Tuesday 27 September 2011

Half arsed half (or not)

We signed up for the Nike+ Run to the Beat half marathon a while back... can't even remember why now. But it must have seemed a good idea at the time.  As it got closer and closer I got more and more worried that due to all sorts of reasons, I'd done bugger all running.  The most running I'd done was in triathlon events themselves and a very very occasional Parkrun.  Hardly training for 13.1 miles of running, is it?

Come the morning of the event, to say I was not confident would have been quite an understatement. A 7am start, big bowl of porridge with maple syrup, raisins and banana and off we went to the O2 to the start.  Warm, sunny and a light breeze... a perfect day one would say but all I could think about was the talk of hills, the lack of training and the worry it was going to get really warm.

We'd agreed to run at under my lactate threshold so I could get to the end without dying, which gave me some confidence and it worked really really well.  Chatting all the way 'round, getting the odd cup of water at stations, loving the fact that there were pretty much no walkers, the lack of actual music (compare with the British 10K for example) marvelling at the seemingly random placing of timing mats and taking the piss out of my, well, need to piss within 5 minutes of starting (resulting in a 1 minute pee stop in the first 10 minutes), we were feeling really rather chipper by 15km in.  Having decided that if we were feeling strong by 16km, we'd turn up the wick and see how that went, the 16km point came and we did.

And it was good.  In fact, so good that we spent the next 3-4km overtaking each other again and again until it got really rather silly.  At that point there were more than a few runners down, passed out, throwing up and weaving about like drunks.  We felt strong still and powered on to the finish, to cross it holding hands (*vomit*) and see a good 6-7 people being loaded onto gurneys to be taken away for medical attention.  02:06:38 after what was effectively a long, slow run.  No training.  A bit of fun at the end.  Reckon we could easily have cracked 2 hours if we'd turned it up earlier and gone for good negative splits all the way through rather than just the last sector.  But that wasn't the point of that run.

Very pleased.  Very pleased indeed.  But only with the performance on the day.  Lack of training for these things really has to be the exception.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Sports photos I don't hate

I'm too mean to pay money for them and the triathlon they're from wasn't my finest performance, but the shorts and top are the most comfortable ever ever ever and they look good too!  (and, yes, two plaits really is the most practical long hair strategy for a triathlon - keeps the hair off your neck and fits under a cycling helmet as well as a swimming cap)

Ironman Wales - race report (non-competing)

It's the race of choice for next year and, on the advice of a former newbie Ironman, we wanted to get an idea of what an Ironman race is all about without having to actually do one yet so we volunteered to help out for the event.

I've not really got the energy for a full and detailed report, so...

We arrived on Friday night in Tenby and headed to the race briefing on Saturday morning having already established that there really weren't that many volunteers (from, it turned out later, one of the Ironman compère team).  Briefing was mostly explaining what Ironman is to the crowd of, mostly local, volunteers which then divided up into teams for the different volunteer tasks; run and bike course marshals, and transition and finish line volunteers.  We'd volunteered for transition as we were both keen to find out what that would be like.

Transition volunteers at the briefing numbered a grand total of 14 people; an unbelievably low number for a team to support close on 1500 competitors.  The transition director (one Mr Chris Tyrrell) took us through a few things and then led those of us able to help on the Saturday off to the transition area to begin the task of checking in the competitors.  5 hours of that, learning the answers to competitors' questions as we went along and we'd checked in all of the competitors and helped many of them get to grips with the logistics of the fact that the swim had had to be moved from the South to North beach.  We checked out for the day and got in an early night for the horribly sharp start the next morning - getting up at 4am to get to transition before 5am when it was scheduled to open again.

Work kicked off with helping the athletes sort out last minute things with their transition bags and there just weren't enough of us at that point, which made it a bit stressy and tricky.  Once that was done with, we had time to set up transition in ernest for the swimmers returning to pick up their bike bags, change out of wetsuits and head off on their bikes.  Mr TOTKat headed out to the bike mount/dismount line to spend the majority of the day from then onwards marshalling the athletes to mount and dismount their bikes without breaking the "no cycling in transition" rule.  Then, the elites came through T1 from the swim in ones and twos, each with time to be helped sort out their kit and changing before it just got so crazy-busy that that wasn't possible any more and the priority was getting the blue bags out of the way safely until the athletes were all through T1.  I ended up spending a lot of time hurling bags into a big pile outside the transition tent, out of the way of the flow of athletes, and making sure they didn't lose anything out of them.  Once T1 was over, all of the volunteers in transition had to begin the task of sorting and re-racking the blue bags before re-arranging the transition area for the start of T2.

