triathlon

Product Review: Huub Big Buoy

Posted on November 29, 2015. Filed under: product review, Ranty McRantface, swimming, triathlon |

I have never done a product review before. I probably won’t do one again. Personally I don’t find them that interesting. But sometimes needs must.

As seems to be de rigeur when writing a product a review I shall make full disclosure. I received no payment for this blog and got no free shit either. As will be abundantly clear in the reading.

It’s also worth disclosing I have become increasing bemused and dismayed by the commercialisation of triathlon. I have no objection to people making money out of a growth sport but the spawning of Any Old Shit has been quite incredible. People buy Any Old Shit they neither need nor will benefit from in the hope of a fabled marginal gain. Tri magazines loaded with product advertorials have simply become Any Old Shit Mongers. And every product is supported by the most vapid pseudo-science (that which we called marketing guff in the old days) “proving” why their particular brand of Any Old Shit is the New Big Shit.

So, with that baseline you can conclude that I am a fair-minded, independent reviewer. Or not. That’s your choice.

Anyway. If you have never come across a pull buoy before then allow me to be the first to enlighten you.

A pull buoy is a swim training aid that you place between your thighs to either isolate your arms to build upper body strength or to support your legs. The first pull buoys that I used in the late 70s were two white foam cylinders held together with string. By the 80s they had developed into solid figure of 8 constructions. They really are that simple. And I was as surprised as anybody that they had been “scienced”.

Here is a confession. I was weak. Normally Any Old Shit doesn’t get under my skin. I am immune to the bizarre cults of Garmin and Huub and Compressport and Jack Oatbar. But it did during the summer. With practically no swimming in my shoulders I was facing a 5k open water swim. I had no time to build the diesel engine. I was built like a diesel engine. But I could build some shoulder strength with big paddles and a pull buoy.

So I bought a Huub Big Buoy. Because science.

“You can now alter between drag loads by utilising Hydrodynamic shaping and you can choose buoyancy focus between the legs with two differing size end curves”, they say.

They go on, “For larger swimmers and leg sinkers, traditional pull buoys just don’t cut it and offer little assistance in improving body alignment”.

Boom. THAT’S ME! At a little (ahem) over 15 stone, just under 6 foot and with legs that are filled with concrete and lead this was designed JUST FOR ME. I needed a big boy Big Buoy and all the body alignment and stuff. So I spent £19.99 on it for me own customised, uber-scienced piece of triathlon magic.

And then I didn’t use it.

That is until Project Swim A Very Long Way Repeatedly got underway. Training has been going well, times are dropping like a stone and it became time to do some strength work so I cracked out the Huub Big Buoy.

There are two things you notice when you open the Huub Big Buoy.

The first is the total eclipse of every available light source. This thing is huge. It didn’t even fit in my swim bag like my old trusty speedo pull buoy did. I guess that it only fits in the Huub Triathlon Dry Bag which is scientifically engineered with black hole technology to create a tardis effect (that bit maybe made up. Or not)

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The second thing is that it is emblazoned with “A MASSIVE 34 NEWTONS OF FLOTATION”. Now I don’t know about you but that means nothing to me. It could have said A MASSIVE 3 NEWTONS and I would have thought it was massive. OR A MASSIVE 34 MARSHMALLOWS OF FLOTATION and I would have been equally impressed. Or not. With hindsight I got marketeered. Marketing dressed as science. Marketoscience.

Anyway, to the pool with it.

I have been a swimmer in various guises since I was 7. I am now 44. I have swum at districts, nationals, a couple of Ironman, Escaped from Alcatraz and across the Firth of Forth. So I have a pretty good idea how to swim and how to use most training aids.

After a warm up I started a buoy and paddle set. From the off I was incredibly uncomfortable. I felt like a scorpion with my toes and legs curling over my back to touch my head.  And I felt really unbalanced – every roll of my hips felt like I was going to tip over. 1000m later I concluded that I must be using it wrong.

