Friday 28 June 2013

Um... 186BPM *swimming*!?

That was one hard swim set.

Seriously hard.  Hardest set I've done to date.  And I missed out 8 of the 100s 'cause it was proving a bit much.  I think I was doing 1:41 100s a few times, which is mental for me, but I wasn't really paying attention that well other than the time I had before I had to start up again.  Max heart rate 186!

Absolutely shattered after that and devoured a big lamb steak and puréed cauliflower for dinner.  Inhaled it in minutes.


It's been almost 2 weeks since IM 70.3 UK and I've been doing really well.  Training consistently and getting some strength sessions slotted in, which I'd really been missing.  As a result, I'm quite tired.  Work, chores, training, commuting, sleeping - balancing those is a fine art at the best of times and when some of those are unpredictable, you have to get clever around scheduling and making provision for opportunistic dealing with chores or training.

I missed one run and added in 2 strength sessions - pretty pleased with that

I've found a way to make the shorter, working day training sessions work.  I do spin/bike and strength sessions in the morning before work, unless I'm in the rural office when I do runs instead.  Swims happen on the way home from work and runs can happen as part of my commute home from work (when I'm in London).  Longer bikes and runs happen at the weekend with options on an added swim or strength session.  It's working pretty well!

The red sessions are today's ones I've not yet done - swim will go green later!

The Virgin Active London Triathlon is 4 weeks away and I'm feeling pretty darned good for it.  As long as nothing catastrophic happens, I'm very much on track for a great race on a really lovely course.  It's an Olympic distance race and almost completely flat with just a few roundabouts for fun in it, so I'm looking at using my TT bike with my spanky HED Jets for extra go-faster (well, they -look- cool, so it'll make me -feel- faster and that makes me actually put in more effort :o)) vroominess.  Last time I did London, I didn't do too badly given I had no training plan, just ran a bit, biked 15km every now and then to my old work and back (each way) and swam when I rememebred to:- 02:45 and I think my run at the end was just over an hour!  I think we can do better than that this year :oD

So, I'll be getting out on my TT bike when I can; I find it a bit tricky to get familiar with the handling of it where we live and last year I ended up doing most of my familiarisation on it in races (closed roads, no traffic to worry about).  And doing my best to keep on top of training sessions and fitting them in where I can when work goes off piste (keeping gym and swimming kit in my desk drawer really really helps!) and not get stressy if I end up having to miss a session that I can't fit in, or doesn't logically fit in, at another point in the week.

Now... I just need the results of the Team Freespeed Virgin Active competition to be announced (oh please, oh please!) so I can stop having un-resolved stuff hanging over me and job's a good 'un!

Thursday 20 June 2013

UK Ironman 70.3 2013

UK Ironman 70.3 2013 - or "you live and learn"

Last year, this race was great fun.  I was really very fit and had spent the winter scampering up the Surrey Hills in the snow on the bike and on foot

My bike was only 2 years old and in good condition.  That is not what happened this year.

So, I spent most of the winter 12/13 not doing a lot due to injury and then missing mojo and general apathy.  Things pick up a bit in March and April and I got a great week in at training camp in Spain.  But then I started a new job and I let that take over my life.

As the weeks ticked by with very little training going on (I looked at it the other day and I averaged 3.5 hours a week, compared with 8-9 a week last year).  While I was getting the short, quality sessions in, I was missing the basic endurance and fitness I'd previously done.  I got chubby, unfit and weak but was in denial.  I also ignored the niggling "get your bike serviced properly" thoughts and assumed I could get away with giving it a bit of a wash and lube.

Let me tell you this right now: you can't get away with any of that on the UK 70.3 course.  You just can't.  It demands more respect than that and if you don't give it that respect you will be humiliated by it.  And I was.

We decided to make the race weekends less impactful this year by going out to the venue on the Friday, straight to registration, then take Saturday easy before race day on Sunday.  So, we drove over to Exmoor on Friday last week to weather forecasts predicting doom and rain all of Sunday; heavy heavy rain and some reasonably stiff winds.

