Ironman 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne

So this was my destination event this year. We wanted to go abroad for a race again while making sure that my few tick boxes were met – not too expensive, not too hot and certainly no chance of a non-wetsuit swim.

So this new race in June, in Northern France with a swim in the Atlantic seemed to fit the bill. Logistics for the race didn’t look to bad with everything situated in a mile or so radius of the centre of the town. We got an Airbnb apartment that overlooked the swim exit and was a couple hundred meters from transition. In fact, I’d say our apartment was nearer the bike mount line than the far end of transition was.

We decided that the best way of getting there was to take our own car and the ferry – and we settled on Portsmouth-Le Havre on the way out on an overnighter. We were pleasantly surprised at just how nice our cabin was – better than most of the cruises we’ve done.

Arriving in port at 0730 we drove with a couple of short stops to Les Sables d’Olonne arriving around 1400. Thankfully French motorways are much quieter than ours.

Registered that afternoon and had a wander around to scout things out and noticed the iconic Vendée Globe canal had a noticeable flow to it as the tide was going out. Thankfully the race was starting just after low tide so whatever flow there was going to be would be upstream. Quite how much I didn’t know but it was a relief when I checked a local tide calendar.

Saturday was a pretty busy day with English language briefing in the mid-morning and afternoon bike racking with most of the in-between taken up with procrastinating over bag packing and bike prep. Actually that’s a good time to mention my bike issues on the day we left for France……

I’ve had this Achilles injury and due to the position had stuck to riding the road bike as the TT aggravated the injury further. Problem was at the point I was loading the bike into the car I noticed a problem with the rear wheel on my road bike, basically a spoke had come loose but nothing I could fix. I tried swapping the road bike 10 speed cassette onto the 11 speed TT wheel but didn’t have the right spacers or the time to faff about indexing. So in the end TT bike went in and I’d have to deal with it.

Mid-afternoon took the bike out for a 5-minute spin before taking it to transition and then in the afternoon we went for a nice stroll and a giant steak – better than pasta before a race – I’ve got enough carbs on tap already.

Went to bed earlyish with no real level of confidence – not sure about the swim, worried about the bike and then how the run would go. At least with Outlaw I was only worried about the run!

Didn’t sleep well and in the morning I wasn’t sure if the late start was a blessing or a curse – walking over to the start on the beach (about a mile) I remarked how I’d normally be getting off the bike around the time I’d actually be starting. Race started at 1025 but it was gone 1130 when I got to the front of the rolling start pens. I must admit I very nearly bailed in the morning at a number of points.

Took it easy on the jog down the beach and waded most of the way past the breakers – I probably had about 100m to go until the first buoy where we then had to turn right and swim parallel to the shore. Another 200m and we were turning right into the canal. This was always going to be the hardest bit and I was pleasantly surprised to do the opening 400m in 10 minutes flat.

The next section was one of the best bits of swimming I’ve ever had – while the tide wasn’t coming in significantly it was funnelled quite nicely by the canal and I rocketed along the next bit – focussing on staying streamlined and flat with methodical strokes I swam the next 1000m in about 15 minutes. Realising I was going to smash my PB for the distance (big fat asterix accepted) I relaxed for the remainder of the swim and came out of the water in 41 minutes. Just the 27 minutes faster than at Outlaw Half a month ago!

Main thing about that was it gave me an extra half hour to play with given the 8 hour cutoff. I was my usual methodical self in T1 but given the 700m of distance involved 9 minutes wasn’t too bad. Unsurprisingly transition was pretty sparse when I got there.

Out onto the bike which included passing our apartment balcony in the first few seconds I tried to get up to speed early – at outlaw I think I soft pedalled the opening 10k! The ride was going well, the various electronics were working – garmin, PM, Di2 and I felt comfortable. Support was very good all around the course – and given my mediocre standard of French (my C at GCSE feels a long time ago) I pretty much just said “Merci!” a lot. Having your number on the back means nobody sees the UK flag until you’re gone and unlike somewhere like Mallorca the vast majority of entrants were local.

The roads were nice and smooth and I barely saw a pothole and elevation was similar to Outlaw Half. Most of the climbing was between 30-45km but helped with a bit of a tail wind on the outbound leg.

Aid stations were a bit more like a sportive than I was used to – their preference was to top up your existing bottles with water but that wasn’t explained until I’d thrown one of mine. I stopped for drinks at the first two aid stations and also grabbed bananas and gels. It might seem a little thing but grabbing right handed is different to doing it left handed while at home. Deffo something to practice for someone racing abroad for the first time.

By about half way, like at Outlaw I’d had enough, and struggled to keep up the power and after the 72KM timing mat it dropped off a cliff. The scenery was really nice all the way round – lush and green with odd bits of wetland and forest. The last 12km after the 80km marker was a proper struggle, tired and into a headwind – I was having to force myself to pedal for a count of 100 before allowing myself a short freewheel and if I hadn’t done that my performance would have been even worse.

I was standing and stretching trying to gauge how my legs were but you never really know until you get off. Stopped my bike Garmin 50 yards short of the mount line at around 3h48 and then the lap button on my wrist after getting off. Took the bike to its rack – 28 rows from the front, and squeezed it into the small gap left, including detaching a pedal from the chain next door. Changed for the run and out onto the course in under 4 minutes – that’s actually good for me.

Kathryn was there at the line and jogged alongside but I really needed to stretch my legs off a bit so walked. Set myself to fast walking the opening mile before joining the first of three 4 mile laps. Lots of cheers from people in the restaurants we passed but also quite a few finishers already walking back to transition. Pretty demoralising.

Having rounded the harbour we got to the bit of the run course I think they should change, where they take you down some steps and onto a couple hundred yards of beach. I took it easy for fear of getting sand in my shoes but with the amount of people on the beach it wasn’t well managed or even obvious what line to follow.

Back up the steps and onto the main course proper. Obviously it was the busiest time for finishers and the support was really good on both sides of the road. From here course was basically a 4 mile loop consisting roughly of a mile and a half up the seafront, a mile loop of the lake and then the same mile and a half back. There were three aid stations on the course two of which served in both directions. The course was also very exposed to the sun and with it being 3pm it was at its hottest.

It was on my first lap of the lake I noticed that blisters were starting to read their ugly little heads – I’d taken the gamble of speeding things up in transition by not putting on toe socks and I was about to pay for it. Very quickly my 8kph speed dropped to under 6 and I was in a lot of pain more than aware that they were likely a bit messed up. My right foot was painful to put down on every step. I managed to find a hobble that wasn’t so painful and pressed on pretty thankful that the swim time had given me a decent cushion I wouldn’t normally have. At this exact moment I was in more pain than I think I’ve even been in a triathlon and that includes dislocating a shoulder.

Wristbands were handed out a couple hundred yards before the turnaround point and it never helps when the person handing out a lap one band is surprised to see someone. Most of the people around me were collecting their final band at this point and I still had 8 miles to go. In not too long the pain in my foot eased but to be honest I was fairly sure, and correct, when I guessed the blister had ripped and bled into my sock. At least I wasn’t in so much pain for the rest of the run but whenever I did try a run it lasted 50m or less and wasn’t really any faster than my walking pace. I slowed a bit over time but nothing that risked the cut off.

Having cheered me on from the same spot for the first 2 laps Kathryn did come to check on me towards the end and to be honest I think I was pretty grumpy about it – I think my mind needed just to channel ignoring pain and a simple distraction wasn’t doing it. Sorry Wife!

On the last lap I overtook a few people who had passed me early on in the run but by this point I was in the last 10 or so people still on the course. I passed the 20km marker, collected my final wristband and managed to limp a very slow jog to the finish line. I wasn’t impressed at this point that the course read a mile after I passed 20km. BIg support from the remaining spectators, many of whom had finished racing and were with their families got me to the end.

Crossed the line, missed my cheering wife (sorry again!) and almost went straight past my medal. I was in a bit of a daze but I think the announcer called out my name as I was coming down the finishing chute but I’m not overly sure. Got my Tshirt – skipped massage and food as I couldn’t find the former or face the latter – and then we headed to bike collection.

This was the least organised bit of the day and I think I spent about an hour waiting to exit transition with my bike. My feet were sore and at times I was leaning on the bike just to take the weight off. Thankfully we were close to transition – I wouldn’t have wanted to then have to walk a mile or more back to where most of the hotels were with bags and bike.

I had a shower and pretty much went to bed as we had to get up early to pack the car and checkout. The drive wasn’t too bad to the ferry and we stopped in a couple of shops in Caen, including what must have been the world’s biggest Decathlon store. We both had a nap in the cabin on our ship – the room wasn’t anywhere near as good as on the way out but the ship itself was better. Arrived back to Portsmouth around 2130. Kathryn was kind enough to stop in Winchester for me to pick up a pizza – I was proper hungry at this point. A closed motorway junction added 30 minutes to the journey but we were home and in bed by 1am.

