Back in the game…. AGAIN

Posted: May 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

I always find it hard to know where to start when I am writing a blog entry.  I guess I will just start where I left off, back at 2013.

From a race point of view, it was a TOUGH YEAR!  After a solid win at the Forestman things just went from bad to worse.  At Roth  my body AND MIND just broke down. I crossed the finish line totally and utterly gutted.  Ironman Copenhagen felt like a bit of a nothing performance and then there was Challenge Henley …..  Even now, when I think back to that day, it makes me wince.  The scars left are just too raw.

THEN…..

Mollie arrived on the 16th October and the last 10 weeks of that year were a blur.  Best blur of my life, but a blur nonetheless.

In January, I found myself adopting the ‘Forest Gump’ approach to training.  ‘I just felt like running’ and so I did – ALOT.  In the first 4 weeks I ran 400km over the Oxfordshire trails and as the never ending rain hit the UK in February, I just ran some more.  Over the next 4 weeks I ran 500 ridiculously muddy km’s and topped out it off with a 151km week at the beginning of March.  Half the time I was running in the dark and torrential rain and I have to say I LOVED it.  Every run felt like a real adventure and the wildlife you see at night is pretty awesome too :)  I was doing a tiny bit of swimming and biking, but no more than 2 swims a week and 3-5 hours on the bike.  It was all about the running….

Up till now I have always considered myself a strong swim – biker who just about (some of the time) manages to hold on during the run.  During those 9 weeks and 1051km of running in the mud, something changed.  I could feel myself actually becoming a ‘real’ runner.  It may sound a bit corny, but that is the best way I can describe it.

During the course of March and April I kept up the high run volume while shifting the focus back to the bike.  If felt SO good to be back riding again AND somehow, the power numbers where still there – go figure?  The body is a strange beast!

I remember entering the long course POWERMAN UK back in the middle of January.  In the years gone by I would have never even considered entering a long course duathlon.  Running has always been my weakness and I would always choose events that played to my strengths with a strong swim & bike focus.  I guess I had decided it was time to face my weakness head on.  I entered the race on the 16th January and that……  was that.

So I found myself at the start of my 2nd ever duathlon, excited and a little nervous!

The first 10km – The plan was to hide in the middle of the pack.

Yeah, who was I trying to kid.  I am far to competitive to allow myself to hide in the middle of the pack.  So off I raced out at the front.  Doohoo!

POWERMAN UK Start

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took me about 400m to calm down and slow to a more sensible pace.  By then a couple of guys had taken the lead and I was happy to follow them around the 10km holding a comfortable pace, what ever that was?

I had made the decision to race without a watch.  To many times in the past, I have looked down at my watch to see numbers I did not want to see.  This then would start to play on my mind and negatively effect my race.  So this time round I was going to race on feel, race to the very best of my ability and… be happy with that, knowing I had given my best.

I think I got the pacing about right in the first 10km and managed a unusually quick T1 out onto the bike.  I hit the lead after about 1 minute, put my head down and just as planned, rode ON FEEL.  No numbers, just me and the road.  The bike course had a bit of everything.  Super fast TT sections, short sharp climbs, long drags, tight corners & constantly changing.  I loved it :)

Back into T2 and again a unusually quick transition for me.  I headed out onto the run with no idea how far behind second place was.  I was in my own little world and just enjoying every second out on the course.  I was not pushing the pace but focused on running smooth with the plan to push during the last third of the race.  And….. I did just that.  The laps flew by and before I knew it I was heading for home.

At this point I have got a little confession to make.  When I normally race I get some tunes bouncing around my head.  You know, the normal motivational stuff – eye of the tiger etc….  Well today’s song of choice turned out to be a song I sing to Mollie – The gummy bear theme tune from the 80’s cartoon.  When I was growing up I must have watched this cartoon and apparently I really loved the theme tune because I can still remember all the words, even today.  I tried singing this song to Mollie once is desperation to stop her crying.  She loved it and the song is now once of her favourite things!!  For those of you that are interested have a listen – Gummy bear theme tune.  It is kind of catchy?!?!?  Anyway, this song came into my head about half way through the run and it stay with me all the way to the finish.  I guess I had a little bit of Mol with me ;)

Crossing the line it turns out second place had been 100m-200m behind me all day.  I had been in a real battle for the win and not even known about it!!!

After the turmoil of last season, it meant so so much to me to cross that finish line PROUD of the performance I had done.