Heading straight to the Expo/race site to register, it was apparent that the weather in the days leading up to arriving had been less wet than last year as the site wasn't a mudbath when we arrived.  Registration was quick (the race kit bags are much nicer this year!) and I said hi to a few Ironman staff before trundling to the pub to check in.

A quick meal and a glass of wine and off to bed we went. Via obsessively checking the weather forecast every hour or so to see if it had improved.  And it did!  The rain had been due from pretty much 5am on Sunday and to last all day, but the forecast moved towards rain not hitting the area until midday.  That would be perfect as quite a lot of people would have finished the bike leg by then (me included most likely) and that would take away the biggest fear - a wet bike route and most specifically That Descent being wet.

Saturday was racking up and having a splash in the lake day and I was glad of that little swim as I'd not been in a wetsuit since Galway and certainly not with my modified swim stroke.  The water wasn't anywhere near as cold as feared and a good 2 degrees warmer than last year, so no cramp and no need for neoprene socks (despite them being allowed this year due to the cold).  Bike checked over, tyre pressures done and gears and brakes checked it was off back to the pub for a nap and a relax before very early dinner and bed.  Alarm set for 4am we were in bed at 9pm and asleep very shortly afterwards.

Sunday morning... a tiny bit of drizzle fell as we loaded ourselves into the car, but it stopped pretty quickly and the roads were dry.  With the great new traffic control system in place, we had no traffic troubles getting into the site car park, though as we'd not put the little badge in the windscreen early enough we got routed around a little loop to be asked about parking fees.  Parked up nearly and not too far from transition, I was in my final decision kit of tri top and shorts, calf guards, arm warmers all to go under the wetsuit for the swim, along with a neoprene hat under the race-issue silicone hat.  The plan for the bike was to add a bike jersey, gloves and warmish socks along with having two sets of toe warmers over my bike shoes to keep the chill off my toes which do suffer!

Mr TOTKat helped me into my wetsuit and being in the second wave I had a little more time to amble down to the lake shore for a bit of a dance to the thumping tunes while people stared at me like I was some kind of loon.  I felt great, the water wasn't cold, the rain was going to hold off, I wasn't worried about getting cold or falling off my bike or anything! The first wave of athletes were set off, and the second wave waited to be called down to get in to the water.  Bounce bounce bounce down to the shoreline where I bumped into a familiar race official who greeted me with "I know you!  Last time I saw you, you were crying in a tent in Galway!"  Cheeky so-and-so!  He was being funny and we chatted a bit.  He also remembered a lot more about the Galway thing than I did; "nice new watch, I guess the last did look pretty smashed up."  Anyway, off into the water we all toddled to wait to be released - race briefing had been very very clear on not waiting about at the start of the race in order to keep people from getting cold and we were in the water no more than a few minutes before the hooter went off to get splashing.

The swim... wasn't all that quick, to be fair.  I did get on toes quite near the start and drafted for quite a while before shifting to other toes and others then I ran out of toes and had a lot of clear water.  Then I was alongside someone for a long time, eye-level to eye-level breathing on opposite sides but facing each other so it felt a bit weird seeing their face every time I breathed.  To be honest, I didn't put a huge amount of effort into the swimming; for some reason that seems to happen most of the time despite the intention to go hard.  A little loss of direction on the final arm of the swim course as it was hard to see where the actual swim exit was, meant a little argy bargy with someone else as I careered more to the right than I should have, but I got with the programme in the end and aimed better for the final 100m or so.

Hauling out and up the long, grassy slope up to transition I actually managed to run this year!  I pulled down my wet-suit to waist level to make running easier, and sneaked a peek at  my watch.  00:39:xx  Oh dear!  That was pretty awful!  But still... the bike and run still to come and less faffing in transition could easily make up a couple of minutes on last year, so I just carried on and got on with making my way to transition... where I found my bag straight away - I did a proper recce and positioning run through when racking up, so I knew exactly which row and level to find it at.  Transition wasn't too shabby, though a little trouble with damp feet and socks despite towelling them a little.  Off out and onto the bike!