Given that there was a good while before the first athletes would be back off the bike leg, we got a short break to cram in a burger from the food tent and lie down for half an hour.  Then it was back to transition for Mr TOTKat to marshal the bike dismount line again and for the rest of us to help the athletes change from bike to run gear.  By this time the competitors were a lot better spaced out, so we got to help the majority of them individually; each one finding a seat in the transition area and we'd empty out their red run bag for them, spread out their stuff so they could easily find things, pack up their helmet, bike shoes and anything they didn't want with them on the run, handing things to them like sunglasses, running hats, helping fill their pockets with gels, bars etc. and sorting out their empty wrappers out of the way etc.  Early on in the T2 phase, a couple of athletes came back quite a bit earlier than they'd expected... they'd run into some local dissatisfaction with the event that resulted in someone throwing tacks out onto the road.  One guy spent half an hour fixing his bike only to have to give up and come back in the sweeper van.  Another came back successfully from the tacks incident having had 8 punctures, shredded his front tyre, borrowed 6 inner tubes, 4 gas cartridges and a tyre from other competitors.  Great that the other athletes helped, not so great that someone felt it was an appropriate action to express their unhappiness by ruining things for people they didn't even know who had spent months working hard to take part in this event.

Everyone I sat with pretty much had lots to talk about, how harsh the bike course was, a bit about their history and background, who they are and what they're about... I had the great pleasure of helping so many dedicated people who have trained hard to get to where they were, including Luis Alvarez (the guy the compères had been telling us about who was on his 77th Ironman and aiming to complete 100 by Kona next year) who had quite a patch of frostbite on his face from the week before when he'd been mountain climbing.  Including an RAF officer who carefully and painstakingly looked after his feet by putting on blister plasters and  surgical tape to be sure that by the end of the run he wouldn't just have finished, but finished in good shape to walk the next day.  Including a lovely Spanish guy who was OK and was happy not to have help with his bag (I think he was just super polite and felt taking help was placing an imposition on the volunteers) and then raced over to me in a panic because he had a saddle-bag wedged in his back pocket and couldn't get it out.  Things were so smooth during T2 that the bags were being re-racked during the whole T2 flow and there was no need to make a huge pile to sort later.  It went so so well it felt great.

With the T2 work all done, bags all re-racked nicely and the lost property laid out neatly, I ended up out with the bikes filling in surveys for the Ironman organisation.  I got through about 90 of them and ran out of steam.  It was 7pm and we'd been up a looong time.  Mr TOTKat had marshalled all the bikes out and all of those who made it through the bike leg back again.  He'd seen the three guys who missed the bike cutoff time by 5 seconds... two of whom just couldn't take it in and stood still for ages before moving on and the third just broke down and cried.  All that training and effort and their race was over before the run.  Poor Garth, the 75 year old athlete who went the wrong way on the second bike lap and ended up also missing the bike cutoff.  Utterly exhausted, we called it a day and went to get some food to perk up a bit before heading to the finish line.  Shortly after 10pm we got down to the finish line to watch the last few competitors cross the line and we found the party down at the sea front... tunes, cowbell and the celebrations peaked just before midnight with the last couple of guys crossing the line including one who took part in the first ever Ironman race.

This here post really doesn't do the weekend any justice.  It was knackering, great fun, brilliant experience.  Probably made all the better by the small community feel of the volunteer group as there were so few of us.

We've signed up to help out again at Bolton next year :o)

...and I'm still finding bruises in all sorts of places.

Monday 19 September 2011

Part of an answer...

I had a terrible race yesterday.  Nothing spectacular, didn't feel particularly awful but couldn't get going after the swim at all.  For a flat race with only 4km longer in the bike, I put in a really bad time.  The swim was marginally faster than at London, the bike was 11 minutes slower!  And the run 2 minutes slower.  I just couldn't really put the hammer down in the bike, with no hills at all there were no downhills to really push through and get some good momentum to sweep up the next rise.  The run... felt sluggish and tricky and I was trying to get my legs moving quicker but it just wouldn't go.

And the below graphs show something interesting... the first was the Virgin triathlon and the second one was yesterday's HSBC one.

I just couldn't get my heart rate up; most of the Virgin one I was over my lactate threshold quite 'happily', but yesterday I was under it and quite miserably.  I've done some testing with a trainer around endurance and cardio fitness and my cardio fitness is so there, but the endurance is missing.  It is, more than likely, a complete lack of training.  I don't train for endurance on the bike at all.  I barely do any cycling at all really.  The odd commute to work here and there and the odd sprint triathlon.  It just doesn't get the long, consistent pushing happening.  Commuting involves faaaar too many traffic lights to really get going.