Not only that, for the first time in my life, it felt like I had actually won it on the run.  And that is something I thought I would NEVER be able to say!

Thank you to the whole POWERMAN UK team for putting on a quality race – I loved every second of it.

Here is to sport and never saying never……..

POWERMAN UK Finish

 

 

 

 

Thank you

Posted: September 12, 2013 in Challenge Series, Iron Man

I never really got the chance to write about Ironman Copenhagen 2013.

Time kind of ran away from me.  It was not a terrible day, but not a good one either.  I had planned to hold back A LOT on both the swim and bike, then run hard and hopefully fast.   I did exactly that on the swim and bike but tactically this turned out to be a bad decision.  On entering T2 I had a huge nose bleed that lasted for the first 5 maybe 10km of the run.  No idea if this affected me physically (probably not), but it completely blew my concentration.  Looking back on the race I just did not take on enough calories during the run.  I really should know better.  I came home in 8:59 and to be honest was disappointed & frustrated at how the day turned out.

But this blog is not really about Ironman Copenhagen at all.  It is all about Challenge Henley 2013 – a day I NEVER want to forget.

Ten days before the race I was flying.  I felt like superman.  The numbers (SWIM, BIKE & RUN) were looking better than I had EVER seen before.  The weather was set to be cold and wet – perfect racing conditions for me.  I was totally convinced Challenge Henley 2013 was going to be the day where I would do ‘something special’.

On Thursday night (two days before the race), I came down with a bug of some sort.  I was congested and unable to sleep at all that night.  The next day I had meant to go to the press conference but I was in no fit state.  I stayed at home and tried to sleep it off.  By Saturday morning I was feeling OK.  Not 100%, but much better, so I made the call to go register, rack my bike and just hope I would be back to 100% come race morning.

That night I could hardly sleep, not because I felt bad – the exact opposite in fact.  I was excited and fully of energy.  I remember just lying there looking at the stars for hours.  By the time 3am came, any thought of illness had completely left my mind.  I was going to start this race.  Carli, my amazing wife, who is also 8 months pregnant was adamant that she was going to come to the swim start.  So we left the house together both in good spirits with the music blasting out of the car.  If you told me then, what lay in front of me I can honestly say I would have never left the house.  However, if I went back to that moment right now, to stay at home that day would have been one of the my biggest mistakes.

BUT I didn’t, and so it began ….

I think it must have been one of my best swim starts.  I felt strong and powerful in the water and latched onto Steven Bayliss’ feet.  To my huge surprise, they were not moving away from me.  I sat there for a bit but slowly I lost touch with him and he drifted into the fog along with the lead canon.  I found myself leading a group of swimmers into the mist.  I was not pushing hard and honestly at that point I felt good.  We got to the turn buoy and out of nowhere I got hit by severe cramps in both my calves.   I stopped, tried to stretch them out.  I could loosen one, but my left calf was solid.  It would not budge.  I could see Joel and Tom (two of the race favourites) swimming away from me and had a split second decision to make.  Stop or crack on.  I didn’t really have enough time to think, so I just went on instinct and cracked on.  The rest of the swim was utter agony with other muscles joining the ‘cramping’ party.  Coming out of the swim I think I almost pulled two BIG volunteer support guys into the water.  When I finally did get out, the cramp in my left calf was so bad my foot looked fully dislocated!  I think it freaked a few of the helpers out!  Anyway, with all my weight I managed to put my foot back in place, the cramp FINALLY went, and I cracked on through T1.  Joel and Tom were 10-15 seconds ahead of me now so I needed to be quick.IMG_3991

Out on the bike, Tom was only 20m in front of me and I focused on trying to reign him in.  But I had nothing in my legs.  That first lap I buried myself and the power numbers barely went above my easy zone 1 ride levels.

I felt utterly ruined.

Heading out on the second lap I felt this anger building and I gave it one final push to try and bring my race back on track.  Pretty stupid really.  It is hard to describe what happened over the next thirty minutes.  To be honest I don’t really know.  I just felt like my body was falling apart.  My back started cramping, then my vision went a little hazy.  After that ….  I don’t really know.  I just remember lying on the grass and a guy (later on that day I found out his name was Clive) coming over to ask me if I was alright?  He offered me his phone and I texted Carli to let her know I was OK.  I have no idea how long I lay there? 10,15 maybe 20 minutes.  Clive would come over every now and again to check on me.

