we were squashed into bugger all space.  As a waterpolo and rugby player I can hold my own in a stramash but this was fierce.  Al even witnessed two chaps take it personally and stand up in the waist deep water for a square go.  Literally hundreds of alpha boys and girls clawing and grasping in a shallow, grubby canal for an extra millimetre.  Not fast, not fun but definitely a unique spectator viewpoint of an Ironman swim.

0745_000816

Realising that my Garmin is as useful as a packet of bacon crisps for an OW swim

A sharp right turn of slack water.  And then we were out.  Volunteers hauling us up the steep bank and on our way to our bikes.  As I am normally a little, ahem, confused as I look for my bike after a swim I made the decision to walk the long transition.  Glancing down at my garmin I had no idea how long I had swum as the screen was completely fogged up.  But, ultimately, it was a disappointing 1:07 versus my downside time of 1:02.  However, with a throbbing head and shoulders I was just glad to make it onto the bike.

It was 21 centigrade at 8:10am. I am Scottish.  The suffering was starting.   The day was on.

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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T Minus Seven

Posted on May 18, 2014. Filed under: Austria, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, swim |

Hopefully, about this time, in seven weeks I will have completed my second Ironman.  Yes, eight rapidly passing and increasingly shorter weeks.

I have an app on my phone that was counting down to Ironman Austria.  It was fine in months, it was mentally manageable in weeks but I have deleted it now that the days are firmly into double digits.  There is nothing like the taper being on the horizon to cause the ass cheeks to clench a little bit tighter.  Tomorrow, I start the last major training block, and in 5 weeks I will be tapering.  It is sobering.  Literally.

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I decided last week that I would have one last blow out and then knuckle down for the last training block to minimise the risk of alcohol induced conditions – CBA, compromised immune system and mixing with snotty people in sweaty pubs.  So after a 5 mile run on Saturday I pulled on my drinking Converse, headed to the Jed Forest 7s and drank like I was 17.  Literally.

I survived all the challenges that came before me – a dodgy burger from a van, a bone crushing tackle as I escaped Riverside, drinking Sauvignon Blanc from a bottle on a bus and downing a pint of Peroni because my pizza was ready.  It is out of my system.  My body now demands an athletic existence.

So.  That’s where I am.  With Ironman Austria approaching and a mindset to finish the training plan on a high.

As I have gone through the last 23 weeks of my training plan I have constantly used Ironman Regensburg as my benchmark.  I knew that if I trained smarter and longer than 2011 then I would set myself up to improve on that painful experience.

Back in one of my rollercoaster dips, suffering from a chest infection I set up a comprehensive spreadsheet to compare my cumulative training hours and miles.  What I had forgotten about 2011 was that with 16 weeks to go we had a baby and consequently the last 16 weeks were a pretty chequered affair.  As of right now  I have cumulatively cycled 6% more and run 18% more than in 2011.  I find that incredible but the spreadsheet don’t lie.

And the best part is that I have the opportunity to ace the next 5 weeks, with at least 4 century rides and half marathons and some Giant Swim weeks.

The most heartening thing about Ironman 2 is that it has been injury free.  I deliberately set out in January to build strength and power in my legs and have religiously spent two hours a week in the gym.  I have a strong core and no niggles any where.  That is the longest run without injury since EVER.  Sure, training has been disrupted by chest infections but that kinda comes with the territory of having a three year old.

IMG_20140516_181956

 

The other useful comparison to 2011 is The Blog.  I keep this to read back the kinds of detail that memory chooses not to or can’t remember.  It turns out in 2011 I did a sprint triathlon with 7 weeks to go and suffered from the trots.  At least I had the decency to call the blog post TMI.

So, that’s about it.  Sobering up has started, I’ll start eating the green food tomorrow, The Sultry Temptress will do a century this week and it is all going to be about consistency.

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It’s a Rollercoaster

Posted on May 7, 2014. Filed under: Austria, brain training, computrainer, escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, great scottish swim, Half ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, shakey, swim, triathlon, Uncategorized, virgin london marathon, virgin london marathon 2012, vlm 2012 |

When I wrote Picking Up The Pieces on Friday night I had already picked up the pieces.  Whingeing is not really my style and it is a blog I would never have written while I was on a low ebb.  It was a catalyst, however, to remind me that I am an Ironman and an Alcatraz Escapee and to re-grow a pair, get my kit on and hit the road.

However, that said, it is fair to say that I was totally overwhelmed by the support that I received which was not all of the HTFU variety.  Chest infection aside all I really needed to do was get some consistent miles into my legs to top up the confidence tank.  This afternoon I realised the confidence was flooding back – but I’ll come back to that.

 

Since Friday I have:

Swum 6km;

Cycled 153km; and

Run 48km

 

20140505_093717And I still have my long ride to come tomorrow so that, frankly, is a mere drop in the ocean.