My feet are still a bit of a mess. I’ve also learned one big lesson and that is that I am not racing that distance injured again. Injured means I can’t train, can’t train means I race unfit, racing unfit means I get more injured. It’s a vicious circle that I have to break. If that means I miss LCW in July and/or Cotswold Classic in August then so be it.

Outlaw Half 2019

I won’t drag this one out too long but will set the scene first as I’ve not written in a while.

After the Cotswold 113 last year I ended up with Grade 3 subluxation of the AC joint. Confirmed with and MRI and treated with several sessions of physio. I couldn’t really train going into LCW and there was no way I was managing the swim so I ended up doing the bike and run. Should never have taken the TT bike and really struggled- I should blog about that day as so much happened – but the run went OK-ish and was enjoyable enough as I took it relatively easy.

I managed my sub 3 target in the Cotswold Classic relay although couldn’t really ride aero so once that was done I settled on a block of running going into Cardiff Half Marathon. I’d targeted going sub 2 hours and ran a really well paced negative split.

From there things went downhill. I needed a toenail avulsion operation which put me out for a couple of months and then I probably started back too hard and too fast. Several parkruns around the Christmas and new year period and I started to notice a calf/Achilles problem in my right leg. So I’d rest it for a bit and then try again but it wasn’t getting any better. Shockwave therapy had been recommended to me so I gave that a go and it made a world of difference. I was by no means 100% but I could at least train a bit.

However, I approached Outlaw Half with very little training in the bank – no swim in 49 weeks, 2 outdoor rides with the longest being half race distance and a handful of runs but the most being 8 km. Even by my standards I was undercooked. I did however resolve that it was very much a B race, and if I did the swim and bike and then pulled the pin it was a good training day.

We camped in the campsite opposite which made the logistics very easy. I’d recommend it greatly for anyone doing Outlaw events in Nottingham. Kathryn did the Nottingham Sprint Tri on the Saturday and did brilliantly given her worries about the swim section and riding with “proper pedals”.

I was in wave 4 on the Sunday and set off at what felt like my usual steady pace. Problem was it was “too steady” – I hit the half way point and checked my watch and realised I was on course to miss the cut-off. I used to stress about that but hadn’t considered it an issue this time – being more worried about the lack of bike miles and inability to run properly. It meant I burnt a few too many matches on the return leg of the swim and still only made it with 90 seconds to spare. I should say they let plenty through after the 70 minutes but I wouldn’t have felt it right had I missed the published cut off so I was glad I made it properly.

I started the bike and just had real trouble getting up to speed – there weren’t many people from waves 5 and 6 who hadn’t already passed me and I was passed by a few in the first couple of miles.

After that I was passing someone every couple miles but the course just seemed to go on and on. By 40km I’d actually had enough and almost called it a day. I kept going but the average speed just kept going down and I was freewheeling as much as I was riding. In the last 15km so many of the riders I’d overtaken came past me and I was feeling pretty fed up about it all to be honest.

T2 eventually came, proving to me at least that I wasn’t actually in purgatory, and I headed out on the run. I felt good and ran well….. for about 10 minutes. Then my left calf – not the supposed injured one just gave up on me. So I’d run a bit and walk a bit but I couldn’t keep going at even a very slow run for more than a couple of minutes. At the half way point I took the decision to walk around the lake and had a nice chat for the duration with someone from Tenby so we discussed all aspects of triathlon in Wales and Tenby etc. It took my mind off and as she kept running the whole time it was nice to be able to walk at a fast pace while chatting with someone. For the second lap I was able to run walk again a bit more and for the final lap of the lake I made the effort to use the distance boards to help – I’d run to a 500m board, walk for 20 seconds and then run to the next 500m and repeat. The finish eventually came and I crossed the line in something like 7h45.

Job done but no real sense of achievement given. Not much more to say.

Cotswold 113 Race Report

Following Mallorca 70.3 I had TATA Steelman Olympic distance two weeks later and Cotswold 113 another fortnight after that. Still not over virus I decided to skip Steelman the night before the race.

Only a week before the race I ran a 5K in what was probably the slowest time I can remember, a rather pedestrian 31 minutes, despite my heart rate being off the charts.  However, a few days later I did a short bike ride and felt 100% better. In the midweek without even really meaning to I ended up running a sub 24 minute 5K which is as fast as I’ve gone in a while.

We pack all my kit on the Friday night using my now obligatory checklist and find I’m missing one of the arm sleeves that served me so well in Mallorca.  Probably eaten by the washing machine, stuck inside something else or maybe still in the Balearics.  Not being one to cope well with these sorts of things after a long while of Kathryn and I looking I send a hopeful email off to the race organiser.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense at this point in the story but I actually got them from the Cotswold 113 race a few years back and I wondered if they might have a few left over gathering dust in a box.  Within minutes I had a reply saying they’d pop some behind the desk at registration for me.  Can’t fault that for service especially when you consider less than 36 hours before his race the guy was probably quite busy.

So, on to race weekend.  K and I left Alex with grandparents and headed down to the Cotswolds around midday on the Saturday with the car packed up and my bike on the stand I’d made with my dad, which allows me to stand it in the boot nicely and not take up too much space.  It does however require me to drop the saddle down and put it back when I need it.  I know the height though so it should be an easy job. More on that later.  We arrive at the race, attend the non-mandatory briefing and I get given a brand-new pair of sleeves.  I noticed they were in fact selling them on a table at the event and offered to pay for them but Graeme wouldn’t hear it – that is the kind of race director that you can’t help but admire.  I will return the favour by marshalling for him sometime soon.

The hotel restaurant is fully booked for the evening but having not had lunch we decide to have a bar meal around 4pm and get an early night.  I have a rather healthy by my usual standards chicken and pasta dish and a short walk later we settle in for the evening.  As per usual I don’t sleep much but I do get more than I did before Mallorca – never more than 30 minutes in a go but I do get some deep sleep in that time.

Alarm goes off at 4am (transition opens at 4:30 and I start in wave 2 at 6:10) and I make up some instant porridge and we head out to the race. K helps me unpack the bike and I pop the wheels back on, check the brakes, gears etc. and put the saddle up to its correct position (832mm from the centre of the bottom bracket).

I’m putting my bike in transition when someone points out that despite being 10 yards away we can barely see the lake.  I’d been on site 30 minutes by that point and hadn’t noticed and indeed shortly after one of the marshals comes in and tells everyone that the start has been delayed 30 minutes.  I finish organising my stuff and join the toilet queue which takes a little longer than ideal only to return and find that we’ve been delayed another 30 minutes.  Communication from the staff was very good though and the situation clearly explained in terms of water safety and the potential for a reduced swim.  The 200-300m swim they suggest sounds fantastic to me!

Eventually the lake clears for the requisite length of time and we’re going to start at 7:30. Still a while to wait and I’m a bit hungry at this point but the pancake I eat might as well be coated in glue as my mouth is so dry.

Wave 1 starts, we have our quick briefing lakeside and get in. A few minutes to acclimatise and we’re off.  Very quickly I’m last and for some reason finding it hard to swim in a straight line as I keep veering to the right.  I know it’s costing me time but I’m happy that Wave 3 haven’t yet caught me. That happens at around 600m or so when the wave 3 leader comes past me like a speedboat.  For the rest of the race I’m steadily overtaken by people as expected and I count the waves passing me and realise even by my standards I’m going slowly.  I also note that I’m consistently 10 yards right of the traffic which shows I’m not exactly swimming the optimum route.

I eventually get out in 63 minutes and move slowly as ever through transition taking a long while to get my Injinji socks on – I’ll have to work out if I’m better off doing that on wet feet or saving them for T2 when my feet are dryer. (Side note – I wasn’t actually last in my wave – some guy was 20 minutes slower)

I get on the bike and immediately have a problem – I haven’t tightened the seat post enough and it drops to the bottom – I ride around the corner and find somewhere to pull over to look at it.  Slight problem – my new multitool doesn’t have a 7mm allen key.  I get back on and ride some more, not fast, and with my flashy bike and knees hitting my elbows I must look like some sort of idiot. I find someone and borrow an allen key and tighten it up and everything is so much better but alas that doesn’t last 3 miles.

I try to flag down a couple of motorbike mechanics with no joy and the one climb on the course is a proper struggle in the compromised position.  At about 35K I hear a bike coming and flag him down before he passes this time.  He has a proper wrench and bit and I do the seat post tight as I dare without a measurable torque.  From then on my ride picks up – I complete the loop and see Kathryn amongst the large number of supporters and tell her that my second lap is going to be much faster.  The second loop goes by almost without incident and where I averaged about 24kph for the first 35K and near enough 30 for the remainder.  That one incident is on a narrow section where 3 cars coming the other way almost force me off the road – the first two were actually ok but the last one unaware of my presence less so.

