I’ve been thinking quite a bit about group riding since completing the Mallorca 312 last Saturday. It’s something most of us long distance triathletes never do and the view from inside the peleton was a new experience.
Once out of the mountains when it got on to the flatter stuff past Palma at about 170k it got particularly interesting because it was the first time I had experienced riding in a really big peloton among some fairly well drilled riders.
The 3 of us from Black Line who were riding the event (Me, Mel Wasley and Al Maher) ended up in a big group being led by a Mallorcan team from Manacor -who were all in smart matching kit and riding very disciplined. You hear about being sucked along by a peloton but in all honesty until Saturday I thought this was a bit of an exaggeration, however sure enough, once we were in this group we were scooting along at over 40k per hour by just soft tapping and freewheeling. It was an amazing experience but also pretty stressful as you have to concentrate 100% on not getting too close to the wheel in front, touching wheels and causing a massive pile up….making you the most unpopular person in Mallorca.
As stated at the end of my 2012 review here, my A goal this season was to qualify for Kona with my B goals being a good performance and hopeful podium at UK 70.3 in June plus trying to qualify for the ITU Age Group Olympic distance finals in Hyde Park in September.
Well it didn’t go exactly as I planned but I certainly can’t complain. In hindsight I think I got a bit too fit a bit too soon. Running & biking wise I was absolutely flying early in the year with a huge 4 minute PB at the Wokingham Half Marathon in February (1:21) and then in April at the Fulon Duathlon I had probably one of my strongest and most satisfying races ever where I threw caution to the wind for the first time in a duathlon and decided to race it properly like the big boys do, so went out at what I thought was a completely suicidal & unsustainable pace on run 1 but I felt fantastic on the bike and then only ran marginally slower on run 2 for 2nd place in the Vets race and 10th overall. Both 6k runs were much faster than my 5k stand alone PB….. I was starting to get excited about Frankfurt but there was a looooong way to go yet.
I managed to narrowly win my age group again (the first one was by a fraction of 1 second and the second by 4 seconds!) at the first two Thames Turbo Sprint races which are a staple part of my early season build up now, I really do love these races.
Then in May I combined another fun week at the always excellent Tri Camp Mallorca with the Mallorca 70.3 race. This was a really great week away there was huge group from @blacklinelondon in attendance plus lots of other friends from the UK racing and supporting, the after race party was much fun too. Race wise I did ok considering I had trained right up to it and came 16th in a gigantic age group of 444, this race has a massive number of entrants.
A few weeks later and it was back to Exmoor for my third straight UK70.3. I quite fancied my chances of maybe making the AG podium in the weeks leading up to the race but after having a migraine and no sleep at all the night before I was in a particularly negative mood as I stood on the edge of Lake Wimbleball at 7am. My mood wasn’t helped by another very average swim and the wind and rain on the bike wasn’t doing much to improve it either! But after a while I started to realise that all I had done for a couple of hours was overtake people and whilst it’s impossible to tell where you are in the race (us oldies started 15 mins after the young uns) I had a feeling I was doing ok. This sensation continued on the run when all I was doing was overtaking a steady stream of people until eventually and utterly surprisingly I got on to Steven Lord’s shoulder (Steven smashed the 40-44 AG the previous year) I asked him if he knew what position he was in and he said “third but I believe I am now in fourth” and patted me on the back as I went past which was very classy of him. So I had a lap and a half to go and was where I had dreamed I would be pre race, the knowledge of being in a podium spot definitely helped me to hurt myself on those last 6 miles or so. When I approached the finish line the announcer asked me if I wanted the good news to which I nodded and I was called over the line not as I was expecting in 3rd place but in 2nd, little did I know that I had caught 2nd a few hundred metres earlier and he was in the chute behind me!
Now I was getting really excited about Frankfurt which was just 3 weeks away. There was a predicted 19 slots for Kona there in my AG and I was sure that with a bit of luck I could grab one of them….In a nutshell this just wasn’t to be.
Ironman Frankfurt started pretty well with a 1:01 swim and I was up to my wattage target on the bike immediately and feeling brilliant, I had a grin from ear to ear thinking “this is on” then my power meter stopped working….not ideal but not a disaster as I knew how the effort should feel and had HR as a gauge too so I didn’t let it affect me. Then I got a harsh 6 minute penalty for a drafting rule infringement, this was a disaster as by the time you stop and then re-start its more like 7.5 minutes, this is an eternity when you are on the periphery of the Kona slots. However I still tried to keep my head and decided to ride hard for the remainder of the lap to try and get back up to a decent average pace which I did and just I was trying to calm things down for a sensible 2nd lap my aero arm pad on the left fell off! I stopped, retrieved it and reattached only for it to fall off again a minute later. I thought about quitting as T2 was only a mile or 2 behind me but then figured that I might as well carry on as it was good training for if I was going to try and qualify at another Ironman in a few weeks. I shoved the aero pad down the back of my shorts and carried on in a weird one armed aero position. About 30 mins later my right arm pad also came loose, I stopped and tightened it and it seemed ok but another 30 mins or so later it fell off. I didn’t even bother trying to reattach it and shoved it down the other side of my shorts. I rode the last 20 miles or so on the hoods knowing that my day was done. The aero pad problem was of my own making as it was caused by me fitting a drink bottle holder and not using the longer screws provided, I have never been one for reading the instructions….