Finally, I stood up….. to go home.  It was down hill all the way into Henley.  Carli had text to say she was going back to the car and she would meet me there.  Then my friend Clive wondered over.  I think he kind of assumed I was carrying on.  I remember him saying in a really kind softly spoken way “carry on mate, come on,  you can still do this”.

My head was in turmoil.  Yes, I could stand up and yes I could just about pedal.  But the time I would walk away with and end result would be so bad….. It was hard to find a reason to carry on.  I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself.  All I can remember saying is “PRIDE (long pause) is a terrible thing sometimes” as the tears rolled down my face.  I sat there for another 5-10 minutes battling with my own thoughts.

Finally I stood up for the second time.  I was not feeling any better, or any more positive about anything.  It was just I could not sit there all day.  I had to make a decision.  Right to go home, left to carry on.  As I stood up for that second time I still did not know what I was going to do.  I just found my self on my bike turning left.  I honestly don’t know why.  I said to Clive “Tell Carli I am carrying on” and tried to smile.

IMG_3998

That second lap was very emotional.  I went through stages of trying to fight and pushing the power, followed by long periods when I realised my body could just not handle it.  The process repeated itself over and over again.  I was balling my eyes out half the time.  I felt pathetic!  But I was still moving.

At the end of the second lap, I stopped and gave Carli a big LONG hug.  I really needed it and did not want to let go.  Finally I did and started out on the 3rd and final lap of the bike.  This lap was survival.  There was no fight left.  I kept saying to myself I would just make it to the next junction and then call it a day.  I had decided I could not do it any more.  This was it.  I was done.  But every time I got to one of those junctions a part of me deep deep down could just not let myself do it.  So I would say to myself.  OK to the next junction, then call it a day.  FINALLY I found myself entering T2.  I had completed the 3rd lap but that was it.  NO MORE.

I stubbled towards the side on the path and sat down.  At this point I was beyond tears.  I just stared at the ground totally spent, freezing and to be honest I don’t know what…   Carli came over, put a jumper over me.  We sat there for a long time.  I kept saying  “I don’t know what to do?”.  I said it over and over again as if I would get an answer from somewhere, but of course I didn’t.  I must have made the decision to quit dozens of time during that long 20 minutes in T2.  But I could not walk away.  I have no idea why, I just couldn’t.

Eventually I asked Carli to get me a top to run in.  My kit had my name, sponsors logo’s etc. on it.  I was embarrassed, so very embarrassed to be racing as a ‘pro’.  I felt like a joke.  Finally, after maybe 30mins I started the run.

From the second I left T2 my path was fixed.  I have no idea why, it just was.  Don’t get me wrong, my body was still ruined.  My mind had quit a long time ago, over AND over again.  But there was ‘something else’, don’t know how to describe it.  It is so deeply part of who I am that I don’t know what word to use.  It has always been there, but it is buried so very deep, I never really notice it.  Anyway this ‘something else’ had been boiling under the surface all day.  And as my body and mind faltered it had come right to the surface to take charge.  It had been behind every decision that could not let me walk away and it was pulling me along right now.  I found myself running, not fast, but I was running.

As I passed the supporters going out on the first lap every smile, every friendly face, every clap, every cheer meant the world.  It really really did.  I tried to smile (probably failed badly) and say thank you to everyone.  My emotions were still all over the place and again I spent most of the time running in tears.  Half way round the first lap I passed my friend Clive.  He did not say much.  He did not have to.  He just nodded, smiled said something like “you’re still here Chris”.   As I came towards the end of the first lap I was passing some friends who had joined Carli.

Their cheers and their smiling faces meant more than I can put into words.  I stopped & gave Claire (a great friend) a hug.  I just wanted to say thank you for coming down, taking the time out of your day to cheer me on, and sorry to be such a disappointment.

The second lap was a bit of a blur – Literally.  Not sure why but everything went hazy.  The only thing I can really remember vividly is my niece Lucie handing me a bottle and shouting “come on Uncle Kanga”.   I will never forget that moment.  Oh and yes for those of you who don’t know me, my nickname when I was a kid was Kanga, for obvious reasons I hope.