I’m past 80K and realise that despite my frequent stops and screwed up opening section I’m actually on for a distance PB and keep the hammer down overtaking dozens of bikes in the last stretch.  That’s when I learn a valuable lesson.

I approach the dismount line too fast, the official at the line stands in front of me and in order to stop in time I brake too hard, and a little bit harder on the front wheel.  I go over the handlebars and onto the road.  I get back up as K comes running out from the other side of the gate into transition and the marshals are trying to convince me to sit down.  I feel fine though, mostly feeling stupid and concerned for my bike.  I pick it up and feeling ok wheel it back to the racks and get ready for the run.  A little bit shook up but ok I head onto the run course.

However, with a few hundred metres done I realise that perhaps I’ve damaged my collarbone or shoulder or something as the pain is very apparent.  I soon realise that I can’t really run without it really hurting and making me feel a little dizzy so I walk.  I resolve to walk a lap (the course is 3x7K) and see how it goes.  After the first lap I have a word with the ambulance people and ask “if I hypothetically had a broken collarbone how much further damage could I do by walking another two hours?”.  The answer suggests that as long as I don’t run I’ll probably be ok. So I do. Taking basically an hour per lap at a good walking pace with the weather now really hot.  The marshals are very supportive, especially the few from our club (thanks you lot) and as long as people don’t try too hard to get me to run I’m feeling OK – I almost wanted my arm strapped up at this point just to explain the walk.  Kathryn runs around a lot to see me at regular intervals to check on me and would have done the distance with me if I’d let her.  I take my mind of the pain by talking to other competitors, thanking marshals at every opportunity and cheering on others by name running towards me in the 2 way sections.

I get to the line eventually and collect my medal, by this point not really feeling any sense of achievement but happy to avoid a DNF.  I then head to the medical tent where the medic puts me in a sling and suggests a trip to A&E. Two hours later we’ve packed up the car and driven to the Royal Gwent A&E department. 6 hours after that and nearly midnight I’m told nothing is broken but I’ve separated my collarbone and shoulder. Could have been worse I guess. Doc did mention that I may have made it worse by starting the run but equally it might have made no difference.

So not the perfect race by any means but I have learned a number of lessons that I’ll hopefully take something from.

  • if I’m going to persist in minimal swim training at least do some OW swimming and learn to do it in a straight line.  I measured it 100m long and actually most seem to have had it short.
  • practice transitions – I can’t keep taking twice as long as everyone else
  • tighten the seat post up properly
  • stay aero more – I reckon I’m losing minutes here and given my bike I should be making more of an effort
  • slow down at the dismount line, I’m always uber cautious at bends and junctions so not entirely sure where my head was but I won’t be doing that again

It’s a bit of a strange feeling, although that could be the painkillers, but finishing this race hasn’t really given me any satisfaction because I underperformed physically, mentally and mechanically throughout the day.  I’d be more annoyed had I not finished and possibly when I can actually give the bike a proper check over I’ll feel better.  I think the fact that my season might be over has deflated me somewhat.

I’m supposed to be doing 3 events at LCW in a month – that might not happen, and then riding this bike course again in August as part of a NEWT relay team.  If it wasn’t for the injury I’d be wanting to go sub 3 – so let’s see how this injury is in a week or two.

I also have to say thanks to Kathryn, my teammates, the 113 events team who are excellent, the marshals and supporters who helped get me round.  Oh yeah and the cyclist who very nearly helped me and the mechanic who then actually could. Plus the medic and the A&E staff. I’d better stop or I’ll be going all night.

Mallorca 70.3 Race Report

I’ve been to Mallorca several times over the last few years and always had a bike while there to ride some of the excellent roads in the area often as a key part of training starting with before the Outlaw in 2013.  I’ve been there for the Ironman before they got rid of it and always wanted to do the 70.3.  So we booked 10 days in Mallorca with 3 days prior to the race in a hotel right by the transition area and to follow the race with a week in a villa.

My bike was in the hands of CycleTransfer who I cannot recommend enough and they collected it a few of days before I flew out (and a bag with all my kit) and basically were waiting for me near the hotel when I arrived.  I’d done Haugesund last year as my first ever race abroad but this one was on another level – the biggest 70.3 on the planet.  3500 athletes including about 1200 from the UK.   Arriving on the Wednesday with registration opening on the Thursday. It was easy enough to reg myself and Alex (Ironkids) with the entire event village on the beach.  Spent too much in the expo.

Now just to rewind a bit training had been going really well, I’d done Turbovember in November and kept the training volume up once 2018 started – indeed through until May I’d actually logged more training time than when doing the Outlaw.  Then Kathryn and Alex picked up a bit of a virus and as they recovered it hit me – nothing major but just enough to induce some fatigue and a cough.  What I didn’t appreciate was how much it affected me after that – any session I tried I had to abandon and I quickly realised that I needed full rest to have any hope of recovery.  Indeed 7 days before the race on a particular warm day I had to abandon a gentle 10K run with K at about 6K as I literally had nothing left in the tank.  So I basically did nothing more until that Thursday evening where I took the bike out for a shakedown ride down the road between Alcudia and C’an Picafort.  That went OK so I hoped I was fine.

Friday was the day for check-in and with 3000+ bikes to check in you get given very particular times to do it – but that didn’t stop the queue being sizeable, mainly down to people ignoring their time slot it must be said.  I can’t recall where or what I ate that evening if I’m honest but I tried to get a good nights sleep and failed miserably.  I considered bailing a few times during the night but when it was time for business I got my head in the game and set off leaving Alex and K to an extra hour of sleep.  I checked the bike, pumped the tyres and with so much time left I went back to the hotel where I got my wetsuit on before heading to the beach with the family.

Mallorca is a rolling start and you seed yourself by time – 3600 people at 6 people every few seconds is a long old time and I was pretty much in the last 30 in the water.  My first ever sea swim since 2007 and tbh that was 750m and I wanted to give up the whole way round.  In comparison this swim went really well – I counted the strokes between each buoy getting to about 150 each time and when I checked my watch at about 1200 I was pleasantly surprised to see I was doing really well.  I came out of the water in 53 minutes which is a big PB for the distance and off no swim training (thank you salt water my extra floaty friend).

A jog up the beach and to the bike I get bike ready with very few of those many bikes left behind – a lot more than the number of people who got in the water behind me that’s for sure.  Paul Kaye even gave my bike a shout out – it does stand out a bit.

I started the bike in great form – averaging well over 30kph for the section to Pollença.  At this point you start the long climb to Lluc – first the Coll de Femenia and then a more undulating climb to Lluc.  The initial section is 7.5K at about 6% where you gain over 400m of elevation.  I’ve ridden this climb before and I set a Femenia segment PB by 6 minutes.  Hard going but I feel better than the people I’m passing.

However I get to the top and the effects of the virus strike.  I literally have nothing in the tank. I can barely pedal at all.  I freewheel every downhill and pedal squares on the uphills to Lluc trying all sorts of gears to try to find something my legs are willing to work with.  Eventually make the descent and it’s a doozy with umpteen hairpins – indeed the full descent takes the best part of half an hour.   I feel at this point that if someone were to offer me a lift I’d get off as I can’t see how I have another 45K in me.  Riders are going past me and I’m having to stop at every aid station as I don’t have the energy to try to coordinate picking stuff up on the move.  It gets to the point that I’m not loads in front of the cutoff and I’m having freewheel for a few seconds every 20 or so pedal strokes. In fact if it wasn’t for a bit of a tail wind on the run back to town I’m not sure I’d have made it.  I push the last 10K with all I have just to give myself some sort of buffer on the run cutoff – the total allowed time being 8 hours.

I finally get back into T2 telling K that I am “ruined” but I resolve to get out on the run course and see what I can do.  At this point I have 2 hours and 39 minutes to finish.  My hamstring is tight but I know the first aid station is just outside the transition area at the start of the 2 and a half lap run course.  I get to the aid station and load up on drink and anything to give me some energy.  I can’t quite run yet but walk a bit more and try to stretch my legs into life.  It’s very clear that i can’t walk the whole thing in the time needed so make myself run some.  It starts off running 100m or so and then walking a bit but soon my legs come to life and after the first lap I manage to put together a couple of 10 minute run spells together.  It’s not fast but it’s fast enough. After the first half lap I was behind schedule but after the next I’d managed to give myself enough time.  I could have walked the last lap at a speed and made it but I wanted to push myself as hard as I could so I kept running as long as I could – telling myself I had to run at least 800m before walking and keeping that to a minimum.  I’d put a sahara style hat and arm sleeves on in t2 and keeping them wet with water from the aid stations and that Kathryn was passing me really helped.  I don’t think I’d have kept cool enough to keep running without that and the numerous aid stations available were a huge help.