Naively when I entered T2 with a cumulative time of 6:25 on the clock I thought briefly that maybe just maybe a 3:15 marathon might give me an outside chance of a roll down slot so I shot out of transition on a mission…. which lasted 2 miles, 30 degree heat sent my HR through the roof and I knew any hope of Kona that day was over. I initially thought I would “jog” 2 laps and pull out so that I had a good chance of reloading and having another pop at either Bolton (via a charity slot) or Copenhagen which WTC had just aggressively taken over from Challenge and attached 50 Kona slots to. I was incredibly naive to think that I could jog and enjoy half of an Ironman marathon in 30 plus degree heat, moving forwards at any pace other than walking is seriously hard work both mentally and physically. By the time I got towards the end of lap 2 I was ready to walk off the course armed with my plausible excuse of saving myself for another Kona crack in a few weeks but I knew I would hate myself if I did this and also by that point I seriously didn’t want to have another crack at it, I was retiring from the stupid distance…again.
The last 2 laps were a bit of a death march with constant thoughts of walking off the course not helped by having to run past my hotel. I also did stints of walking, which was the first time I had ever walked at any event since starting endurance sport in 2007. It made me realise that most people walking can actually run (I could) but don’t have the motivation to do it because it bloody hurts. I realised that I need a carrot to be able to hurt myself during an Ironman marathon, my carrot had gone and with it had gone my willingness to bury myself. The only thing that prevented me from walking longer sections was the knowledge that I would be out there for even longer so the more I ran the quicker it would be over!
Catching up with the Ironman World Champ Pete Jacobs at the end of lap 3 and walking / chatting / annoying him for a brief spell (he was having a very bad day) lifted my spirits and made the last lap a bit more bearable. I crossed the line in 10:08 with a 3:43 marathon, which actually surprised me a bit with the amount of walking I did and mishaps I had on the bike. I was definitely retired from Ironman though.
Until Thursday when I entered Ironman Copenhagen which was just over 4 weeks away. I just couldn’t let what had happened in Frankfurt be the end result of all the months of hard training I had put in. So after an easy week it was back to full training but I very quickly realised that recovering from an Ironman and getting ready for another one so soon after was not going to be easy. I was absolutely knackered in training, HR was sky high and pace and power was low, as was my confidence of being able to be competitive in Copenhagen. My existing online coach had done a great job of getting me to Kona levels of fitness but his location on the other side of the world was not ideal as communications were difficult. I had been thinking of getting a new coach at the end of the season and ideally a local one that I could actually meet up with occasionally. My confidence wobble pre Copenhagen prompted me to ring Fiona Ford who is based very locally and who I had seen a couple of times for swim analysis in the previous year. After an hour on the phone talking it was an easy decision to switch. Fiona reduced the volume and intensity of my training immediately and within a week I was feeling so much better and was then able to get a couple of decent weeks of training in so that by the time Copenhagen came round I was feeling fairly confident.
I knew it was going to be seriously competitive in my age group because since WTC had purchased the race and put the Kona slots in, the number of entries in 40-44 had gone from circa 200 to almost 450! It was a huge age group and as a result had 9 Kona slots out of the 50 on offer. Trying to come top 10 out of 450 just 5 weeks after an Ironman was a tall ask but I figured that if I gave it my best shot and left everything out there on the course then I would not be disappointed and barring another disaster should have a nice PB to be proud of as consolation should I not qualify.
My day did not start too well with a 1:04 swim which shocked me in all honesty as it seemed to fly by and I thought I was swimming well at the time, I was absolutely convinced I was for the first time going to see a 59:**so for the initial few minutes I felt a bit defeated as it seemed like a big chunk of time to give up so early in the day.
It was a cool damp and windy day in Copenhagen but apparently the wind was in the right direction meaning we would get blown up the coast so that the bike times should still be fast. This turned out to be very true and within a few minutes on the bike my disappointment with my poor swim started to fade as we were flying! I knew we had a tailwind and wasn’t kidding myself but at the same time I was riding past virtually everyone in front of me and very few people were riding past me or getting too far ahead which gave me confidence as my watts were exactly where I wanted them and the perceived effort felt easy, just like in Frankfurt 5 weeks earlier I was grinning from ear to ear and thinking “this is on!”
Going through 25 miles in under an hour was great fun and even when turning round and heading back towards town in to the wind the average speed stayed pretty high and I started doing mental calculations about possible bike splits, sub 4:45 seemed very feasible as I went through the first lap. I made a decision to push ever so slightly up the fast coastal section to make a bit of hay and this seemed to work really well as i dropped a group of guys who had been around me for a while. At this point in the race I was thinking that Kona was a real possibility as I was feeling good and thought I was executing a well paced bike that was going to set me up for a great run.