I consulted the web. I wasn’t.

Next session the positional discomfort was still there. I felt awkward in the water. I never feel awkward in the water. Positional hydrodynamic oscillation the marketoscientists would probably call it. By the end of the second session my lower back was aching. Two days later I still felt it.

Third session was the same. But after the third session my back was so tender that it affected the way I walked for a couple of days.

That was it. I’m out, as Duncan Bannatyne would say if this piece of Any Old Shit had been flogged to him. A mere 3000m had a negative physical impact and messed with my feel for the water.  Not a remotely happy Big Buoy owner. Not a happy big boy.

I have bloody heavy legs. If I swim with a band I move through the water like a dredger. I can only assume 34 mega-marshmallows of floating newtons, or whatever, is required for much “larger swimmers and leg sinkers” than me. Like people who have actual, real iron for legs.

Now I have never been tempted to buy a Huub wetsuit despite The Science and the noisy celebrity endorsements. Indeed, the day that I contemplate buying a £550 wetsuit is the day that I am actually mental enough to swim open water in skin. But, herein lies an important point.

Huub say in their Big Buoy marketing “For athletes training for wetsuit swims the HUUB Big Buoy is the perfect training partner and allows swimmers to simulates the leg lift offered by HUUB wetsuits”. I take this just to be marketing guff; there is not a chance in hell that all these pros (who will have a damned sight lighter legs than me) are wearing these suits if that is how they make you feel in the water.

As an entry level drug to the methamphetamine of the Huub cult the Big Buoy is ineffective. If I was crazy enough to be tempted to buy a £550 wetsuit that bit of marketoscientific copy would put me off completely. Sometimes all publicity isn’t good publicity. Sometimes halo effects are not positive halos. Weird.

Let me sum it up:

Pros – if you take it on a cruise liner and that cruise liner sinks all of the crew and passengers could safely live on the Big Buoy until rescued

Cons – it wrecked my back due to it’s over enthusiastic Newtons (my fault obvs for not having heavy enough legs); it disrupted my swim technique.

So, here I find myself sitting on the fence about the Huub Big Buoy. KIDDING.  It’s shite. Would I recommend it? Nah, the hardwood floor in the above picture would be a better swim aid.

Seriously, as a swimmer, I can’t think of anything worse to stick between your legs in an effort to get stronger. Product fail.

 

 


 

If you are still looking for something to spank your Christmas money on I did write The Three Best Investments I Have Ever Made in Triathlon last Christmas.

 

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Scenes From A Swimming Pool

Posted on October 16, 2015. Filed under: swimming, triathlon |

There are always interesting things to see at a swimming pool.  From a child’s first exposure to the water, to an adult putting their face in for the first time, to badly advised swimwear.  But today shall be filed under Special.

I first spotted him at the water fountain mixing a potion.  In an oversized water bottle he shook normal pool deck water fountain water and the mystical elixir of life.  Whether it was protein or pre workout or post workout or 4:1 mix or proteins specially formulated for the over 45s or the magical reduction of nutribulleted flapjack I’ll never know. But the attention to swim nutrition piqued my interest.  Who was this new swim star at the pool?

Obviously nutrition alone didn’t mark him out as a contender.  That was the speedos.  Not Speedo the brand, but speedo the 1980s hairy man ass garment.  The banana hammock. The pickle pincher.  The scrote tote.  Rarely worn by anyone outside of Germany since David Wilkie was a lad.

Incredible scenes.  Attention was duly caught.

Anyway, the Budgie Smuggler strides towards the pool.  Past the open swimming area.  Past the slow lane.  And he sits on the pool deck in the fast lane and puts his legs in the water.  Pretty good etiquette to alert your lane mates that your arrival is imminent.  A serious swimmer.

Everyone in the pool leans forward; takes a little more notice.  Who is the new guy?  Has an Olympian taken to visit our small pool?  We brace ourselves for a swim masterclass from a visiting aquatic dignitary.