Half way round the 3rd lap, whatever had  been pulling me around started to fade.  At that exact moment in time, when walking the rest of the run seemed a certainty, a chap called Steve came along side me.  I had meet Steve at the Forestman.  He waited for me to try and help.  That gesture was so very kind and meant more than I can explain in words.  We started chatting and I told him what had happened today, in brief!!  What he said next was, well awesome.  He quoted something once said by Theodore Roosevelt’s.  I had never heard it before…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who come short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid should who neither know victory nor defeat”

It is hard to believe that someone in the middle of an event like this would be able to quote the entire thing.  But trust me he did!

It is hard to explain but I felt like I was inside that speech.  Its message consumed every part of me and from somewhere I found new strength.  That is the only way I can describe it.

The last lap was a very emotional one.  When I ran past my bro, friends and Carli I almost broke down then and there.  A bit further on Sophie, a friend I have not seen for a while, jogged with me for a few meters to cheers me on.  I gave her a big hug.   I just could not believe how kind everyone had been to me ALL day.  I remember passing Clive with 5km to go.  He had a massive smile on his face and for the first time today, so did I.

I crossed the finish line of my 20th Ironman distance race in 10hr 50mins 29 secs.  I am not going to lie, I was devastated.  Afterwards, I sat there with my bro saying nothing for a long.  There was noting to say.

Later on I sent my coach a text that I think sums it all up pretty well.

“So so many amazing people out there.   Spent most of the day in tears and have no idea how I finished.  Have to say worst and at the same time best sporting experience of my life.  All because of the people”

At the start of this blog I wrote “I was totally convinced Challenge Henley 2013 was going to be the day were I would DO ‘something special’.”.  I am not going to claim that I DID something special, but to me Challenge Henley 2013 WAS ‘something special’.

Over the last 8 years I think I have experienced just about every emotion possible in sport.  It has been one hell of a roller coaster ride, but one that I would do over and over again if given the chance.

I just want to say, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart to EVERYONE who has made this ride possible.

medals

Quote from Challenge Copenhagen race report 2011 – 8 hours 59 minutes 42 seconds

“Sport can be heart breaking.  You see it every day in sporting events when things do not go ‘your way’ after all the focus and effort that has been invested.  This can cause grown men and women to break down is tears, with the disappointment just too much to handle.  Conversely, the ecstasy you feel when you achieve your dreams in sport is like nothing you can imagine.  This is why I love sport.  It is an emotional roller coaster and you never know where the ride will take you.”

One of the great things about writing this blog is looking back over past entries.  It reminds me of the roller coaster ride that is ‘SPORT’.  Following on from Challenge Roth 2013 I found it very hard to bring myself to write anything.   The race was without a doubt one of the most mentally gruelling experiences I have been through.  After 2hrs on the bike, physically I was broken.  The power had dropped like a sinking lead weight, I was seeing stars and struggling to ride in a straight line.  For the first time in my life I seriously thought about quitting.  This was then followed up by pure anger at myself for even thinking such a thing!  And so this battle continued for the next 6hrs.  By the time I crossed the finish line I was mentally broken.   My mind was spent and I had nothing left to give.  I was totally and utterly gutted.

Challenge Roth 2013

In the days after the race I remember feeling broken like never before.  I am used to physically being broken.  That has happened to me 100’s of time and the body heals quick.  What I am not used to is being mentally broken.  Even after the crash in IM Lanzarote my mind felt strong and full of fight.  OK, my head had been through the wars and had some healing to do but I can still remember feeling that ‘fight’ inside me.  After Challenge Roth for the first time in my life that ‘fight’ felt completely gone.

After the race there were some kind words said to me, from people who had no reason or need to say anything.  So I just want to say thank you to them.  If you are reading this, you will know who you are.  It was very much needed and you have no idea how much it helped.

Over the next 12 days I spent ALOT (probably too much) of time thinking about the race and what went so horribly wrong in Roth.  I explored almost every avenue I could think of, had doctor check ups, spoke to various experts and carried out some tests.  After all this analysis it all pointed to one thing – THE HEAT.  It boiled down to one thing.  I had massively improved my race pace power over the winter.  In the Forestman I had averaged 304W and it had felt comfortable.  It was 16DegC that day and I was warm.  What I had not even thought about was the associated problems of increasing your power output – the increased heat you generate!  Basically, on a hot day at 300-310W I generate too much heat for my body to cope with.  My core temperature rose above a critical point and bang – game over.  That is what happened in Roth.