As I turned off the coast road after about 3 hours on the bike I started to realise that I didn’t feel too good. I felt a bit headachy and nauseas, not to worry I thought, its just a low patch, get some calories on board and it will pass. I took a couple of extra gels but 30 minutes later I am feeling worse and my watts are dropping and so was my confidence. All the people I had passed on the coastal section rode past me, and all the time my watts just kept dropping until I was struggling to hold 200. From feeling super confident of a Kona slot an hour ago now all I could think about was how on earth was I going to run a marathon. I started to feel marginally better during the last few miles and was hoping that I would feel even better once off the bike. Dismounted with a bike split of 4:51:47 still pretty quick despite my pace drop off in final 2 hours.
After a swift T2 I was out on to the 4 lap run course with a cumulative time of exactly 6 hours on the clock, I briefly felt confident again as conditions were good for running and my pre race dream run goal time of sub 3:15 didn’t seem unrealistic, surely a time of around 9:15 would be good enough for a Kona slot? My speed for the first few miles was pretty good and was a tad above my hoped for sub 3:15 pace but it didn’t feel very fast as it seemed that every single person in my AG was running past me, well at least that is how it felt. At the first out and back I started counting people that had grey numbers which indicated they were in my AG, I stopped counting at about 20 as it was too depressing. I also started to realise that the pace I was running was unsustainable, my HR was too high and I felt sick meaning I couldn’t face taking on board any fuel. After lap 1 I forced myself to slow down and got my HR under control, I still felt like crap but at least I could now get gels down so had some chance of fuelling and getting to the finish.
So I had 3 laps to go and I knew Kona was gone but luckily for me I did have the carrot of a decent time to chase, I was running at just under 5 minutes per Km and whilst not easy it felt just about sustainable so even if I stayed at this pace I would go comfortably under 9:30, which is quite a tidy benchmark to aim for and one that I was willing to fight for. My plan was to if at all possible pick up the pace on lap 4 but if this didn’t happen Sub 9:30 would still be okay so long as I didn’t slow down by very much from my current pace.
With about 2 Km to go on lap 3 I was starting to think about whether I would be able to lift the pace on the final lap when my auto lap bleeped on my Garmin and to my surprise it was a few seconds quicker than my previous few Km’s even though I didn’t feel like I had put in any extra effort, interesting I thought and then a Km later it was another few seconds faster, it was like a switch had been flicked. I was now running towards the final turnaround at the finish line and had picked up my pace considerably, I was passing everyone in front of me and for the first time in several hours felt like I was in a race and that I had some control over it. Only 1 lap to go and I felt like I was flying, adrenaline had really kicked in and I started to look forward to hitting the timing mats as I knew my friends tracking back home would start to get excited when they could see I was speeding up, this spurred me on even more and made me want to get even faster, I was passing everybody, I was buzzing!
I had a bit of a blip with about 5k to go where I had a bit of a dizzy spell and briefly panicked that I had overdone it but after calming down for a couple of Km’s with only 3 to go I knew I could get home safe and just emptied the tank, I was now running faster than I had done for the whole marathon, I was passing lots of people quickly and for the first time during the run I started to look down at their numbers as I passed them to see if they were in my AG, quite a few were but I was pretty sure that I was still well outside the Kona slots. When I took the final right turn that leads to the finishing chute I got overtaken for the first time in nearly an hour, I immediately looked down and saw he had a grey number but he was moving so much quicker than me that I knew I couldn’t catch him as he gapped me with ease, I had been running pretty much flat out for the last 12k and had nothing left. I distinctly remember thinking that it could be a factor the next day at the Kona roll down. I ran in to the chute and aware of how important losing any more places could be was looking constantly over my shoulder, which after over 9 hours of racing is quite a bizarre feeling. I crossed the line in 9:24:44. With a negative split 3:22:54 marathon, I was absolutely delighted, not so much with my race overall which was far from perfect but for the fight back I had shown on the marathon… oh and the finish time wasn’t bad for an old former fat bloke either.
When I got my bag and turned my phone on, I was blown away by the support I had received during the race and sure enough my increase in speed at the end had caused a bit of excitement on Twitter and Facebook which made me smile a lot! Nico & Paul B had sent me messages saying I had come from 24th to 14th in that last hour and that I had a good chance at the roll down, I honestly didn’t consider this a possibility as 5 roll downs was logically too much to ask. At Frankfurt 5 weeks previously there were 3 rolls for 19 slots, there were not going to be 5 for 9 slots here and I honestly didn’t care as I was happy with what I had achieved.
So the next day with a bit of a hangover I rocked up to the awards and Kona roll down ceremony with absolutely no expectations. Eventually after an age they got round to the Kona slots allocation and I am sitting there waiting for all 9 in my AG to get gobbled up pretty quickly. It immediately however got interesting when the AG winner declined his slot…..when the third person declined and there were still 3 slots left I started to involuntarily shake, I was tweeting a live update which became quite hard to type as I was shaking so much! A couple more accepted and we were down to 1 slot remaining with just the Belgian chap who overtook me right at the end and finished 8 seconds in front of me standing between me and a place at the world champs in Kona. They read his name out and there was total silence in the hall, surely not?! They read it out again and I am thinking “don’t be here you bastard” and there was silence again and then they read his name for a third and final time before reading my name out. Gob smacked was an understatement, I could not believe what had just happened, when I went on stage to sign for my slot my hand was shaking so much that I could hardy sign my name, it was a surreal experience!