He adjusts his goggles.  Even from a distance I notice they are Huub.  Hmmm, a triathlete.  Probably not a technical masterclass but a lesson in athletic endeavour.

He adjusts the goggles some more.  And then some more.  His lane mates are alerted to his imminent arrival every 50m, 400m later (I shit you not) they are still wondering when he will start.  Final preparations on the scientifically over-designed aphotic goggles done, he chugs some liquid flapjack and slips in.

We are ready.

A long push off. A hint of a flutter kick breaks the surface.  He swims like buggery. Elbows, chin, aphotics, splash, feet, splash, hammering down to the 25m mark.  Technically rough. Very rough. But enthusiastic; indecently enthusiastic.  At the turn he switches to breastroke and repeats for 75m.  OK, kinda odd but maybe it’s a technical programme that he’s working to.

He reaches the 100 metre mark and stands exposing the dong sarong in the shallow end and chugs a quarter of the bottle of nutritional Dom Perignon.  The rest interval is generous.  The pool slowly evaporates while he recovers.

The same routine is repeated twice.  Splashy crawl. Eager breastroke. Nutrition. Stand around like a spare tool.  An elderly lady taps his toes on one of the breastroke laps.

I am intrigued. How fast is he actually going under all the splash?  On the 4th set I get Rory to hold onto a noodle and I tow him with a flutter kick. I keep pace with Mr Sausage Sling. I introduce a gentle one-handed scull and it’s like when Maverick says to Goose “put on the brakes and he’ll fly right by”.  I am basically an F14.

Rory and I resume playing Jump on Daddy’s Head And Laugh while The Swimmer does the breastroke element of his swim set.  Then he chugs the last quarter of the bottle and gets in the jacuzzi.

400 metres of masterclass done.  Nutritional strategy executed.

Budgie smuggling chopper.

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What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then – Tips For First Ironman

Posted on June 9, 2014. Filed under: FAQ, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman regensburg, ironman tips, new ironman tips, outlaw ironman, race review, regensburg, triathlon |

Ironman is tough.  It took me to the brink.  It pushed me further than I ever thought was possible.  It changed my life.  It made me believe anything is possible.

Ironman is like few other events.  It gets under your skin.  It occupies your thoughts.  It makes you do (even more) irrational things.

You only cross an Ironman finishing line for the first time once.  And between that unique moment and the second finish line there are literally hours and hours to contemplate what you would/could/should do differently.  In three weeks I won’t be a first time Ironman any more so I wanted to capture the thoughts that have rattled around my head during hours in the pool and on the road.  This isn’t a useful read for a 10 hour ironman but is just the stuff that I know now that I wish I had known before my first Ironman.

So, where to start?

 

ANYONE CAN DO IT

Ironman doesn’t require any kind of special magic gene.  Loads of people have done Ironman as their first triathlon and have done it within a year of deciding to do it.

However, you can’t blag it.  You can definitely blag a 5k, a 10k, a half ironman and I have even, quite uncomfortably, blagged a marathon.  However, if you try to do the Ironman without training for it you will either end up on the sweeper truck or in the medical tent with your tongue hanging out your head and a probe in your ass.  Ironman is tough; but very do-able.  Support and knowledge is easy to come by; you just need to provide the motivation and the time.

The most important thing it to have a plan.  Plans are easy enough to  come by, Don Fink’s Iron Fit is imperfect but a starting point – devour it, diary it and live it.  If you have a good base it takes 30 weeks to get ready, the plan isn’t rigid, but you need to be consistent.

 

CONSISTENCY AND QUALITY

The key thing about training for Ironman is consistency.  Boom and bust training shipwrecks many a fledgling Ironman campaign.  The basics are pretty simple – long stuff is easy and essential; shorter stuff is harder; make sure you can tell the difference between hard and easy; have easy and hard days; then RECOVER.