I overtook a lot of people in that last lap, many who weren’t going to make the cutoff as they’d have started well before me in the swim.  The extra half an hour most IM events give would have made all the difference.  I’m finished, in more ways than one, I can’t face post event food but do get a massage as the queues are empty. I don’t really hang around in collecting my kit and bike as it needs to get back on the CycleTransfer van home – they were doing another event in France the same weekend too.

I’ll be honest with my kit packed off to go home I didn’t do much training after that – bar a bit of walking around.  Just need to recover now for the events coming up. Steelman and 113.

Outlaw Half 2016 Race Report

OutlawLogoFollowing on from the slightly stunted performance at Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire last year my big race this year was going to see me return to the scene of The Outlaw albeit in the half distance.  The race sold out in record time (something like 30 seconds) but I was lucky enough to get in as were a number of my clubmates including James and Richard who were there alongside me in 2013 for the big one.

Surely this year I’d get much better training in – the baby is a year older and he can’t be anywhere near the handful this time round. Yeah right.  It sounds like an excuse, and it probably is really, but K got accepted in the London Marathon ballot for this year and after ten years of trying and supporting me through the last few years of training I felt that it was only fair that her training take a priority.  So when time was tight I always made sure K got here sessions in and I ended up picking up bits and pieces here and there.  I had a loose plan outlined where I would focus on cycling in the winter months, on the turbo if required, and having entered the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff in March I would move into a run focused build before that and then be nicely set for the few months preceding the Outlaw Half.

As it was the bike training barely happened at all and the running wasn’t much better.  I didn’t really start any training until February when I put myself on a TrainerRoad Half Ironman training plan and for 3 weeks I did pretty well – hit every turbo session and added some runs in between.  Then I fell ill and basically had migraines for 2 weeks going into the Cardiff race.  I shouldn’t have run it really as I couldn’t elevate my heart rate without getting the headache back but I did what I could and ran my slowest standalone road based half ever – a handful of seconds under 2 hours.  Then the next weekend on my first bit of exercise post race and 8 weeks out from the Outlaw I badly sprained my ankle and end up in hospital.  I was on crutches for 2 weeks and unable to exercise for another 2.  So I’m 4 weeks out from the race and I get back on the bike – I couldn’t even unclip on the turbo so when I sat on there I had to slide my foot in and out of a shoe. 10 days of short turbo sessions and I manage a couple of slow runs of around 10K.  With a fortnight to go until the race I do my first outdoor cycle since July and that’s 60K with a parkrun in the middle. 2 days later I’m working in Durham for a week in a nice hotel so I get some more running done and on the last day a decent swim in the hotel pool of 1000m.  However, I injured my neck as I haven’t swum in so long and then don’t do anymore training before the race because it’s that sore.  I did get a sport massage a couple of days before which in hindsight was a good idea.

Writing this now makes me feel like a bit of a whinger and perhaps I do need to just MTFU sometimes and get more training done regardless of what is blocking me but hindsight is great isn’t it.

So onto the Outlaw Half – I’ve done this course before, expect to be somewhere around the time I did in Staffs but hopefully sub 7 hours.

Kathryn and Alex are there with me and I’m unusually calm before the race – nothing like as nervous as usual. Perhaps because I was so badly prepared that there was no real pressure on time.  I’m in the first of 4 waves starting at 6:30am, and settle into my usual slow and steady plod through the water.  I’m not at the first turn when the next wave are catching me but I stay wide enough to not be hugely affected.  I’m conscious that I need to hit halfway in under an hour ideally to remove any cut-off pressure so am happy to see that I’m a few seconds under 29 when I hit the 2nd turn – it’s not quite halfway but close enough.  I continue on being passed by swimmers from the next 2 waves but as long as there are a couple of people from my wave around me I’m not that concerned.  I exit the water in 1:01 2 minutes down on 2013 but considering I was swimming 1000s of metres a week then and I had done one swim this time I can’t really complain.  I’m unusually smooth through transition and while not as fast as most much quicker than usual to the extent that I start the bike a minute ahead of 2013.

This opening stage of the bike was the one area of the race where I was disappointed – I couldn’t push any sort of gear early on so ended up spinning a high cadence for the opening 20K or so being overtaken by more people than I’m catching.  Disappointing when you’re as bad a swimmer as I am.  I find the hill at Oxton Bank easy enough and after the first feed station really begin to pick up pace.  It starts on the downhill but I keep the power down on the rollers that follow pushing a heavy gear and finally overtaking a number of people who had previously passed me.  At the 38 mile measured split I’m now 4 minutes down but I’ve lost most of that 5 minutes in the opening 30K. Something to work on in the future.  The last section of the bike is a struggle as my back is aching a bit but I keep pushing as hard as I can and make up more time.  I dismount the bike only a minute down on 2013 and another good transition (albeit I forget to slip my cycle shorts over the tri shorts off) means I actually start the run 4 seconds up. Yup, that close.

I know I don’t have the running volume in my legs so resolve to take it very easy for the first half and keep my HR in check.  This avoids the run walk I ended up doing in 2013 and to my surprise by half way I’m now 90 seconds up.  At this point the wheels fall off and my lack of endurance fitness kicks in, I need to work each aid station, take on more fuel and although I keep going I slip steadily back and ultimately finish 4 minutes down.  The one advantage with not racing the finish was that  I did get to take Alex down the finishing chute and I reckon that cost me up to a minute – I enjoyed it but he seemed somewhat oblivious.

I can’t be unhappy with only being 4 minutes down on my PB with a pathetic amount of training.  Where I can be unhappy is not being able to put together a serious block of training.

As has become tradition my training volume for the year is below.

FInishing ChuteRunning
20 runs totaling 17 hours 34 minutes, 172km distance, 1797m of climb. Longest 21.1km in 2 hours.

Road cycling
1 ride in 3 hours 6 minutes, 60km distance, 182m of climb. Longest 100km in 5 hours.

29 turbo sessions totaling 25 hours 42 minutes. Longest 90 minutes.

1 swim for 35 minutes. 1000m.

My next challenge is a 24 hour cycle track relay race where me and a team of 5 others will ride around Newport Velodrome for 24 hours straight raising money for charity.  What I do want to do is find an iconic event, probably a middle distance again, for my 40th birthday next year – and if I do I will definitely get some training done and I will PB (unless I pick something stupidly hilly).


Ironman Staffs 70.3 Race Report


From a sporting perspective 2014 was mostly a write off for me – in January I got a cold/cough I just couldn’t shake and then ultimately I was diagnosed with Asthma and given 3 different daily medicines.  It took me a long while to get back into training and the highlight of the year in terms of triathlon was managing the run leg of a half distance relay in under two hours.  Somewhere around July last year with a bun firmly ensconced in Kathryn’s oven I was seduced by the idea of an all new Ironman 70.3 event in the UK. Fast and flat they said and in Staffordshire so not that far at all, I reasoned. Lake swim as well, always important to a swimmer of my calibre (ahem).

Baby would be 6 months old by the time the race was due and would of course be unlikely to affect training for a half distance. At least that was my naïve thinking at the time.

Credit card at the ready a few weeks later and the race, and 3000 places sold out in 14 minutes. I was one of them. Heady ideas of putting significant time into my Outlaw Half time saw me sign up for coaching about 8 weeks before the baby due date and I started doing some proper training – swimming, running, cycling and even strength and conditioning work. How could I fail!

December 17th and suddenly everything went Fresh Prince on me as “my life got flipped-turned upside down” when a little bundle of Alex turned up. My little boy is amazing but he’s really not conducive to great training – hourly feeding, colic and an exhausted pair of parents meant I managed 6 sub one hour training sessions between the birth and April. My coaching was put on hold and then cancelled and the idea of doing the race looked increasingly unlikely.

I’d entered a 100km Sportive on April 6th and hadn’t ridden outside for almost six months. A number of turbo sessions the week before, including 90 minutes on Good Friday and then straight into the Easter Monday event. It wasn’t pretty. I vowed half way round that I would have a final can of Coke post ride and then that was me for full-fat pop until after Staffs – at least the ride in the 70.3 was going to be flat (I’ll come back to that).

Training didn’t come easily even after that but I did manage a couple of long rides (longest 70km) and a few runs over 10km, (longest 14km). The fact that both those long sessions came on the same day, a fortnight out from the race, was the only thing giving me any real hope. At this point I hadn’t swum since December (and only then up to about 1500m) and hadn’t been in a wetsuit since Summer 2013. In the end I managed one river swim 9 days before the race for all of about 35 minutes. For a 1.9 km an hour swimmer that wasn’t ideal but hey.