It took quite a few days for it to sink in that I was actually going to the world champs in Kona and then it dawned on me that I had to do another Ironman in 8 weeks time and in hot and humid conditions! Up until this year my Ironman experience consisted of 2 events spread over 24 months now I was getting ready for my third in 13 weeks, seriously unchartered territory for me but I didn’t care because I was going to KONA BABY!!!!!
Paul Deen’s 2012 season review makes for excellent reading, and his 2013 goals are set in stone.
My A goal for 2012 was a sub 10 finish at Challenge Roth in July. I also succumbed to peer pressure and entered Ironman Wales in September because half of Black Line London were doing it! I had no particular goal for Wales other than to experience what a bloody hard IM course feels like and see whether a harder hillier course may suit me.
Other minor goals were to try and get faster at all distances and to hopefully win my AG at one or two of the smaller races, I had come close a few times in 2011 so this didn’t seem an unreasonable.
I had toyed with getting coached towards the end of 2011 but after looking around and emailing a few I chose to be a cheap skate and opted for a generic training plan which I purchased via Training Peaks. Initially this was ok but when I had a ski holiday and then started doing some early season races I was realising that a generic plan didn’t really work as I was just randomly shifting all the sessions around.
In February a decent contingent of Black Line London raced the Wokingham half marathon. My half PB was an old and rather soft 1:28 so I was confident of a PB and was pretty happy with a 1:25:13 off the back of fairly limited training.
This was followed by a disappointing result at the March Ballbuster and was the tipping point in my decision to get a coach as I was way down on where I wanted to be and was a whole 5 minutes slower on the bike than my previous effort just 4 months earlier and it was in better conditions…..worrying
So I did some more research and talked to a few more coaches. My main requirement was that they had a decent amount of long distance triathlon experience preferably personally as well as professionally as a coach. I also wanted them to be Training Peaks based as I had been using the platform for about 6 months and had really started to appreciate its many brilliant features. I had also just started using a power meter but had little idea of what the numbers meant at that point.
In the end I opted for Steve Lumley who used to be head triathlon coach at Birmingham University, he had completed 33 Iron distance races including 4 trips to Hawaii and coached people of all abilities to over 300 Iron distance finishes….so that was the experienced box ticked! He had recently relocated to Malaysia to set up a coaching and elite development squad. Having a coach located half way round the world doesn’t sound ideal but using Training Peaks is absolutely ideal for this situation as the workouts are loaded directly into my planner and coach and athlete can communicate via Training Peaks and also email.
So mid March and I am being coached professionally for the first time and boy was it a shock to my system,the volume and the intensity went up immediately most noticeably on the running front where I went from circa 25 miles per week to more like 40…..ouch! I didn’t notice any jump in performance at my next 2 races: The Fulon Duathlon where I came 4th in my AG & Thames Turbo Sprint Race 1 where I also came 4th in my AG but was disappointingly slower than Race 4 in 2011…..mmmm
Shortly after TT race I spent a week training at the excellent Tricamp Mallorca run by Nick Dunn. Fellow BLLers Paul B & Ash were also in attendance and we had a fantastic week of swimming (a bit) biking (a lot) and running (quite a bit) in absolutely perfect circa 20 degree weather. I think we hit 30 hours of training for the week and had a lot of fun.
A cut back week on return led in to a week with 2 races in 6 days, Thames Turbo Race 2 on the May Bank Holiday and then my first proper triathlon test of the year at The Swashbuckler middle distance in The New Forest.
I felt totally knackered the morning of TT race 2 and wasn’t feeling very confident on improving on race 1 but I was determined to give it the full beans. After my usual utterly crap swim, I had a v swift transition and my first ever flying mount (cheers Nick!) and just rode as hard as I could putting all thoughts of the 5k run to come out of my head, It bloody hurt! Despite the run being agony from the get go, the pace was ok and I was delighted to cross the line for my first ever AG win…..happy days!
6 days later, after another week of hard training I was feeling even more knackered at the start of The Swashbuckler. Cold weather in the lead up had left the water temperature of the Beaulieu River at 12 degrees and it was touch and go whether there would be a swim. In the end they opted for a shortened 750 metre version and to split us in to 2 waves based on our predicted 1900 metre swim time, I was in the 2nd wave that would go 5 minutes after the faster swimmers.
The cold swim combined with the freezing 5:30 am air temperature made for the most uncomfortable bike ride I have ever done. Thin gloves and toe covers gave little to no respite and my hands and feet were frozen from the start. Because of the discomfort I didn’t feel great all ride and when I got off the bike assumed, because of how I felt that I was having a bad race. I can remember very clearly the utterly bizarre sensation of trying to run with frozen feet after that bike ride, it felt like you were running on stumps.