Here's where things weren't so pretty.  Being in the second, smaller wave and not being too speedy in the swim meant that it was a bit demoralising as well over 1300 people were already ahead of me on the bike course, and not very many people behind me.  With a bike course time hopefully a little under 4 hours, I'd be finishing the race pretty much in the last few people over the line even if I was doing well for me.  I put the thought away as quickly as I could and focussed on not falling off in the first few meters after mounting up, like a lot of people did last year.

As last year, the plan was to warm up a bit and spin for the first little bit.  There is a sapping rise not far out from transition and there's no point knackering yourself on that so early on.  So gently up that and it started to drizzle a bit.  Down the zoomy bits, picking up some speed and really starting to enjoy the bike.  First major hill and I got a bit of chain ring problem dropping to the small ring but after a couple of goes it went in.  More zoomy bit, then the evil descent that everyone is scared of.  Except it was a lot less scary.  And the no-overtaking zone (which was also a no tri-bar zone for safety reasons) was clearly staffed by a race referee who verbally alerted riders to the zone start.  At which point I'd already slowed down a bit and had some poor fella on a TT bike pop over a cats-eye alongside me and need to pull in to inspect his mighty steed for damage.  I really only sat on the brakes hard towards the bottom of the nasty descent and partly due to the fact that it was now raining appreciably and there were many many marshalls waving people to slow right down to the stop at the junction at the bottom.

The descent de-demonised and over with, I carried on to the last appreciable hill of the course and had a sticky chain ring shift again.  That started to niggle in my mind more until a very short little uphill which is sharp and really does need the small ring; I tried to shift down but it wasn't having any of it and I had to rapidly unclip and get off.  Not good.  I manually pushed the chain onto the small ring but now I was 1/2 way up a sharp hill and couldn't get on to carry on pedalling up.  So I had to walk.  Oh the shame.  Up to the top to a flat section and back on again.  But by that point I was really not happy with the state of not being able to even semi-reliably get onto the small ring.  There are a lot of hills on this course and I could either stop at the bottom of each one, get off, shift the chain onto the small ring, get back on and pedal up the hill; or I could hope it'd change down, have it fail and at some point fall off into a hedge or something.  It was also raining quite a bit by now.  And I looked down at my bike computer and the time was awfully close to 2 hours and I was not done with lap 1 yet.  And I'd been not doing so well with the uphills, finding it hard to get enough power into my stroke to get a reasonable cadence even in the lowest gear.  It was at this point that I mentally gave up.

I had a few km to decide whether to throw in the towel completely or not and as I finally approached the junction to either start the second lap or take the road back to transition, there was a lot of wet gravel and speedy pros shooting up the road back to transition 'cause they were done with lap 2 already.  I stopped, got off and talked to one of the many marshals.  With a complete mental wrench my decision came down on the side of retiring from the race and I welled up a bit as I told the marshal I was retiring; "Athlete 1048 retiring at check point 6." was the message into the radio and that was my race over.  I was so disappointed in myself for letting things get to a point where my bike wasn't reliable and I was so weak in the legs that the hills filled me with almost dread.  Climbing back on my bike, I hugged the left-hand hedge all the way back to transition to let the pros zip past; they wouldn't expect there to be a slow athlete on that part of the course, so I needed to give them as much room as I could.  The rain got heavier and heavier and the temperature dropped a couple of degrees.  I got cold.  Really quite cold.  And I thought to myself that I was quite glad not to be out on a second lap with this level of cold and rain as well as the other problems.

 Several people cheered and applauded as I rode past and it just made me feel worse.  They thought I was super-fast, when really I was a quitter.  Into transition and I racked up my bike, not really knowing what else to do but I thought it best to just keep it out of the way of everyone else still racing, and I went into transition to find out how to get my white bag so early and I was sent to the medics as there had been 4 people already come in with mild hypothermia and they didn't want me to be a 5th.  So I got a foil blanket to get me from transition to the tent with the white bags where my warm clothes were.  I was very glad of the foil blanket as I started to really feel the cold now I'd stopped putting any effort in, what I really didn't think of was the fact that my clothes were soaked through and I had no towel.  So I had to put my warm, dry clothes on over wet ones and that meant I really never warmed up properly.  The next 2.5 hours before I could get my bike was going to be less than fun, but one of the race officials ushered me through to the post-race hog roast and gave me a hot sandwich to help with the cold and then I went to try to find Mr TOTKat - lord alone knew where he might be at this point, but as pros were getting towards finishing it was likely he'd be around the finish chute.