So in the final days before the race I’m doing my usual prep and checking out the routes – nice easy swim, nice flat bike with only 900m of climb, run…. Hang on a minute – 900m of climb in 90K? The last I looked 100m of climb per 10km isn’t really flat. I can do a “hilly” local ride and not do much more than that. Wimbleball 70.3, notoriously hilly, is only 200m more. My one recent long ride was pancake flat in comparison, under 200m climb in 70km. I’m so under-prepped it’s untrue – I’m just aiming to beat the swim and bike cut-offs now and letting the run take care of itself.

We’ve decided that the weekend isn’t going to be baby friendly after all so my father comes up with me and the wife and boy stay home to support from afar. We travel up on Friday afternoon, based on-site at Shugborough, and register and that evening I get my bike and T1 bag all ready. I have to take it 20km away to the start and have it racked at 10am the next morning. The weather is very wet, the forecast for the race isn’t much better so I take the pragmatic decision to leave my normal wheels on and leave the race wheels, which I’ve not ridden since Outlaw 2 years ago, in the bag.


Two legends

We arrive at Chasewater – I can barely see the buoys at the far end which doesn’t ease my nerves. 1.2 miles is really a long old swim for someone who hasn’t done any. Post bike check-in and we drive the bike route – it feels lumpy, barely any flat on it and 3 climbs of real note although none of them particularly long. Lots of standing water too. It takes us 2 hours to drive the course and I’m needing to ride it in under 4. I’m not getting any more confident. Did I mention that I’ve also discovered the run has a big old hill in it which needs going up 3 times. I mill around the campsite and race village a bit and notice I’ve got a little bit of a blister coming but nothing significant and I do bump into race favourite and all round tri legend, Javier Gomez, in the car park. I ask for and receive a photo. I’d seen Gordon Ramsay earlier but didn’t bother asking for one from him.

Unusually I sleep a few hours and then race morning and I’m probably not quite as nervous as I usually am. I manage some pre-race oats, an apple bar and a banana. The weather is nice and I don’t even let the fact that I’ve forgotten to put on my number tattoos bother me.

In the water 10 minutes later than planned due to a delayed start, I’m off in the second age group wave in a fetching yellow cap. I’d mentally said to myself that I wanted to round the first buoy in 15 minutes and the second and third in 20 minutes. Giving me 5 minutes to get to the exit and plenty of change. So when the first blue-hatted swimmers from the wave behind start catching me well before the first marker I know I’m in trouble. I feel like I’m swimming OK but clearly not. No way I’m going to get round here in an hour.

I get to the first marker surrounded by fast moving blue heads and glance at my watch expecting it to confirm my worst fears. Through foggy goggles I can just make out the numbers. 13:58. So I’m ahead of schedule and I work out that they must have started the wave behind off early. I relax into the swim and although I’m being swum over a bit I keep going and round the second marker in 33:58. That’s ideal, bang on the 20 minute target. Third leg goes a little awry as I find it difficult to see the final buoy and I find the majority of swimmers 50m or so to my left around half way down the stretch. I have to make a bit of a detour and notice I’m now 2 minutes down on schedule but nothing to worry about. I kick my legs from here to try to avoid the dizziness and jelly legs I normally get and it seems to do the trick. There’s a decent run from the water to the tent which I negotiate Ok and I’m steady through T1 in ten minutes (including a trip to the portaloo) and out to my bike. Unsurprisingly the area around my bike is deserted so it’s not hard to find my steed. I hit go on the Garmin 800 and am off.

Total swim time was 1 hour 1 minute and considering the lack of training only 2 minutes off a PB. I later find out I was 302nd of 303 in my wave in the swim. 304 if you count the guy who didn’t make the cut-off!

The start is full of speed bumps and there’s a huge amount of lost bottles littering the road. I keep it in the small ring and just coast out onto the proper roads making sure my legs and head are both in the game.

There’s a hill about 5km in that needs some respect so I decide to take it easy until there but when I arrive it’s actually not that bad at all and I pass more bikes than pass me. The roads from there were much easier than in the car the previous day and I make swift progress until I slip my chain. Doesn’t take long to fix but I resolve to keep my bike in the big chain ring if at all possible for the whole ride. Once through the first 15km the roads are really nice to ride on and while my HR monitor tells me I’m riding sensibly enough I’m going faster than I would have expected. I stay out of any packs but large numbers of them come past, sometimes a dozen or more bikes in size. I feed sensibly and often taking plenty of fluids on board and the 30km mark comes up in 1 hour and 10 minutes.

The next third of the ride demonstrated that some people went off too quickly as I start to pass riders who passed me early on and while the lead women went passed me like I was stationary I was happy enough with my progress. The roads were undulating but happily the climbs I’d driven up the day before came and went with no real problem – they were more rolling than hilly. 60km done and 2 hours 20 minutes. I’m consistent if nothing else.

If the first two thirds were the scenery the last third has the iconic bits of the ride – the drop down to the Litchfield Reservoir before riding across it is impressive as is the views as you swing by the power station. At around 75km or so you enter Cannock Chase and head uphill for the longest climb of the day but it’s nothing too strenuous and it’s here I see the only motorbike referee I saw all day. We were going uphill at the time so he didn’t pay us much attention and by then the likes of Gomez are almost finished so I doubt they were overly concerned about this end of the field.

On this section I pass a few people from my wave and a few more on the final run back to Shugborough. 90km comes up in 3 hours 30 so I’ve paced it really well and I think my decent final split throws a few people tracking me who expected the time to drop off like it had with most ahead of me. In the end I overtook 7 people from my wave on the bike – not spectacular but ok. The overall clock is reading 4:47 as I put my bike onto the rack and head into the changing tent for the second time.

A few more bags around by mine in T2 than T1 shows I’ve picked up some places and I’m quite quick by my standards and off and running in 5 minutes. I’ve promised myself a sip of coke as soon as I hit a feed station and running the numbers through my head I set myself a goal of sub 7 in total. I’ll have to do the run in 2 hours 8 which is faster than I did at Outlaw Half but doable I reckon based on training runs.


Hands up if you’ve finished!

I resolve to run the whole lap apart from walking the aid stations and this works well as I do the first lap in a solid 40 minutes. The crowds on the course at Shugborough and in the village at Little Haywood are really loud and supportive. Two more laps like the first would do nicely but blisters on my toes are making themselves known and I realise that I’m going to probably have to walk some of the long hill. I end up walking the middle section and also a bit of the second hill as I bump into a fellow NEWT. We both discuss how our sub 7 hopes are probably disappearing but he urges me to push on. Second lap takes 46 minutes and it’s just a case now of running as much as I can manage. The hill on the third time is painful on my blisters and it’s frustrating that it’s those stopping me from running more than fatigue – in hindsight perhaps I should have just run through the pain but I could have done more damage in the vague pursuit of a target that had already passed me by. I continue to the finish and miss the fact that my run time at Outlaw Half has slipped by, enter the finishing chute with a number of others and try to savour the moment. I probably didn’t have any right to finish with the training I’ve done but here I am. Dad sees me cross the line and I’ve since found out that Kathryn and the family were watching the finish line camera as I completed. I managed to overtake another 13 from my wave during the run but if I’m honest I only noticed a few of them.

Post race food looks good but I can’t face it as usual, pick up my T-shirt and head outside where I see some of my other club mates finish the race. I have a shower back at the campsite and blisters apart my legs feel fine – I clearly didn’t give all I had and that frustrates me a little. Could I have gone faster on the bike or did I just leave it on the run course?

Don’t know – what I do know is I’ve really enjoyed the race – the bike course was excellent, and I’d say ideal for me, not out and out flat, no big hills but a very fair challenge. The run course could have done without the big hill in my opinion and had the rain come down some of the course might have been carnage on some of the sections with 5000 feet running over it multiple times. The split transition isn’t ideal but I can understand why they implemented it.  Should give a shout out to the marshalls and volunteers – top notch and the support was also very good.

A race I’d probably do again – maybe not next year but in the future. I’ve definitely caught the brand bug though and would love to do a European 70.3 in the future as long as it ticked my boxes (lake swim, wetsuit guaranteed and somewhere where we could have a family holiday around it).

Some final stats of all my training since Alex was born in December.

12 runs totalling 9 hours 40 minutes, 107km distance, 612m of climb. Longest 14km in 80 minutes.

Road cycling
4 rides totalling 12 hours 9 minutes, 240km distance, 1766m of climb. Longest 100km in 5 hours.

16 turbo sessions totalling 13 hours 46 minutes. Longest 90 minutes.

1 swim for 35 minutes. Distance unknown as it was in a river.