My pre race plan was to try and do the 14 mile run at 7 min pace, this calculation was based purely on me wanting to improve on my previous best of 7:15 pace from 2010. I didn’t have any benchmarks in recent training that gave me a clue as to what pace to expect, plus I was tired, untapered and cold so I wasn’t at all confident when I started running. It is a 2 loop run and my plan was to keep HR under control for a lap and a bit (which would hopefully be 7 min pace) and then from about mile 10 pick up the pace if I was able to. Well this plan worked out much better than I hoped and I found myself holding back a bit for first 7 miles and was ticking off sub 7 min miles with ease. By lap 2, I could feel my feet again and was starting to feel pretty good so picked the pace up . A girl on the side of the road then told me I was in 16th place which made me feel even better especially when It dawned on me that I had a 5 minute lead on the 15 in front of me!
The last part of the run is the without doubt the best sensation I have had in a race since I started endurance sport in 2007, I was hurting for sure but it was a controlled hurt. I felt totally in the zone as I focused on targets up the road and reeled them in one by one. When I crossed the line I knew I had had a great race. I had just run 14 miles at 6:46 pace with a big negative split and felt awesome.
Obviously I hung around for the awards and had no idea of the results other than I thought I was top 10, I was just hoping no gun 40-44 AGers were in front of me so that I would win mine. Turns out I needn’t have worried as my nearest rival finished 7 minutes behind me and I won it easily. I also came 8th overall only 10 seconds behind 7th and 50 behind 6th. Bearing in mind the top 2 guys were pro this was my best result ever. I also had the 5th fastest run of the day which was the most pleasing and surprising aspect of the race.
So that was 2 age group wins in 6 days… mmm maybe this being coached business was working!
A few weeks later and it was a revisit to Wimbleball for UK70.3, this race had completely humbled me a year earlier when the hilly 3 loop run had been utter agony, I think I gave up triathlon about 100 times in my head on that run. Because of that experience and also because I was again untapered I took the bike fairly steady and built into it gradually. The run was of course still difficult as the course is an utter bastard but it was in no way as uncomfortable as a year earlier and I managed to maintain a fairly consistent pace throughout. I crossed the line in 5:10:10 knocking 18 mins off previous years effort and came 5th in my AG earning me a Las Vegas World Championship Finals Slot (which I declined) My run was also a lot faster than I had anticipated and was the 20th fastest amateur split of day which again surprised me.
So it was the final push towards Roth for a few weeks and then a taper and finally the big day was upon us. I have written a full race report for Roth here but a quick summary is as follows:
Swim pretty much exactly where I expected in 1:05 but painful cramp in both calves near the end was sub optimal.
A difficult 5:20 bike in unexpectedly windy and slower than usual conditions for Roth. I felt awful for 3 hours but great for final 2….weird!
A well paced 3:26 negative split run that sounds easy when you write it down but was bloody hard work
Finish time 9:55:35 = Job done.
After some serious Bavarian eating and drinking and a couple of easy recovery weeks it was back to proper training to get in shape for Wales. This included a trip down to Tenby in August with fellow BLLers Ian, Jen, Nico and Paul B to check out the course. We had a great weekend and the bike course was awesome but I was having serious doubts about whether I had the motivation to do another Ironman so soon after Roth. I dwelled on it for a few days when I came back and consulted with Steve who confirmed what I had been thinking which was to pull out if I didn’t have the right motivation. The problem for me was that Sub 10 at Roth had been my total focus for 7 months and once I had achieved it, I couldn’t motivate myself for Wales where I had no specific goal other than to get round as best I could. I had for a short period after The Swashbuckler thought that a Kona slot might be a slim possibility at Wales but my results at UK70.3 & Roth plus a serious study of previous years results had convinced me that this was a pipe dream.
So with no IM Wales I focused on a few short term goals, firstly I wanted to see how I would do at an Olympic distance race as I unusually hadn’t done one all season. I also wanted to go well in my AG at The London Duathlon, a race I have done a few times before and always enjoyed. Finally I wanted a sub 3 at The Ballbuster.
These late season goals panned out pretty well….
I entered the F3 Henley Olympic distance race and came 6th overall winning my AG comfortably.
After that it was Thames Turbo Race 4 in which I won my AG again and also got a third in the series prize which I am pretty sure was a mistake! But it did make it 4 AG wins for the season which is way beyond what I hoped for.
At The London Duathlon it was an absolute scorcher of an early September day and everyone struggled in it but I managed 15th overall and 2nd in AG just 18 seconds off the win.
Finally in November I was delighted to get around the Ballbuster in 2:58:39 for 14th overall and 4th in AG.
I also joined the fat tyre brigade with the purchase of a 29″ hard tail in November and did my first off road Duathlon a few days later at The Wildman and absolutely loved it. More of those races to come for sure.
Oh and how could I forget about the Banana Man team time trial which I did with fellow Black Line boys Ash and Jim and was without doubt the most fun I have had at a triathlon! Whilst we were not dressed entirely seriously we were looking for the win but had to settle for second behind the rapid Thames Turbo boys. Black Line will be back for revenge next year though but hopefully without the Speedos.