And there he was.  Tears, tea, cake and cuddles made me feel better and we talked through what happened.  People came and went in the little cafe, hiding from the rain and cold while the poor Ironman staff and volunteers were out in it all for hours doing their jobs.  We toughed it out with me shivering and cold despite all the layers, but due to the wet inner layer, until it was time I could get my bike out from transition.  Sad to leave before the awards ceremony as there were plenty of friends and others we know who would be getting awards, but I really needed to get out of those wet clothes and to warm up properly so we headed back to the pub.

And that was Ironman UK 70.3 2013.  Not pretty; lots of mistakes leading up to it and plenty to look at for the next 11 weeks into Ironman Zell Am See/Kaprun 70.3 with the Virgin London Triathlon in the middle of that.  One of the mistakes is getting fixed next week - my bike is going in for a full service to make sure it's happier (though I'm likely to race these two races on my TT bike which is in great condition :o)).  The others I've talked through with myself, Mr TOTKat and coachRich and we should be in a good place for some solid work over these weeks for those fast, flat courses.  Two real positives I can take from UK 70.3 this year are; my fastest recorded speed on the bike at a whisker under 60kph and still pedalling at 94rpm at the time, and the famously tricky descent that scared the poop out of me last year was a lot less scary and I barely noticed needing to brake until the lower part of it.  Very happy with that!

Blue line - speed, yellow line - cadence, green line - elevation

Thank you to Mr TOTKat for being Iron Sherpa for this race, for looking after me, driving me, helping calm me down before and after the race and being generally a sweetie.  Looking forward to getting to the next race together!

Monday 17 June 2013

Review:- Purition; surprise nice emergency breakfast!

Occasionally, I'm asked to try samples of new products and these days it's usually things I prefer not to eat these days; high carbohydrate breakfast cereals, bars etc.  But I was recently asked to try something quite new; Purition, a range of food supplement products (mainly shakes) aimed at the more natural food/clean eating preference market.  And when I read the literature on the product I was pleasantly surprised.

Having worked on a very low carb diet for 4 months, I did my first ultra marathon in February this year, fuelled on a breakfast of bacon, eggs and cream cheese and took in nothing but water for the whole 50km run.  With no specific training for the distance and having been out of action for 10 of the preceding 16 weeks due to a smashed collarbone, coming half way down the field of runners, finishing very much in good spirits and passing half of the field of runners in the last 6-7km of the course, very much proved the point that for endurance sports (and short races too) that you don't need to stuff yourself with refined carbohydrates and, worse, sugars in order to perform well.  So, I look for products that aren't full of carbohydrates and it's not easy to find that in the "sports nutrition" or "convenience nutrition" market places.  OK, so you often see "100% natural" and "healthy" slapped all over products of this genre, but what's rarer is the lack of any added sugars, starches, dried fruit or other stuff that's supposed to be good for you but usually actually isn't.

 Looking at the nutritional profile made me even happier...

 So I said "yes please" to some samples and two of them arrived in the post shortly afterwards.

 Little foil sachets with an individual portion in each.

And instructions on how to make it up into a shake-style drink.  A touch cutesy, but given the market they're in, you can easily forgive that.

Thankfully I had a tricky morning the next day and a quick, easy brekkie when I got in to work after the gym was exactly what was needed, so I took my sachets and a shaker/mixer with me.

Tipping the powder in over milk, like the instructions said, and it looks gritty and bitty due to the seeds in it - that's where all the fibre comes from.  I gave it a good old shake and tipped it out into a glass.

What I didn't do was actually read the full instructions properly that said to give it another shake after standing for a while, so this happened...