I do not recommend any 70.3 first timers follow the above training plan. It’s clearly not enough really, although if nothing else it shows that I’ve maintained at least a bit of fitness despite very sporadic training and racing in the last 18 months.

Outlaw Triathlon Race Report

I sit down to write this report around 36 hours after the 2013 Outlaw Triathlon shut out the lights in the finishing chute and everyone went home.  I’m struggling to type as my hands, especially my right one is still numb but more on that later.

I’ll start my story on the day the final race pack was published and found the time cut off for the swim had been adjusted – no longer would I have 2h15 to be on my bike but there would actually be an enforced cut off at 2hours out of the water.  Easy for most but being a very lacking swimmer all my swim training has been geared to building up the endurance to swim for 2 hours and suddenly a minor tweak had suddenly cranked up the pressure.

My last few weeks of training had been OK but I’d missed a couple of sessions convinced that I was coming down with something that thankfully never happened.  I’m told this is quite normal behaviour and I’m no more neurotic than the next long distance triathlete approaching a taper.  Earlier in the week a bit of a sniff moved further down my list of worries when the stream of heat wave forecasts started coming in.  It was going to be around 30°C and I never race well in warm conditions – I’d never swam in warm conditions either so had no idea how that would work.

I’d always planned on doing my race packing well in advance but kept finding excuses to putting it off so didn’t really do any until the Thursday and then on the Friday sat watching TV coverage of last year’s event while packing everything up.  Not sure if that was wise as it looked both daunting and inspiring.

We set off for Nottingham around 2:30 on the Friday evening and had a nice relaxed evening and once again I was able to get a good 8 hours of sleep in.  I’d written off being able to sleep before the race so had been advised to bank as much sleep as possible in the build-up.

Saturday morning and we headed to Holme Pierrepoint and I was registered in no time at all.  A daunting pile of bags and bits in hand and the wrist band firmly secured I found a piece of floor in the centre and watched the Lions game – a great atmosphere in the room among other likeminded triathletes.  The inevitable temperatures were the main topic of conversation with seasoned athletes suggesting it would be the hardest ever Outlaw and on par with some of the recognised hot weather races.

Test series wrapped up we went into the briefing where race director Andy started by emphasizing the importance of the swim cut off and I felt the colour drain from my face – he spoke for another hour but I’m not sure how much went in.  I went up to him afterwards and explained my fears – he asked a few questions and said that they’d probably be fine with anyone doing 2h5 but much more and they’d have to have a serious look at you and get you through T1 sharpish.  I felt a bit better now and speaking to the NEWT guys (Richie, James and Simon) they were great at helping me calm down a bit.

Time was going on by this stage and I went to fetch my bike finding I was missing a bar end cap – no sign in the boot – but K popped along to the expo area where they were doing bike maintenance and managed to blag one.  Finally bags were sorted, bike ready and I headed down to transition but at the last minute K suggested I follow my coach’s advice and go for a short spin.  I was reluctant but did it anyway and it was a good job I did – my front derailleur just wouldn’t shift at all. I poked and prodded but no joy.  I decided to bite the bullet and give the TFN maintenance guys 20 quid to sort it out.  Had to leave the bike with them and I was amazed to find them re-cabling the front gear workings when I returned – apparently the cable had completely seized in amongst the internal routing – the heat was causing all sorts of mechanical issues by all accounts.  By this point I’m not sure how much more stress I can cope with so quickly hung my bags, racked my bike and headed back to the hotel.

I eat a bowl of pasta and garlic bread, get my swimming kit together and put my head down for the night.  I don’t sleep but I’d planned for that so tried to stay relaxed but worries about the swim cut off keep resurfacing and getting me worked up.

Alarm goes off at 03:30 and the toughest sporting day of my life is about to commence. An instant porridge pot is forced down and then at the venue I eat a banana and keep sipping at a drink.  I’m putting my nutrition on the bike realising I’ve forgotten to put any liquid in my drinks bottle so again K pops off to sort that out. Final touches done to the race bags and I’m into my wetsuit.  Walking to the water I pass the race director and do give real consideration to handing him my chip and calling it off.  At this point, just as I needed it, the NEWT guys saw me and I went with them to the start.

Despite his ambitions at the front James was especially helpful and pretty much put me in the water.  It felt warm and actually pleasant and I lay on my back and took a few deep breaths.  My mantra for the swim has always been “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and that’s what I needed to do.  I’d never done more than 1.9K in OW and never race distance in the pool.

The race starts and I’m off and going, I see K walking alongside on the bank and I find that helpful.  I glance at my watch halfway down the lake and I’m well ahead of schedule and feeling good and hit the turnaround in 55 minutes.  Suddenly all my fears of the cut-off disappear and I know I’m in control.  My only niggling doubt is that any swim in the pool of more than an hour and a half has caused me to hit the wall but then I’ve never fuelled well before an early morning swim before and I stay strong.  I slow a bit but finish in a comfortable 1h55.

I take it easy through T1 to clear my head a bit – I always feel a little dizzy exiting the water – and can hear a swimmer being let through in 2h07 and wonder what I was worried about. I’m out to my bike and set off around the perimeter of the lake. Disaster strikes.  I’ve forgotten my HR monitor.  All my training done to HR, this weather making pacing critical, and I’ve not put my damn monitor on.

I ask myself any number of questions as I ride the lap and in the end jump off my bike at the end and ask very nicely if I can pop back into transition to fetch it.  I have to run a fair way but luckily I put my hand on my bag fairly quickly and I’m then back out onto my bike.  So if my pretty poor 12 minute T1 wasn’t bad enough you can add another 6 minutes for my rather unique T1b.  So unsurprisingly I’m now in last place of the entire field and all my good work in the swim is undone.

I ride well to start knowing that I’m going to be much later than expected into the first time check at 16miles and I don’t want people following the tracking to panic.  I ride to 35KM before I see another soul but at least then overtake some people and feel I’m making some progress.  I come towards the end of the first Southern loop and the leaders are coming back after their trip around the North loop.  This is going to be a long day but I see James pass so know he’s going well and then see K on the side of the road.  The support around the course is generally good but at Car Colston it’s pretty special as hundreds of people line the road. Sadly most of them are facing the other way as I ride through clearly watching the leaders.  I complete the Southern loop in 1h52 (27kph) and then head onto the lumpier northern loop.  This is fairly uneventful most of the way round as I take it easy up the one real climb on the course and for the only time on the course follow a group of 2 for a while.  A draft buster pulled alongside and I blurted out “surely that’s OK!?” and he laughed and asked if I had enough water and reminded me to keep drinking.  He shot off down the road and I looked forlornly down at my Garmin wishing my bike would go that fast.  Bored of being sat in a line I pulled out, sped off and continued on.

Approaching the one busy roundabout on the course I went to follow a caravan around and he braked at the last minute and I had to stop in a hurry to avoid ploughing into the back of it.  That would have been a tough DNF to explain.  North loop finished in 2h18 (23.5kph) and I’m aware than both my hands are really starting to cramp.  I’ve been on top of my nutrition and drinking plenty so I guess I’ve just been gripping my bars too tightly – it’s never happened before but it’s not getting any better.

I get to the penultimate feed station and the last of the bike timing mats and decide to take a short stop.  The Pirates on this station are great and they get me plenty of water swapping bottles for me like an F1 pit crew – I try to mix a gel into the drink and realise my hands have seized so they even do that for me.

I think this is the point where something in my mind changes and the day becomes all about survival.  I can no longer shift my gears up and I’m riding mostly one handed holding my more painful right hand as if in a sling.  The heat is up to 32°C and I’m beginning to suffer.  My speed is dropping below 20kph far more times than I want it to and my average speed is falling.  I’m now aware of the 8 hour cut off and cursing my 25 minutes of my split transition – should I puncture now with my hands how they are its game over.

I plough on and curse the people at the last food station for going home early – I prepare my rant to staff in T2 and continue on passing some people who are off their bikes and sat on the side.  Didn’t I feel silly when I rounded a corner and saw the feed station – I’d miscounted my miles to kilometres and put them in a different position?  I put a half drunken bottle of water over my head, they provided a new one and I necked most of a bottle of High5. 12 miles to go and I can get off this bike.

Southern loop 2 completed in 2h07 (23.5 again) which showed I was still slowing in real terms. There are a few lumps on the last section and to change gear I had to use the opposite hand to pull my levers – these gearing issues meant I spent large chunks in the wrong gear often pushing harder gears than I would normally do and slowing my cadence.  I had concerns as to how that was going to affect me when I started the run.

Navigating the bumpy section at the end of the bike very conservatively I finally entered T2 after a 7h35 bike split.  Taking away the 6 minutes around where my pre-race worst case bike split would be.