So all in all 2012 has been rather good with all major and minor goals ticked off plus a few extra ones for good measure.
My 2013 A goal is to try and get a Kona slot at IM Frankfurt. It’s not going to be easy but if I can get very close to or below 9:30 it should be on. Rough plan in my head is 1 hour swim, 5 hour bike 3:20 run…..easy.
I have also finally realised that my swimming was not going to improve unless I switched my brain off and just put the work in like I have done with running and biking. I am now doing 3 quality swims a week and am seeing the benefits already, a sub 60 swim at Frankfurt will be mine…..
Another goal for next year is to qualify for GB Age Group team for the World finals in Hyde Park in September. Getting quicker in the swim will be a crucial part of making this happen.
I’m also going back to Wimbleball for the third year running and assuming I will be in 9:30 IM shape in June would love to go very close to or preferably under 5 hours. If I can do this I would have a decent chance of making the podium too.
So some lofty goals in there for sure and to be honest I have to pinch myself that I have actually said some of them out loud but I think it helps to focus the mind once you have done so.
Have a good New Year everyone and happy training and racing in 2013
I must love this race as it was my 7th straight participation in this bi-annual duathlon held at Box Hill in March & November. The now famous Ballbuster duathlon consists of an 8 mile loop with the Zig Zag climb up to the National Trust cafe at the end of each lap which you run once then bike 3 times and then run for a final loop making 5 ascents of Box Hill in total with 16 miles of running and 24 miles on the bike.
My first attempt at the race was in Winter 2009 in which I clocked a 3:37:43 (185th place) I remember being pretty happy with that at the time. Since then I have gradually reduced my finishing time to a PB prior to Sunday’s race of 3:08:55 (49th place)
This year since getting coached by Steve Lumley my performances over all distances have gone up another level so I was hopefully realistically targeting a sub 3 hour finish this time round and had calculated that I needed something like a 51 min first run a 1:15 bike and a 52 min second run to get the job done with 2 minutes for transitions. It meant there was no slack whatsoever for any mechanicals or even calls of nature!
Sunday morning was a pretty cold 2 degrees to start with but it was a beauty of a day with no discernible wind and dry roads this was a massive bonus as I needed all the assistance I could get! The view down to Betchworth from the lookout point next to the start was absolutely stunning
As it was remembrance Sunday the race director called for a minutes silence just before the start and then the horn went off and it was the usual charge of the light brigade bun fight that goes on at every duathlon I have raced at, with what seems like everyone going off at a suicidal and totally unsustainable pace, myself included!
I had made a decision that whatever happened I would put myself in a position for a sub 3 at the end of run 1 which meant that I had to get round in circa 6:40 pace this meant hitting the bottom of the Zig Zag at just under 6:30 pace as you obviously slow down a fair bit on the climb. The first 2 miles of the run are mostly uphill and within a few minutes I was really feeling it running at the necessary pace, sub 3 at this point felt like a pipe dream! Happily the downhill started soon enough and the pace started to feel more sustainable. I hit the bottom of Zig Zag just off schedule and as a result had to work a bit harder than I would have liked up the hill. Run 1 done in 51:31 and I was in 50th place overall.
T1 went without any dramas in 38 seconds and I was out on the bike for the first of 3 laps. I have a power meter but I always just ride the Ballbuster to feel. My best ever bike split here was 1:16:25 which I knew from the Garmin file was 18.5mph so I was hoping for something quicker than that. I didn’t feel particularly great but on the first lap I was making up quite a lot of places, once you get on to laps 2 & 3 it gets pretty busy with the slower people you are lapping and you have no idea if you are gaining places or not.
By the end of lap 2 my average speed was 19.5 mph so I knew bar an accident that I was on for a bike PB. That accident nearly happened on the sharp left turn at Lodgebottom Road, when I turned to find some idiot had parked their black Range Rover right on the corner and then to compound matters another Range Rover was coming the other way leaving me and several others a gap of about 3 feet to navigate through at speed, I can’t believe we all stayed on our bikes, if it was wet there would have been carnage…. a lucky escape.
Up Zig Zag for the penultimate time that day and the bike was done in 1:13:07 (11th fastest bike split of the day) I had made up 36 places and was now in 14th place overall although I had no idea of this at that time.
Hat, gloves & arm warmers ditched and I am out for the final run with T2 done with no hiccups in 42 seconds. I know from my cumulative time of a shade under 2:06 that I just need to hold it together for the final run with anything under 54 minutes and sub 3 was in the bag.
Run 2 never starts well in at the Ballbuster, those first few steps when pushing your bike after the dismount line are a sensation like no other, your legs don’t feel like they belong to you and the idea of running 8 miles at a decent pace feels utterly impossible. This isn’t helped by the first 2 miles heading mostly uphill again and also a huge painful stitch in my side but I knew from experience that these normally subside within a mile or 2. My thinking was to try and dig in as much as possible for the uphill and stay at a decent pace and then try and recover on the downhill section before the final climb.