That is the kind of mileage that finally gives an old guy confidence.  Saturday morning had a very hilly 21.5km, the longest run that I have had in quite some time.  Sunday then saw a 55km ride which started in glorious sunshine with short sleeves and ended with me feeling that I had been waterboarded.  With hail and snot and ice.  And then on Monday with all of that activity already in the legs I enjoyed a stinking hot (19C, I am Scottish after all), flat, midgie infested 25km.  The midgie clouds were so thick that I resorted to the bank robber look and someone actually asked if they could have my saliva and sweat soaked mask after I was finished.  Pervert.

 

So, the rollercoaster is on an up.  Undoubtedly.

 

I would love an extra couple of weeks until Ironman Austria but, I have to face it, they are unlikely at this late stage to move it for me.  So it is when it is.  Which is cool.

 

So, how did I realise that my iron-confidence was back?  A text exchange that I had with Shakey today.  If you are new to the ironman39 blog you may wonder who Shakey is.  Well, let me explain that first.

 

Shakey is like my brother from another mother.  Except she is a chick and she is Irish.  Sister from an other mister doesn’t really sound right; but I digress.  Since I started jogging and stuff like that, me and Shakey have been through a lot of scrapes – I dragged her from the bottom of a pool and taught her to swim, Pam and I took her for her first open water swim, I escorted her to her first and second swimming medals, we did a half ironman and we ran VLM.  She is kind, she paced Pam round a half marathon when she was preparing for the London Marathon, but if you read only one of those blogs to get some idea of the eejitry that I have to deal with make it the VLM one.  I am not giving the game away to tell you it involves a daft paddy being taken away in an ambulance.

Anyway, the only other two things that you need to know about Shakey is that she has found some poor bugger to marry her and she is also doing Ironman Austria.  So, cue text banter today:

 

Me: Need to check – are you planning tears in Austria or at wedding?  Because you need to HTFU.

Shakey: Austria.  Defo.  Want me to bring tissues for two?

Me: Eff off.  I am an Ironman.  I’m just topping up my AWESOME.

 

IMG_20140507_130815And then I realised I hadn’t been quite so cocky for a few weeks and that the confidence is definitely back.  Less grumpy, more AWESOME (hopefully the English language will forgive my use of the word awesome because it is really reserved for Americans) and ready for the weeks ahead when the battle is as much head as it is body.

 

In other news The Sultry Temptress was unshackled from the turbo today.  After Ironman Regensburg I hated her.  She wrecked my legs and made my arse look like a baboons.  So, today after a long winter and many, many static miles she is being treated to a compact chainring to save my ageing legs on the rolling Austrian mountainry.  All outdoor rides from here until I climb off on the afternoon of 29th June will be on The Temptress.

So, it’s really just a short update to say the rollercoaster is heading upwards.  Of course it will crash down again but the miles are being banked day in, day out both into the legs and into The Brain.

I expect the updates will get more frequent now, if only to allow me to remind me what is going on in my head when I ever contemplate doing a long distance event again in the future.  😉

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The Swimmer’s Nemesis

Posted on February 14, 2014. Filed under: swim |

I didn’t plan to write a blog this evening.

I write for a variety of reasons – to update friends and family, to keep a record for myself and, most importantly because I am too damned lazy to be a spree killer.  Today I came close.  This evening I have had to write a cathartic blog to purge my soul of the kind of darkness that only comes from a close encounter with one of life’s true cockspanners.

I am a swimmer.  It’s a bold statement but relative to my running and cycling it is at least realistic.  IMG_20140130_124048And if there is one thing that really gets to a swimmer it is poor lane etiquette.  It might seem petty to the landlubber but there is a whole chlorinated ecosystem that must be respected or we will descend into savages.

Almost three years to the day since I wrote about my swimming pool nemesis, who I called Mrs Bannatyne, I had a similar experience.  And, I shit you not, it was the same “crabbit, moaning, wizzened old prune”.  Think Madge from Benidorm, but without the Shopmobility scooter and the (comparatively) attractive personality.

A couple of weeks ago she complained about me using hand paddles. I know this because the staff told me and had invited her to swim at times that I wasn’t in.  That does not endear her to me much.

I will not dwell on this. I will merely present the facts and I would be grateful if you could validate my rage by adding a comment if some bottom-dwelling lane territorialist has spoilt your swim with similarly unacceptable behaviour.

img-thingSCENARIO

We are at a 25 metre swimming pool mid afternoon on a Friday.  We have no lifeguard.  There are two lanes roped off for lane swimming – one marked fast, one marked slow. There are two people in the whole pool.

THE CHOICE

The grumpy old prune arrives poolside and showers.  She surveys the pool.  Does she:

a) go into the “slow” lane which is invitingly empty with mirror flat water; or

b) go into the “fast” lane occupied by an Ironman and a Channel swimmer doing hard 400m repeats?

Oh yes she bloody did.  WTF was going through her tiny mind?  And worse than that she slapped her way through 50 metres (her stroke has not improved in 3 years) in the centre of the lane and when she got to the shallow end, she looked at channel swimmer and I like we had both just taken a huge shit in HER lane.

That was it. Rudeness and stupidity.

Let’s start the campaign to get rude cockspanners out of polite swimmer’s lanes in the comments below!

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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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