Also, you are not training for a standalone marathon or a Tour de France stage so make your long stuff of a length you can RECOVER from AND maintain CONSISTENCY.  There really isn’t any need to run 20 miles and your consistency will suffer if you do.

You need to train most weeks, most days, you need to eat pretty well and you also need to be able to schedule some time off.  But, most importantly, it is SUPPOSED TO BE FUN, so when real life inevitably gets in the way don’t melt down, don’t panic, just trust the plan and roll on.  The plan works.

 

THE SWIM IS IMPORTANT

In Andreas Raelert’s world record Ironman time of 7:41 the swim took 10% of total race time. In Ironman cut-off times the swim is only 14% of time.  So, the swim is relatively unimportant, right?

Not really – the swim is the entry question for Ironman.  Even if you are an expert bike/runner two hours in the water is going to screw up your nutrition, your legs and your mind before you start the day.  And, more importantly, if you miss cut-off the day is over before you get on your bike.  So you ignore the swim at your peril.

As a lifelong competitive swimmer I have two thoughts on swimming that are not always popular.  Firstly, I agree with controversial Ironman (and swim) coach Brett Sutton, for most prospective Ironmen you need to swim miles.  3800 metres is a hell of a long way and a lot of people train less than 2,000m sets with drills in them.  You wouldn’t skip your long run or ride so don’t mess with the swim – do the distance and do it regularly.  And secondly, while open water is brilliant fun, it is often a wasted training opportunity unless you are incredibly disciplined.  It is essential to acclimatise and get used to the wetsuit but for most beginners pool time is much more valuable and a better use of time.

And while the swim is important it is ALL about the bike.

 

20110806-223111.jpgIT’S ALL ABOUT THE ENGINE

I kinda like the roots of Ironman.  In 1978 when 15 guys did the first Ironman they cycled in tennis shoes and denim shorts and drank beer when they ran out of water.  Now triathlon magazines are the modern day snake oil salesmen and ooze with £1000 magic products that promise to turn middle age, overweight weekend warriors into iron legends.  They don’t

Magic products have only ever ended in disappointment for me – either they are completely shite and get filed in the Magic Product Cupboard or they are OK but don’t really deliver the promised “marginal gains” and I am frustrated at my gullibility.  Yet again.  In fact, losing a few kilos and training smarter would have been significantly more effective!

You need a bike, a wetsuit, and trainers to do an Ironman.  You can accessorise with goggles and cycling shoes etc but the basics are very simple.  In this Ironman campaign I have only bought new aerobars (because my “cool ones” were completely the wrong shape for my mangled and re-pinned wrists) and new tyres (because the old ones were threadbare).  I confess I have been tempted by 60mm carbon wheels and aero helmets that would make me look like a bellend but, to be brutally honest, they have no place on a chubby cyclist’s bike.  The quality of the training and the engine you build are what it is ALL about.

Looking back I have spent money on three things that I think have made a big genuine difference.  I think that will be my next blog post!

 

NUTRITION MEANS FOOD (NOT PRODUCT)

I’m not sure I fully understand why people doing exercise eat as much as they do.  I have a feeling that glossy marketing has temporarily trumped good science.  I got lured into this in Ironman 1; although normally very analytical, marketing got to me and unravelled my common sense – I ate more than I needed and I ate packaged sports nutrition products that I didn’t really need.

The great thing about some sports nutrition is that it is portable.  The bad thing is that it is basically sugar packaged in different glossy portable packages.  Sports nutrition is great for racing; but I would imagine scientifically (real science not marketing science) that it is pretty fecking awful to your body, your teeth and your hormones to eat it at any other time.

For Ironman 2 I have been running up to two hours only on water and riding for three hours on water and bananas or soreen malt loaf.  I feel 100% better for it.  I will use gels and bars when I race because they are portable.  My pre-event preparation will be porridge with banana and my post event recovery drink will be Austrian beer.  After several years of testing the catering plan the basic principle of keep it simple just works for me.