If I thought my hands gave me trouble on the bike I wasn’t prepared for how bad they actually were.  I took 20 minutes in T2!!!  I couldn’t get anything done properly and I think at least 10 minutes of the time were me trying to get socks off and new ones and compression guards on.  I had to get a fellow competitor to pull my top down as I couldn’t do it myself.

I set out thinking I’d aim for a strategy of 3 minutes running 30 seconds walking but this soon became 2/30, 1/30 and steadily worse.  For those that don’t know the run course is basically 2 laps of the lake (~3 miles each), a 7 mile section into Nottingham, another lake lap, Nottingham again and then one last lap.  It was this structure that prevented me from stopping there and then.  At 2 miles in I was all set to call it a day and having run-walked a lap my right calf was in spasm every time I ran and then couldn’t walk.   Continuing my walking full time now I realised I could walk fast enough to meet the necessary 10 minutes per KM I needed to beat the 11pm cut off. I told myself if I could do the next lake lap without too much pain I’d head out into Nottingham.

Many people were finishing at this point but nearly all were walking and once off and going I made peace with my approach and just got on with it.  I saw K and explained it was going to be a late night.  I can walk quickly when required and so was able to continually do 9 minute KM giving myself a decent buffer and it was helped by the regular feed stations.  By half way several cups of salty drinks had eased the cramp right off and I do think I could have run some of the remainder but having long since blown any chance of a decent time I decided to play the conservative approach and just ensure I finished.  I came around my penultimate lake lap with people looking to beat 14 hours but very few of them could muster the jog needed to ensure it – the temperature just hadn’t dropped and around the lake humidity was incredibly high.  Out to Nottingham for the final time and I passed a sequence of people pretty quickly and then when I caught the front person of that sequence I started to chat to him and we basically walked together for around an hour.  Slightly slower than I’d been going but I was fine for the cut off time and the distraction was welcome.  Last 7 or so kilometres I set off again and saw K who had been getting messages all evening and then caught a couple more people around the lake as darkness took over.  With a mile left Richie pulled alongside on his bike and kept me going and with about 400m to go I started to jog before getting the full on after-dark finishers chute experience with the remain crowd in the chute giving out high-fives including K and Phil (James and Richie’s dad).  I leapt over the line nearly taking the tape with me before being dragged back to the line by commentator where the whole crowd shouted the words I’d been working 16h38 minutes for – “David Manley. You are an Outlaw!”

It was late, everyone was tired and frankly with a 150 mile drive ahead of them I couldn’t believe that the NEWT brigade had stayed to see me finish.

I could have done without having to lug my kit bags and bike from transition and in my weary state my 3 kit bags ended up being left behind on the side of the road but thankfully by the time I worked this out in the morning someone had handed them in to reception. A lucky escape.  The marshalls and people at the feed stations were amazing – continuous energy and banter helping keep me going.  Always quick to provide what was needed and just fantastic all round really.

I sit here now relieved that I got through it and proud of the achievement but frustrated that my weakness in hot conditions basically cost me any chance of a decent performance.  I’m never going to be super-fast but should be capable of something in the 14-15 hour mark but I said I’d be a one and done and as it stands see no reason to change that opinion.

My neck is cut from chafing on the swim, I’ve lost a toe nail and have half a dozen blisters, my hip is in bits from the speed walking and I’m still mentally exhausted.  Simon texted me yesterday saying it’ll take me 1 to 4 month before I sign up for another iron distance but I just don’t see it happening.  If I was to ever consider it again it’d be when I can swim properly, average high 20s on the bike and perhaps most importantly sort my diet out to one more conducive of an athlete training 6 or more times a week.  If one thing really held me back it was picking up infections on the back of every big training block.

It’s been a big commitment and K has been awesome all the way through, Marcus my coach has been great although I suspect I’ve frustrated him a lot more than he lets on.  I’ve had loads of backing from family and friends, work colleagues, more recently the people of NEWT, my twitter buddies – I won’t name individuals but you know who you are.  I could have given up after that first wander round the lake but it was not wanting to let everyone down that kept me going.

“Just keep walking. Just keep walking.”

Carten100 (+6)

Carten100Just over a week ago I replied to an email from Tredz bikes as part of a competition to win a place in the Carten100 bike ride. For those who don’t know and too lazy to click the link this is a 100 mile bike ride from Cardiff to Tenby. That’s quite a long way.

I didn’t think much of it, after all what were the odds on winning, and then when Palace clinched a place in the play-offs I booked a ticket for the home leg without a second thought to the competition. Then a few days before the ride I got an email saying I’d won (gulp) by which point there were a number of things against me.

  1. I wasn’t getting back from London until about 2am the night before a 7:30 start.
  2. My bike was still in for repair and I’d again have to prep my turbo bike – by this point safely back on the trainer
  3. The weather forecast was grim, the worst of it being a 25mph headwind most of the day the whole way
  4. 100 miles had been extended to 106 following police advice

I rushed home from work on the Friday and spent some time swapping bike cassettes again regretting doing it up so tight a few days before – was not being able to remove that really a viable excuse? Not really but I must admit my heart sank a little when the wrench finally moved. An hour later I was in the car to London, thankfully in the passenger seat and over 4 hours, a 0-0 draw later I’d decided that I probably couldn’t do the ride. Crossing the Severn Bridge at about 1am I’d pretty much written it off and although K had got all my kit and nutrition ready I climbed into bed, decided I wasn’t doing it and didn’t set an alarm.

This decision meant I slept well but woke up just before 6. I sat awake for 15 minutes when I realised that I’d regret passing up the opportunity and proceeded to get myself ready. Kit ready, nutrition sorted I got in the car and while K drove I downed a can of Red Bull and a banana. Arriving at the Cardiff City Stadium start location riders were already leaving and I joined the queue. I spoke to Peter, the organiser of the event, and he handed my my race number and bike jersey and shortly after I was ready to go. One of the last to leave I reasoned that would mean I’d have groups to pick up all the way to the first stop at Margam where a proper breakfast would be provided.

I said to myself that if nothing else I’d won a free jersey but inside knew fully that I’d be far too stubborn not to go the whole way unless it was physically impossible. Mentally I told myself to break the trip up into 3 separate legs of 30 miles and then do the short bit to Tenby to finish. Easy…..

I quickly left behind the group I departed with as we went up Cowbridge Road but found I kept getting caught at red lights just as the group ahead moved through. The first climb on the A48 I span my way past a few riders, some of who were pushing already. Couldn’t help but feel it was going to be a long day for those riders but massive respect to them if they finished.

Along the undulating A48 before passing my office in Bridgend when the first of the rain started and on through Pyle and then Margam. Closing on the back of a group as we crossed over the M4 I think I missed the start of the sprint as the riders ahead suddenly surged away. obviously they’d picked up the scent of sizzling bacon at the first stop. Here the Express Cafe served up one of the nicest sausage baps I’ve ever eaten and having been stopped for about 30 minutes I set off looking forward to passing the half way point and getting onto the part of the ride on roads I don’t actually know. I often find it easier to ride on new roads as looking around makes the time go quicker.

Navigating through Port Talbot was a bit tricky due to traffic and lights so a mini peleton of about 30 bikes formed but once onto the bypass we were away and I once more left the group behind. It was shortly after as we crossed at Briton Ferry that the wind really started to take effect and then for the first and only time on the ride I gave up my triathlon instincts and joined a line of bikes to get some protection from the wind. I probably stayed in that group for 5 or so miles before it broke up in traffic through Swansea and we joined the Clyne Gardens cycle track which due to the tree lined nature offered a nice respite from the ever increasing breeze but when we crossed into Llanelli the toughest part of the ride was about to begin.

Progress was tough here and I found myself working my way past many small groups working hard to shield themselves from the wind but when we went onto the undulating coastal path, normally a very pleasant riding experience, the elements really did make life difficult. Sections of the path were covered in sand which was both slippery and energy sapping and there was sand battering your face as well as the wind slowing progress to a crawl. Going uphill was actually easier than the flat with the hills themselves shielding the wind. Having navigated through this area the next break couldn’t come soon enough and the Ship Aground pub was a welcome sight for the next official stop at around 62 miles. Drinking a can of coke and using the facilities I must admit I didn’t rush to get back out there but when I did I felt newly invigorated and confident I had the remaining 44 miles left in my legs.

The first decent climb in a while took as past Kidwelly before descending into Carmarthen where riders would get to experience the new longer route. Leaving the A40 at Johnstown to follow the NCR4 path up a very steep hill where numerous riders were pushing I soon found myself in my own spring classic as I rode on some bumpy roads with no sign of anyone in front or behind and it stayed that way for most of the new route until my conservative descending allowed a few people to catch up as I joined the back of a lead group. I took advantage of a short break at a service station on the A40 just outside St Clears leaving myself with two lots of around 20K to the finish. Once more leaving the A40 we picked up the new route to Tavernspite and the final stop but it was clear that many riders didn’t fancy the new route and continued on the A40, I learnt later that many more did the same at Carmarthen doing significantly less distance than the majority.