I overtook an Army Tri chap fairly quickly who was struggling a bit but pretty soon after that a different Army chap cruised past followed fairly soon after by a fella who made me feel like I was walking as he disappeared into the distance very quickly! So I had lost 2 places but hey ho sub 3 was the goal and I had to just run my own race. On to the downhill section and I did get some respite as holding a decent pace is much easier but then I hear that disconcerting sound of footsteps approaching again and another chap overtakes and puts a pretty decent gap in to me, this feels all wrong when you are over 2.5 hours into a race and running at 6:30 pace! A girl by the side of the road around now says I am in 16th place which gives me a lift as I have never been this far up the field before. Only about 2 miles to go now with pretty much just the climb left and I see the Army chap up ahead who cruised past me in mile 1, I wasn’t expecting to see him again as he looked super smooth earlier but this race can bite you on the arse if you overcook yourself. I went past him just before the left turn on to the Zig Zag and he sportingly gave me some encouragement, I raised my arm in acknowledgement as speaking was not easy at this point. At the bottom of the hill I have 2:46:30 on the watch, just 13 minutes or so of agony to go and it’s in the bag! Just suck it up and get on with it.
More encouragement when I see the final chap who had overtaken me a couple of miles back coming slowly back to me, I seem to be pretty strong going uphill even though I don’t do much specific hill training so I was pretty confident I would reel him in. Having a target also gives you something to focus on and distract your brain when it is screaming at you to STOP…. which is handy! I catch him by hairpin 2 and it’s just the long straight and final turn to go but the minutes are ticking away and it is still just under a mile to the finish line, crazy thoughts of slowing down and having a nice little walk break are ignored. Round the final right hander and now finally I know it’s done as I have 2:57 on the clock. I cross the line in 2:58:39 for 14th place overall, 4th in my age group, a massive 10 minute PB on the course and a huge personal goal achieved …..satisfying stuff ☺
I will be back again in March the 8th time but can say with some certainty that I will not be taking another 10 minutes off!
Training has gone really well for this race with over 6 months of uninterrupted training which included the intervention of a coach from mid March. This was a turning point in my training as up till this point I was trying to follow a generic plan to make me achieve my Sub 10 target but I knew I was floundering. The quality and volume of training increased dramatically and proper periodisation with cut back weeks was introduced for the first time since I started endurance sport in 2007. I have to be honest that I was a bit unhappy about the run volume as it seemed in those first couple of months to be too high but I knuckled down and got on with the plan.
Early season results started to bode well with my first ever AG wins at Thames Turbo Sprint and then The Swashbuckler Middle Distance which included a 14 mile run split which took me by surprise…mmm maybe this coach knew what he was doing!
Many others have covered the epic nature of this race and the fantastic support so I won’t repeat much other than to say I agree! The social side of the whole trip was fantastic with a big group of friends racing including about half of Black Line London! Sharing theses big race experiences with friends plus making new ones is probably the best thing about long distance training and racing.
So back of fag packet pre race expectation was Swim 1:05 ish Bike 5-5:15 ish Run 320-3:35 ish. Add 5 mins for T’s and that would even in a worst case scenario get me my key goal of Sub 10 hours. But in all honesty I was riding well and had heard so much about how “fast” the bike course was that I had cockily thought that the bike would be nearer to 5 and that would give me a comfort buffer on the run if things got tough.
Things couldn’t have started better with a really calm pre race build up on a beautiful morning, no rushing around, no faffing it was really quite chilled with the PA playing some nice soothing classical sounding stuff including the Gladiator theme…nice! I seriously felt like I had no nerves whatsoever which is really quite weird considering the amount of investment we put into preparing for these races, I honestly get more nervous before the Thames Turbo sprints!
Unlike most Mdot races the swim at Roth has to be done in waves so the carnage of 3000 people starting at once is thankfully avoided, I couldn’t believe how civilised the swim start was, no jostling for position and virtually no biff at all. I tried to find some feet and draft but I am totally shit at it and gave up trying after a while and was on my own after about 15 mins. By halfway I was in serious discomfort from my goggles which in my wisdom I had done up really tight as they had leaked in the practice swim on Thursday, I thought I could ignore it but the pain started to become unbearable so at about 2/3rds distance I stopped and pressed the little buttons on each side that release the tension, that solved the problem albeit now my goggles were full of water…arse…Ho hum this was preferable to feeling like my brain was going to explode.
Although I was swimming aerobically and was in no discomfort by about the 40 minute mark I was starting to experience my first low point of the day, maybe it was the nature of the long boring 1.2 mile out 1.2 mile back swim course or the goggles issue, I don’t really know but I wasn’t feeling the love at all and when I got screaming cramp in both calves at the final buoy I was really not feeling it. Still I figured that once on the bike it would be happy days on those beautiful smooth roads….. swim completed in 1:04:38 so exactly where I expected.