 

photo1THE TATTOO

I remember reading about Ironman for the first time and was fascinated by the concept of getting a tattoo to mark an achievement.  Everyone has a view on getting branded – for what it’s worth I got one two days after I became an Ironman. I love it.

However, the concept appears to be a minefield so here is my tuppence worth…..

Is it OK to get an M Dot if you didn’t do an Ironman branded race?  Hell yeah, if you travelled 140.6miles in under 17 hours you ink whatever you want on your body.

Is it OK to get an M Dot if you did a 70.3, middle distance or half Ironman?  Hell no.  See previous answer.

 

That’s it.  I’m still learning every single day.  Maybe after I complete my second Ironman I’ll have new insight.

 

Less than three weeks to go.  Bugger.

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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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Picking Up The Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I WILL nail the last 6 weeks of training.

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The 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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Dear Brain, Here’s How It’s Going to Go

Posted on September 4, 2013. Filed under: Austria, brain training, ironman, Ironman Austria, triathlon |

Dear Brain,

We don’t chat often, but I thought it was time we did.  You may have an awareness of what I am up to – oh yes, I know you do – I have signed up for another Ironman!!  “Why?!”, you say.  Because I have unfinished business with long distance racing and I hold you responsible.

With less than a year to go I am going to need you to be the strongest part of the team and I think it is time we agree how things are going to be for the next year.

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The thing is Brain, your buddies the skeleton, the muscles, the tendons, the lungs, and the bowels are all going to let us down at some point.  The legs and lungs, in particular, will conspire to rip the piss out of us.  But, guess what?  The last laugh is ours – if we work together we can drag those impertinent, ageing body parts way beyond where they ever think they can go.

Things are going to get broken, get weak and get tired but I need you never to give up, to always find a way to take one more step forward.  We will only stop when someone with a lot of letters after their name and silver hair says that we have to stop and even then we will ask for a second opinion.

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It’s not all down to you though – I’ve done the thinking so you don’t have to.  I have set my targets early – and we are going to SHARE them this time so that we are on the hook; I am going to memorise my stuff, and make it completely second nature so that you don’t have to worry about it and we can stay friends.  If you have the wobbles, though, I promise I will take your wrinkly, grey ass out for the wettest, coldest, windiest 7 hour bike ride I’ve not even allowed you to imagine yet.  And then you will toughen up.

I am going to treat you well – I will exercise you, I will listen to you if you are sensible, and even if you’re a bit off the wall we can have a chat about what’s bothering you.  But when things get real we have to knuckle down and work together.

Here is the bomb, Brain, shit is going to get tough over the next year and when it does I need you to man up and get the feck on with it.

OK, Brain, that’s all I wanted to say.  Are we cool?  Do we have a deal?

Let’s get cracking then.

Ironman x

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A Perfect Highland Hell

Posted on August 20, 2013. Filed under: aberfeldy, Austria, Half ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, Kenmore, loch tay, race report, race review, Schiehalion, triathlon, wetsuit |

Scotland is not a place for softies.  And the Highlands are where the really tough guys roam.  So you can safely assume that a Middle Distance Triathlon (Half Iron distance) in the Highlands is going to present a reasonable challenge.

That, of course, may be an understatement!

I first did the Aberfeldy Middle Distance triathlon in 2010 and to this day it is probably my favourite race.  The scenery is stunning – a paddle in Loch Tay, a peddle over the shoulder of Schiehallion and around Loch Rannoch, and a joggle through glorious Perthshire countryside.  At the start of this year it seemed a perfect waypoint en route to Ironman Austria, just as it was in 2010 en route to Regensburg.

Then I broke my phalange.  Oh yes, a broken big toe completely derailed my training effort but still fancying a trip to the Highlands I adjusted my entry to a relay, recruited a speedy runner and crammed in three weeks of training.  But with no open water swimming since July last year and a couple of stone too heavy to be comfortable on the bike………..what the feck was I thinking?  Well, there was some logic to the madness.