I’ll take this moment to have a short rant – I understand conditions were tough, and the route was changed at short notice but when you’re in an organised event, carrying a number and wearing the colours of that event you should abide by the rules. The organisers were clear that the two diversions were in place on police advice and I would hate to think that the event could be in jeopardy because some selfish riders didn’t fancy doing the full ride. Also I should add that the number of idiots I witnessed running red lights made my blood boil – one accident would be enough to ruin the event. If you lose your group another will be along shortly. Rant over.

There was a long drag to the final stop and when a Cardiff Tri member went past me on aerobars it was quite satisfying to reel him back in nearer the top of the climb. A glass of lemonade later it was time to finish this thing and knowing there would be far more down than up was a great feeling. I did the final 20K in 50 minutes and the adrenaline rush was palpable turning onto the A478 and seeing a “Tenby 5 miles” sign. Knowing this stretch well I was aware that this was still an undulating road but I worked hard on the uphills and for the first time in a while rode the downhills rather than free-wheeling. It was nice to have small groups cheering during the whole ride but as they do with Ironman Wales the locals of Tenby and New Hedges really get behind these events and it was great to be cheered towards the finish especially when entering the town square and under the finish line.

K was there to meet me right at the finish and while I was out on the road had booked us into a B&B and reserved us a table in the popular Blue Ball restaurant. Not having to head straight home was something of a relief. I didn’t wear my finishers shirt to the meal but the weary look in my eyes and the band on my wrist ensured that everyone knew I was one of that hardy band of men (and women) who had left Cardiff early that morning. Walking around Tenby afterwards it wasn’t hard to identify your fellow Carteners and while no words needed to be exchanged the mutual respect was told in a single knowing nod of the head. Anyone who’s done the Carten has to be given a lot of credit, those who did Carten 2013 have earned just a little bit more.

I can confidently say that 112 miles in Nottingham in 8 weeks time will not be any tougher.

First ever sportive – Sarn Helen

My coach had decided that I should do a couple of local sportives if they fitted around my plan to get some practice at having an organised ride with fuelling stops.  So I entered two, Sarn Helen Sportif and between the two Outlaws an Evans Cycles Cotswold ride.

In the week leading up to my ride Bike Science contacted me and ultimately, my AiR frame, which has had an issue with the rivets in the braze-on dérailleur hanger DSCF1519where the rivet had popped, needed to go back to Boardman and I was asked to avoid riding it.  They’d tried a repair on it but ultimately the rivet wasn’t holding and the flex was causing too many issues with the dérailleur making it impossible to avoid chain rub at the high and low gear extremities.  I say high, this was purely theoretical as I rarely get there in a ride!!!  So the bike has been stripped down and sent back to Boardman under the frame warranty.  So far no complaints with the service, I’m just hoping it gets turned around quickly.

Biggest snag was that having entered the sportive already I faced having to do it on my turbo bike which hasn’t been removed from the trainer in 9 months since I got the AiR.  So Saturday morning, after my long run (reverse of last weeks 17K done 4 minutes quicker – fresh legs make a world of difference) I set about seeing how race ready the bike was.  First job was getting it off the trainer which seemed to have seized but once that was done I set about the bike itself.  Gears seemed fine but the main job was moving the 8 speed cassette from the turbo wheel onto my normal riding wheels – either way I had the change the cassette or the tyre and I’d rather use the wheel I normal use.

First problem then was the rear hanger wasn’t pulling back and so when free wheeling in low gears there was no tension on the chain and it would fall off, that problem solved the rear brake was jamming (not been used in a while) but again resolved easily enough.  Ultimately it came down to me not really having any excuse so on Saturday afternoon after watching Palace clinch a play-off place we set off the the in-laws who live 2 miles from the event start.

This was going to be a slightly shorter ride than my longest but with comfortably the most climbing and I set off taking it fairly easy having no real knowledge of the big climbs on the route.  The ride heads up along the Neath valley before the first climb along the Sarn Helen road towards the “Devil’s Elbow” – this was pretty tough but more that it was relentless than any really steep sections.  A quick water stop at the top and I went over the other side.  The Elbow itself is the tough climb but we were going down it and my usual nervous descending skills came to the fore.  A group were following me but seemed happy to stay there but two people came by us all doing what must have been 70kph on a narrow bumpy surface.  Rather them than me.

Shortly afterwards I managed a wrong turning near Sennybridge and ended up doing 3 miles uphill before realising my error – I turned around and back tracked to the proper location – picking up the road I was supposed to be on further along felt like cheating. I’d managed to do 6 miles extra and lost myself 28 minutes.  Looking at the results that time alone actually cost me 20 places and I would have been top third.

Back on the right route we faced a head wind all the way to Llandovery, on what should have been the easy section of the ride, so much so that on a long descent it felt like riding into a wall and I was barely able to creep over 32kph.  Brief stop to Llandovery and we set up towards the Black Mountain.  My legs were already tired at this point and I ended up following a couple from Celtic Tri for 30 minutes or so (always at a tri legal distance I might add) before going past them as soon as the slopes started.  I quickly found myself in the easiest gear (one advantage of the triple I suppose) and made my way slowly up but with the cadence barely hovering around 60.  Not knowing the road well (I think I’ve driven it once many moons ago) I just didn’t know where the top was and every time you’d hit a switchback you’d realise there was another tier above.  Got up there eventually to find an abandoned drink station with just some large drink containers and so rolled over and down.  The descent was nice enough but as usual I’m never going to make up the time some daredevil riders might.

Home straight now and we rode down the Swansea valley before a final climb up and over Neath and back to Skewen.  Two miles from the finish I lost a cap from my tool bottle holder and stopped to retrieve it – tired legs cause me to unclip a fraction late and I fell in the road banging my elbow.  Pride hurt more than anything and the following car, who was thankfully a fair way back, seemed pretty confused by what had happened.

A decent event, lacking in a few marshalls, but the usual camaraderie was there even if I did spend large sections without seeing another cyclist.  With my wrong turning I ended up beating my longest ride PB, albeit at a much lower average speed, but I did take my climbing PB from 944m to 1639m which I make over a mile up.  No wonder it hurt – I guess that makes it more climbing for the distance than IM Wales?

10 weeks to go

Well 68 days now actually.

I’ve just finished a sustained 3 week block of training culminating in my longest training session yet on the weekend.

Starting with the week in Mallorca and then 2 weeks of increased planned training I’ve done some good numbers in this period.

  • 29 activities in 21 days.
  • 73K run in 7 hours.
  • 492K cycled in just under 20.5 hours, 125K of that on a turbo
  • 11000m swum in about 5 hours
  • You can add 2 vets matches to that total – also, we won the league with a 100% record. Yay.
  • Weight hovering at a couple of lbs above 13 stone.
  • 28 Strava PRs in the month

I was supposed to do a four hour ride last weekend but a disaster with a popped rivet less than half way in put paid to that so this weekend it was with some trepidation I looked at a 5 hour ride with a 1 hour run off.  I misread my plan on Thursday and missed a second session on the turbo which irritated me a little but I must admit my body enjoyed the 2 day break from running and cycling.

Chepstow/Monmouth/Usk 80 mile route

Chepstow/Monmouth/Usk 80 mile route

I set off riding up through Chepstow and Tintern feeling really good on the climbs – there’s some decent elevation there but I didn’t feel stressed by them at all.  Making sure to fuel regularly – combination of ISOgels, Nectar drink and some solid food (a mcvities apple bar and a flapjack) – I never felt that I was fatiguing and was back into Caerleon almost 30 minutes up on my conservative schedule.  I road some windy laps of the flats at the end to make up the required time and beat my longest EVER ride by 50KM and set a new PB for climbing in a ride too.  The Cap Formentor ride from a couple of weeks ago had been the previous record holder – albeit that almost as much climbing in less than half the distance.  The discrepancy in ride time to actual time above was down to a mechanical adjustment 2K in but after that I rode straight through – the only short stop being due to sheep in the road. Those from Wales will sympathize.

The ride finished and I was straight onto the run (T2 time of 8 minutes including a trip to the loo) and I was surprisingly comfortable turning in sub 6 minute kilometres for 58 minutes.  Tired afterwards but very pleased.  Sunday morning was 1h45 run in which I covered a fairly lumpy 17KM with a few walks but nothing of more than 20 seconds and usually less.  This weekend has given me a lot of confidence and I’m going to enjoy this recovery week which will come to a crashing halt when I do the “Sarn Helen Sportif” next Sunday.  That’s about the same distance and Saturday but includes a couple of bigger lumps.