There may have also been a bit of fuelling wrongness, but I'm pretty sure the majority is lack of training.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Doing something the average person doesn't do.

I wanted to complete an Ironman in the year I turned forty.  Initially I intended to do it when I had actually turned forty, but once I was bitten by the idea I didn't want to wait that long.  It's a compelling need to do Ironman.

I started triathlon in 2010 when, as a former swimmer who had recently taking up cycling and running, Mr TOTKat said he wanted to do another triathlon after doing one a few years back and I looked around online.  I found a "civilised" one where the swim was in a pool and it wasn't that far from where we live so would be quite easy to get to.

The Thames Turbo Sprint Triathlon races are held at Bushy Park/Hampton Open Air Pool - a half hour drive from our house.  Thames Turbo Triathlon club is one of the oldest and largest triathlon clubs in the UK and "...can count three World Champions and other elite athletes amongst our alumni: Stuart Hayes, Spencer Smith, Richard Stannard and current World Champion Tim Don have all been Turbos on their way to the top!"  Their sprint series is geared towards introducing people to the sport of triathlon and every race the question is asked "how many people are here for their first race?" and so many people raise their hands... the races are excellently run and marshalled, with firm but fair application of the rules.

In 2010, we entered the whole race series and I ended up having to miss the first one having injured myself skiing earlier in the year and was signed off from running by the physio.  I cheered Mr TOTKat on at the first one, while freezing in insufficient clothing on a cold Easter Monday morning that started as the alarm went off at 04:45.  All of the races are on bank holiday mondays and for the first three races of the series in 2010, it was utterly freezing cold and we suffered horribly with the temperature both when waiting and when spectating.  We made a lot of mistakes in the first couple of races, but learned and got better, stripping down the equipment in transition to just bike shoes, running shoes, bike helmet, race belt and sunglasses.  Makes for nippy transitions (and oh boy was I glad of that at the British Super Series race at Blenheim - I was way up the field in the fourth discipline there thanks to that learning at the Thames Turbo races).

The field of competitors at the Thames Turbo sprint races is asked to estimate their overall race time and their 400m swim time.  The field is then split, roughly at the 01:20:00 mark and those who estimate over that time for the whole race go in the first half, and those who estimate a faster overall time go in the second half.  Those halves are then seeded by swim time to determine the order in which you start in the pool.  This stops a lot of congestion in the pool and works really well, it also means that the slower athletes aren't the last to start in the morning and left to finish last, extending the race duration out for a very long time.  As a former swimmer, it's my strongest natural discipline and I seed early in the swim starts, but until 2011 I was in the first half of the field of competitors.  There's a great advantage to that on a bank holiday monday morning in that there's almost no traffic on the roads, and that's a big plus for a race where the roads aren't closed.

Over the Thames Turbo races in 2010, we improved and we did a couple of 10K races too.  Come Christmas 2010 we were sure we wanted to do more and, in a night of tipsy foolishness, we registered for all of the Thames Turbo races for 2011, all of the British Super Series races (some of which had a choice of sprint distance or Olympic distance and I decided to take the plunge and sign up for one Olympic one), most of the Clapham Common 10K races and the Speedo Hampton Court Thames swim.  And over 2011 we started working through the races, having the odd injury niggle, missing the odd race because of it, signing up for a couple more races here and there, a half marathon, a 5km swim... and then someone started me thinking.  I can't remember how Paul seeded the idea into my head, but he did.  And it sat in the back of my head.

I bought a few books, read them, looked at all of the courses and decided that heat was a bigger enemy than hills.  And the decision was made.  I'd wanted to do an Ironman race when I got to forty, but the race calendar was against me for the end of 2012 and I didn't want to wait any longer. MrTOTKat asked whether I'd be OK with him doing this too.  So.  Wales is the choice at the moment and we're signed up for Wimbleball Half Ironman already, which is at a good time in relation to when Wales will most likely be scheduled in 2012.  We're volunteering at the first Ironman Wales to get an idea of what the event will be like, and the course and the area.  If all goes well, we'll register for Wales Ironman 2012 while we're there.

There are two hard things at the moment... not getting over-excited and starting a training schedule too soon, and getting my head around how I'm going to fit all of that training that will be required into my life.  There will probably have to be changes and sacrifices made.  Ironman isn't a walk in the park, it isn't easy, it's not called "ironman" for nothing.  Otherwise everybody would be able to do it.  But.  It's not something the average person does.