T1 was smooth and I was on my bike in less than 3 mins and initially all felt fine apart from the residual cramp stiffness in my calves. The first few miles were super fast and within 10 mins my average speed was 22.5 MPH and I was thinking that this was going to be a fun and fast bike ride. Then I turned a corner and was surprised by how windy it suddenly seemed, the average speed started instantly dropping but more alarmingly than that I realised I was feeling totally shit, my legs felt like jelly my calves and hip flexors hurt and 220 watts which was my conservative power target felt incredibly hard, so hard that I was actually struggling to hit it. The day before I had gone for an easy spin with PB & Ian and 200 watts felt like I was tickling the pedals and was producing speeds of anything up to 27 MPH, right now 200 watts felt like 270 watts and was achieving below 20 MPH
Yes it was windy and therefore slower but this didn’t account for why 200 watts felt so incredibly hard? I had the brainwave that maybe my power meter was out of calibration so I recalibrated it on the fly….. which made no difference at all …It dawned on me that I was having a bad patch, this is something I was expecting and prepared for…. just not at the beginning of the bike….and not for 3 solid hours! So hours of dark thoughts ensued, feeling like I was a shit athlete and that Ironman racing was stupid and that I was never doing another Ironman etc. etc. until I gradually realised that I was passing people and that my legs felt quite good…FINALLY!! I was back in business, the last 2 hours 20 of the bike were completely different to the first 3, my watts were up, perceived effort was down and I was passing lots of people… bizarre but what a relief.
So off the bike in 5:20:22 which was way slower than I had planned for, a quick T1 in 1:47 and I am out running with exactly 6:29:22 on the clock, this meant I had to run a 3:30 marathon for a sub 10. My recent run performances had given me the encouragement that this was doable but from the very first step I felt under immense pressure as I knew that I had no leeway whatsoever…and it was now hot and sunny.
On my coaches instructions I held back on the first 10k and instead of running to feel which probably would have been 7:30ish pace I deliberately ran at 8 min pace as I had been told that this was the best way to maintain pace and run a close to even split. The first 3 miles did feel too slow but by mile 4 the prescribed 8 min pace was feeling pretty tough and I had 22 of the bastards left to run! I was having negative thoughts about the pace being unsustainable and also had a killer stitch! I saw Troy heading back to town looking good followed a bit later by Jamie and then PB who was looking good too and sounding chipper.
Happily the stitch lifted and I ploughed on running at exactly 8 min pace give or take a few seconds. My guts felt a bit tight but nothing too uncomfortable and I managed to get about 10 gels down me and 4 salt capsules with plenty of water in the first 15 or so miles before I hit the coke. I also took full advantage of the sponges and put a pair under each side of my tri top and 1 under 1 cap at every aid station, they really make a huge difference as without them I know my HR would go through the roof but it was levelled off quite nicely at about 152 BPM which was perfect
I saw the boys again heading back to town and PB was still in a good mood and moving well which was good to see albeit I was jealous that they were nearly home and I had over 10 miles left!
By mile 17 my pace started to drop and I knew that I was off schedule for sub 10, my brain started to have a conversation with itself with one side saying “10:05 isn’t too bad it’s still a big PB and it is hot and the bike was windy” and the other side saying something along the lines of “fuck that, you came here for sub 10 just HTFU” I also knew that a lot of people were tracking me this was a big motivator to dig deeper. I went round the final turnaround at about mile 18 and realised why my pace was slowing, I had been running uphill for the past mile and not noticed! This gave me a lift and I made hay on the way back down with a 7:45 mile this was followed not long after by a fairly long uphill section through the forest, I figured that as it was shady I would try to stay on pace up the hill and recover on the flat at the top. This worked a treat and I managed an 8:05 mile which gave me another lift. The next few miles along the canal were in shade which gave me another lift and I ticked them off in 7:34, 7:59 & 7:50. I kept trying to do the maths which ranged constantly between thinking I had a buffer of 5 minutes or so and then that I had absolutely no spare time! With 4 miles to go there was a nice downhill section also in the shade, I hadn’t remembered it being a hill when I had come the other way, I made some more hay with another couple of sub 8 min miles and with just 2 miles to go even my befuddled brain could do the maths that barring an explosion I was home and hosed in under 10 hours. The last section is initially a bit cruel as it takes you past the noise of the finishing chute into the old town of Roth onto a cobbled square but with a big sound stage playing euro pop and hundreds of cheering people but it was actually my favourite part of the run and I high fived all the kids as I went through and the announcer called out my name and club, it was a real goose bump moment. I was running on pure adrenaline now and had sped up considerably, the noise of the chute got louder and I had the presence of mind to avoid a Macca Kona 2007 finishing photo and removed my sponges! The chute was awesome and I fist pumped the crowd as I crossed the line in 9:55:32 🙂
It was without doubt the hardest thing I have ever done to date but it is also the most satisfying as I could see Sub 10 slipping away and I dug deeper than I thought I could to make it happen. I realised afterwards that I had negative split the marathon, the last 3 miles were 7:36 7:46 and 7:24 which is seriously surprising and pleasing. It has taught me that there is possibly always a bit more left in the tank if you really want something bad enough.
Big thanks must go out to my coach Steve Lumley who set me all the stupid run sessions that got me under 10 hours