  • I have no idea how UNFIT I am.  So, Aberfeldy would give me a baseline for the coming 11 months and a benchmark against a fitter, lighter performance in 2010.
  • It’s a start line.  A catalyst to propel me towards the thousands of kilometres to come.
  • I enjoy it.  Packing the wetsuit, pumping the bike tyres – the little things bring great pleasure.

So, with the background out of the way, what the hell did I get up to then?

20130816_153644The weather forecast was for a wet and windy day.  But on Friday afternoon the weather was glorious in Kenmore on the edge of Loch Tay.  As I went to sleep the weather was still great and I woke several times during the night expecting to hear the kind of storm that would blow Dorothy and Toto straight out of Kansas.

The alarm went off just after 5 and I jumped out of bed and yanked the curtains open.  There was no rain, there was no debris, there was no devastation from the storm.  It was calm and sunny.  Don’t you just hate it when the weather forecast is wrong?

I speed porridged, grabbed the gear that I had packed the night before and scuttled along to the swim start just over a mile away.  As I wandered into the transition area I remained unhealthily obsessed by the weather conditions.  It was actually pleasant – perfectly still and warm at 6:30 in the morning.

photo (7)As I attempted to squeeze my fat ass into a rubber suit I met TrouserShoes, my team mate who sportingly had come to the start – presumably from a morbid curiosity to see what it looks like when 300 gimps slip into a Loch at the crack of dawn.  As the race briefing kicked off Pam and wee Roar arrived.  The wee fella looked totally bemused by being dragged out of his bed at this ungodly hour but he was already porridge loading for his own athletic adventures later in the day.  By the look of him he had decided to masquerade at the race as the Mayor of London – a bouffant do he calls the BoJo.

THE SWIM

I got myself in a good position and I was probably about the fifth person into the water.  At the end of the pier a piper played Highland laments as the dullness of the dawn gave way to a brightness across the surface of the Loch.

My logic appeared sound, it was this…..  I haven’t swum in cold water since July last year – if i got in early I would  be ready and acclimatised for the off.  The water was a balmy 13.8C so I felt pretty comfortable in it.  Then a remarkable thing happened……

I would guess it took about 10 minutes to get everyone into the water which is a blink of an eye in the course of a day.  But during those 10 fleeting minutes the mill-pond surface of the Loch turned into a boiling cauldron and a vicious wind swept in from the West.  The course was a 1.9km anti-clockwise loop and I was at the outside of the loop – the starter’s boat was on the inside of the course, less than 50m away – but I was fecked if I could see it over the top of the white-horses that were now driving up the Loch.

Each of those yellow dots is a person.

Each of those yellow dots is a person.

The horn sounded and off we went for the first long drag across the Loch.  There felt like plenty of space compared to my last few swims and I got into a rhythm.  But then for a couple of strokes my left arm caught in the waves and it felt like my shoulder was coming out.  Having had it rebuilt I didn’t want to squander the excellent surgery right at the start of an Ironman campaign so I breast-stroked for a couple of hundred metres until I was convinced it was OK.  About 100m from the first buoy I re-engaged my enthusiasm but had already lost 100 places or so.

Then the fun started – after the turn we were swimming head on to the wind and the waves and the cats and the dogs – sighting was a futile exercise.  It was a physical struggle with the Loch – a wrestle, the odd punch of a wave hitting you in the face, then slapping you on the back of the head.  It was proper tough.  Ironman hero Cat Morrison summed it up much better than I ever could – “so bumpy – more like survival than swimming.”

After the last turn I regained my rhythm, altered my breathing (ie stopped breathing) and went head down, arse up to try and make up some ground.  It felt comfortable, relaxed and fast – who knows whether it was or not but in my opinion perception is 9/10ths of reality!