 No biggie, but it meant that I had to use a teaspoon to finish the shake.

The taste... I loved it.  Lots.  Nowhere -near- as sweet as any whey proteins I've had and not tasting of strong artificial flavours - just very very faintly sweet, nutty and a little of the coconut that was in it.  Really blimmin' lovely!  (The chocolate one I had the next day was just as yummy and delicately flavoured too.)

4 hours later and having had around half the normal breakfast kcal intake I still wasn't hungry.  This was a good thing given how work is and the fact that I had nothing around for lunch.

In short, I was so impressed with the ingredients, nutritional profile, taste and end results that I jumped onto their web site and bought 3 pouches of the stuff; Bodypro, Bodysculpt, and Superseed Smoothie

It's going to be rather useful to have around on the mornings during the week where I get up, go to the gym and in to the office, saving time around not having a cooked breakfast but still getting good quality nutrition in that isn't high carb and has a lot of fibre in it too.  It's also going to be useful for those days when I'm mad busy and need to get some quality, quick nutrition in before or after a hard training session at the gym - it's difficult for me to predict when I'll get those done so I can't easily have real food on hand.  Also goes nicely over Greek yogurt as a snack (and we have Greek yogurt in the office, as well as milk, which is handy.)

Really impressed with the products, love the company's thinking, love that it's British and wish I'd found it sooner!

Thursday 13 June 2013

Another one comes around quickly - Ironman UK 70.3

3 days to go and I'm well and truly tapering - from what it's hard to tell as apart from a week in Almeria earlier in the year, my training never really took off.  But still... I feel pretty OK, if a bit heavier than this time last year.  As I said before Blenheim last week, a lot has happened in the last 12 months...

Last year we drove to Exmoor on the Thursday and had all of Friday and Saturday to take things easy, this year we've cut it shorter and will be travelling over at silly o'clock on Friday morning to avoid the traffic and straight to registration.

I'm so glad I blogged about last year as it gives me some comfort and information to use for this year.  My goodness me, I was fierce in the run (probably due to being really very fit at the time and pacing the bike very conservatively), especially given the course profile.  This year, I'll have a few changes to the plan and I'll be taking it a lot harder in the swim and the run, and on the flat and uphills of the bike but still risk-managing in the descents on the bike.  I know I can hurt more than I did last year and I know I can handle mental difficulties, I've done it and I know how to make it work.  I also know that I made some corking mistakes, like the one where I didn't realise my quick release brakes were undone the whole way around...

So.  I went through the packing list and packed last night as I'm late home tonight; a last loosening sports massage at 6pm and then a visit from our builder before an early-as-possible bed so we can get going early on Friday morning.  The bike is still set up from last week's aborted race, so not much to do there other than take it to bits to pack it in the car.  The course doesn't work for a TT bike for me, I'd be up on the hoods too much at the moment, so the road bike with HED Jets it is.

There's going to be a massive line-up in the pro field and the age-group list doesn't look shabby either.  I've not had a chat with coach yet on what the race strategy will be, but I'm hoping I'll be "allowed" to actually race rather than be conservative.  I'd like to come in under 7 hours on this course, but I have no idea what I'm capable of at my current fitness and training point.  I find out on Sunday!

Expect a proper race report at some point, but if you want to follow on the athlete tracker on the day, I'll be race number 1048.  Not quite the good ol' 104 of last year, but no such special treatment this year.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Oh great!


I'm not racing tomorrow after all.

Very unimpressed.