I had not even considered Germany to be a hot place to race and had done zero heat acclimatisation.  Right up to the taper the weather in the UK had been cold and wet so I had zero heat training in my system.  I had no chance out there.

Being a UK based athlete, even with heat training, I am still going to have this overheating issue.  I can’t just say “well it is a hot day, so I won’t be able to perform well today”.  I needed to find an answer….

This ‘answer’ was sparked by a conversation with Simon Smart.  The idea was simple and at that point it was no more than a concept.  But from the moment this ‘idea’ entered my head it was like someone flicked a switch.  Fuelled by the prospect of an answer to this overheating problem I could feel the ‘fight’ surging back.   This was more than an idea, it was a spark of ‘hope’.

Ironman Copenhagen is in 9 days time.  I have never felt such a sense of calm before a race as I do right now.  I know what I am capable of, I have not doubt in my mind.  Whether this happens in Copenhagen…….  Well that is what sport is all about………..

The Forestman

Posted: June 26, 2013 in Iron Man

Since writing my last entry ‘The Goal Posts‘ at the end of March I have put my head down and trained HARD.  I was making real progress and feeling more and more confident as each week went by.  Everything was going to plan.

Then I got thrown a few curve balls. The first was in the form of crippling back pain that lasted about a week.  Once this was sorted, I got the start of a stress fracture in my right foot.  After that, I came down with a flu that seemed to take FOREVER to clear up.  Finally, once it had cleared and I was able to start training again, I got the start of another stress fracture, this time in my left foot!  All this coincided nicely with the build up to my first race for the GB elite team out in Barcelona at the European middle distance championships.  I can remember on the Monday before the race being convinced I would not be able to finish the run.  As it turned out I was glad to be proved wrong.  I was able to finish and while I did not have a great race it was a huge honour to represent my country at the elite level – Something I have dreamed of since I can remember.

Moving forward I tried to use the disappointment of under-performing out in Barcelona as ‘motivational fuel’. It turns out disappointment is rocket fuel.  I went out to the Pyrenees and in 10 days put myself through the hardest 10 days training I have ever done. On the last morning I was so broken I could not even manage 3 lengths in a 15m pool.  100% spent!!

14 days later and I was standing at the start of my first Ironman distance race of the year – The Forestman.  I have mentioned before that I seem to perform better in my second Ironman of the year, so with Challenge Roth on the 14th July, I thought the Forestman would act as the perfect springboard, much as the Outlaw did for Challenge Copenhagen last year.

The Forestman is a little different from your average Ironman distance race and a great reminder that ‘big is not always best’.  This is evident right from the moment you arrive for the race briefing.  You are greeted by the best buffet I have ever seen at an event.  Seriously, it was amazing.  Then it proceeds into the most thorough race briefing you could ever ask for.  All this = happy athletes :)

So after a chilled afternoon with Carli in a local pub we crashed early in one of the prettiest B & B’s I have ever seen.  I was up at 2:30 for breaky and then left Carli snoozing as I wondered the 2km through the Forest to the coach pick up point.  I was in a great mood, very chilled and found myself singing at the top of my voice as I walked through the Forest.  The pre race admin went smoothly and I made my way to the lake to get warmed up.  At this point we had a final race briefing, followed by something that I thought was really quite special.   A vicar stood up and said a few words wishing all the athletes a safe day out in the forest.  Now I am not religious in any way, but my crash in IM Lanza made this a little more personal to me and even brought a tear to my eye.  I am always a little emotional at this point!!!

Anyway, the swim went well.  Right from the gun I had clear water in front and behind, and I felt fast.  Not sure what the actual swim time was but including a long transition my overall time was 51:40 so I must have been under the 50min mark for the swim (I am really not that quick in transition).  At this stage I had no idea what the time was, all I new was 2nd place was a LONG way back and from the reaction of the guys in the crowd it had been a pretty fast swim.

THE BIKE

Right from the very first pedal stroke I knew – this was going to be very good day.  I just needed to stay controlled, on top of nutrition and puncture free.   It is beautiful out in the New Forest, but to be honest I don’t think I really soaked up many of the amazing views.  I was just totally focussed on the small stretch of tarmac in front of me, which seemed to be racing by very fast!

Forestman bike

That is, apart from the 10km stretch back to T2, where a truly brutal headwind slowed the ‘flying tarmac’ to a distinct crawl.  The bike was 3 laps so we did this 10km section 3 times.  For me, this was the part of the course that required the most focus.  The long drag was mentally draining and my body was just screaming at me to sit up (the WORST thing you can do into a headwind).  I shifted all my focus to making sure my position was as aero as possible, ignored the power numbers and just counted down the kilometres.