TRANSITION

It was a long uphill transition run.  I ran for the first 30m or so until I remembered that I was the proud owner of a broken toe.  Then I stopped, pondered why I couldn’t feel my feet and caused general chaos and congestion.

While I was swimming I had decided that I would wear a cycling jersey and bib shorts but not a jacket – cos I’m tough innit?  Thereafter followed the ridiculous sight of a grown man trying to pull tight lycra over his head with tired arms, when cold and soaking wet.   I had literally bound and strangled myself with my own cycling clothing – only an orange stuffed in my mouth would have completed the scene.  I had no dignity left to lose.

Remarkably I managed to only spend 6 minutes in transition.  It truly felt like days.

THE BIKE

photo (9)It’s fair to say that I wasn’t looking forward to this but I knew I had to do it.  The course is pretty much flat except for a massive climb that you do twice – once in each direction.  On the return it is steep enough to give an astronaut a nosebleed.

There’s not really much to say – after about 10k the heavens opened and stayed open until about 3 minutes after I finished.  The wind swirled – one minute it was in your face, then blowing you sideways and very, very rarely it was behind you.  The debris on the road was testimony to the conditions – sunglasses, water-bottles, rain jackets and uneaten food all dropped from cold, wet hands.  From very early on I had an awareness that I was soaking wet, cold but OK while I was moving and absolutely filthy.

On both climbs I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and when my heart rate hit 103% of my previously recorded maximum I took a quick breather which cleared my lungs and legs.   It was academic to call it a “stop” really as at the pace I was travelling at the difference was indistinguishable.  It was just lucky I never fell off!  On the flat sections, though, I was really pleased with the speed that I was covering ground – if I can just get my climbing ability to the same level I will be setting up nicely for Ironman Austria.

Even with the foul weather the scenery was stunning, often framed by a full rainbow.  The only time that the view ever troubled me was when I was passed by a mobile wardrobe malfunction – I warn you that you follow this link at your own peril.  And I can guarantee now that you may never fully cleanse your mind of the image.

The return to Aberfeldy is pretty much downhill, which was nice.  I hadn’t particularly been aware of the cold but on the return I realised that my hands were cramping.  This was not ideal on a very fast and wet downhill.  Just as I approached the village of Coshieville I tried to feather the brakes but my hands seized.  At just under 50kph I had a heart stopping moment as my wheels locked, ironically, on a massive “SLOW” sign painted on the road.  I remained upright, arse cheeks clenched considerably tighter as I rolled towards Aberfeldy a little more circumspect than on my daredevil descent.

THE RUN

As a team member I should cover the run.  TrouserShoes, my team mate, weighs about the same as a flimsy pair of cycling shorts and is probably just about old enough to leave High School.  But he can run quite fast – possibly because he has an aero hair-do and has run every day since he was 10 or something like that.  He is a real-life, baby-faced Forrest Gump.

Anyway, I passed the timing chip to him, had a shower (me not him) and before I know it he’s finished!  A half marathon in a very spectacularly competent 1:23 – 14th fastest run of the day!  Chapeau TrouserShoes!

We finished the day in 5:57, scraping under the 6 hours for a respectable finish.

THE ASSESSMENT

So, how did it go?  Could have been worse I would say.  Swim was 35 minutes – bang on the same time as 2010; Bike was 3:50 – 21 minutes longer than 2010.  Given the conditions and my considerable additional girth I would say I am comfortable with this as a starting point for my fastest ever Ironman.

It was what it was meant to be – a fitness test in tough but stunning  scenery but with the wildest weather that the Highlands could throw at me?  Yes, at times it was hellish but, hey, it was the perfect kind of Highland hell!

I would love to have been fitter right now but I have a realistic assessment of what I need to do between now and Christmas before I start the final approach to Klagenfurt.  Morale is high, sense of humour remains and body is, broadly speaking, intact.

Next week – the Great Scottish Swim.  Loch Lomond, are you ready for me??

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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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