The tickboxes for the race were being able to have a good crack at going quickly and have a go a beating last year's time, while managing risk on the bike leg.  Not sure I can tick either box after an incident on Friday on the course where a bus went under the main pedestrian bridge from the outer palace grounds into the main athlete transition area, that was over-height and damaged the bridge.  It's the only route through to transition from outside the race and is unusable.
So the race director has implemented a marshalled mandatory dismount zone on part of the bike course where the bridge crosses the bike course and pedestrians/spectators need to cross the bike course.  All athletes have to slow down, stop, get off their bikes, walk 10m, get back on and carry on around the bike route... 3 times each in the race.  I've seen race footage and it looks bloody awful.  At any given time there could be a good 400 athletes on the bike loop which is about 6.6km long and as the race is started in waves there are cyclists on the course who are on any of the 3 laps... so at any time at the dismount or re-mount line there are 10-15 cyclists in the least stable state of getting on/off/tottering about in cycling shoes.  That, plus the fact that the race attracts a high proportion of first-timers there's a good 75% of the field have never raced before or have certainly never raced where there are a lot of other athletes in close proximity.  I'm not sure what other option the race director had, but there are going to be a lot of athletes turning up to today's and tomorrow's race waves who won't know until they get to the swim briefing.  There's going to be a lot of cross people and perhaps offering to allow people to withdraw and get at least a partial refund would have been a good gesture.
Basically, sod that.  I'm not having someone ride up my backside or stop/wobble/fall off right in front of me and cause me to crash; it's bad enough having that risk at the start and end of the bike leg, but adding in 6 instances of it during the race?  Also, slowing down, stopping, getting off, walking, getting back on and then starting up again on one of the quicker parts of the bike course not once, or twice, but three times during the race will add up to minutes to the overall race time.  Where personal best times are often measured in parts of minutes, that's just no fun any more.  Most people aren't racing the rest of the field, they're racing themselves.  I'd've been doing both.
Someone has taken short videos of the area from today's racing...


It came around a bit quickly

It's time for Blenheim sprint triathlon again.  My god that came around quickly, but my god so much has happened since last year.

I've become an Ironman, smashed my collar-bone, been made redundant, fundamentally changed my diet, run my first Ultra Marathon, started a new job, struggled with time prioritisation and motivation... and yet I'm here again, 24 hours before Blenheim, and it's going to be great!

 Having remembered the zoomy bit through the forest and the gently undulating bike course a little with rose-tinted glasses, I thought I might race tomorrow on my TT bike.  Then I remembered A. the more than a couple of tight, narrow bends; and B. the high volume of "fun", slower and new-to-the-sport athletes you get a Blenheim.  With my less than perfect handling skills, there'd be no point being on a TT bike as I'd be up on the hoods 95% of the time to cover the brakes.  So... the Jets go onto my lovely, tried-and-trusted Fuji Team Pro Special Edition road bike (2010) and some clip-on tri-bars in case I get to have some fun through the woods.

And the wheels sound -yummy- :o)

I'm heavier and less endurance fit than this time last year and in some ways a lot less stressed than I was on the day of Blenheim last year (I was on a conference call for a critical incident at work for 4 hours and right up until I'd finished racking my bike etc. and then back on it again 15 minutes after I'd finished. The preceding weeks and months at work had not been fun at all.)  But my running has come a long way in terms of technical skills and I'm oddly a lot more comfortable on the bike at the moment, even after months off it and the comfort has happened only in the last 3 weeks really.  That said, with the Jets on the Fuji it's really quite... fiesty compared with having the Mavics on.  Who'da thunk it that wheels made such a difference on a pretty average road bike?

I'm in two minds about how tomorrow might pan out.  The swim isn't going to be spectacular as I'm, sure the lake is hellishly cold and I can't say I've spent a huge amount of time in the pool in the last 10 months so I'm not expecting a stellar performance there.  My transition skills are somewhat rusty, but hey all I have to do is rip off a wet-suit, pop on bike shoes, race belt, helmet and glasses in T1; swap bike shoes for trainers, take off helmet and turn around race belt in T2... how hard can that be?  The bike will be fun as I'm sure the course profile will come flooding back once I'm on it and with 3 laps the 2nd and 3rd will be faster through familiarity.  And the run is all about starting off high cadence and wanting to do well.  I know I can hurt a lot more than I used to be able to and I know that I can push a lot harder than I have in the past, but the important thing is to want to.  If I want to do well, I can push oh so hard and hurt quite a lot.  The thing is, it's UK 70.3 next weekend and I don't want to crash or break myself in some way this close to that.  So it's risk management on the bike and then mash it on the run.

See you on the other side!