Anyway, apart from that 10km stretch on each lap, the bike flew by!   I was in a really really good mood and trying to smile and thank every marshal I passed.  Who, by the way did an awesome job out there – thanks again guys.  Normally, I hit a dip in power towards the end of an IM bike as fatigue starts to kick in.  This must have been the first time that has not happened and I found myself coming into T2 feeling as good as I have ever felt at the end of the bike leg.  The numbers…. Well they speak for themselves – Average power 304W, Normalised power 312W.  My time was around 4hr 53mins which goes to show just how tough the conditions were out on the bike.  I have done a few calculations and I am convinced the wind added a minimum of 12 minutes to the bike split.

THE RUN

With Roth three weeks on from the Forestman, the plan for the run was simple.  Run slow, relaxed, steady and make sure my legs were still in good nick at the end of the race.  I could not afford to get this wrong.

I started the run feeling great and really cruised the first lap.  I was not running very fast at all but had a 45min lead off the bike so was in no real rush.

Forestman run

After the first lap I remember thinking – ‘WOW this is hillier than I remember!’.  But I also remember thinking to myself – ‘if I can run up 4 & 3/4 peaks in Zermatt in a morning I can run up these tiny bumps!’ (They really did not feel that tiny at the time)

As I started the second lap my stomach started to give me serious grief.  In short, I ate too much too late the night before (I really should know better) and had not given myself enough time to digest all the food.  The result, 3 serious loo stops on the second lap!!  After that rather eventful second lap my lead had dropped to 20mins and if I am 100% honest I was not feeling that great.  My legs still had a bit of spring left in them but my body was not in such a great place.  At this point, I am not sure why, but I suddenly noticed the view.  Don’t get me wrong, I had seen the same view for the last few hours, but on that last lap it really hit me.  It is stunning out here!!

The last lap was very much less eventful (no more serious loo stops thank god!).  With 4km to go, I passed a family and as I passed, the little boy said to his Dad – ‘that is a proper triathlete Dad’.  That comment put a real smile on my face – thanks little man!

I came home in 9hr 39mins (22mins ahead of 2nd place) and in doing so set a course record.  I was chuffed to bits!

Forestman prize giving

This was my 17th Ironman distance race and while the Forestman may not be the biggest event in the world, it really is something special.  The vibe out there amongst the competitors, marshals and supporters to me is what sport is all about.  I think the tri247 race report does a pretty good job of describing the day and what racing in the New Forest is all about.

Roth is just over 2 weeks away and only time will tell whether my body can recovery fully and use the Forestman as the spring board I had intended……

The Goal Posts…

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

2012 was one hell of a year for me.  I can vividly remember writing my blog entry about ‘making the step up to the next level’ at the start of the year. It was actually the process of writing the entry that allowed me to take a step back from the moment and look at things from a slightly bigger perspective. I don’t think I would have ever made the jump into the pro ranks if I had not written that entry. The process of writing things down, somehow allows me to appreciate the moment, the memories, from a different view point. That is the only way I can really describe it.

Anyway, I made the step up AND held my own! Something I am incredibly proud of.

It is funny how the ‘goal posts’ constantly change. Carli and I moved house recently and I was going through things in the attic. Up there I found a massive framed picture of my first Ironman. Ironman Switzerland, 2005.

IM Switzerland 2005

I looked so different back then!!! And my times….. I can remember the whole day like it was yesterday. From hugging my Bro before the start, to the very last km of the run, where my Mum ran along side me (that is how slow I was moving) shouting at me to keep going!!! It was a very special day.

Since then the ‘goal posts’ have changed dramatically. In fact, the ‘goal posts’ are pretty much on a different pitch entirely. But here is the funny thing. Looking back at the memories of my first Ironman in 2005, I honestly could not say whether finishing my first ever Ironman, or breaking into the top 10 in the Challenge races last year, was more special. The ‘goal posts’ may be on a new pitch, but it makes very little difference. I guess that is the great thing about sport.

AND…. the ‘goal posts’ are STILL MOVING.

At the start of 2012, I set myself a target – 8hrs 45mins. At the time, even saying that out loud, it sounded crazy. But looking at the numbers, the time was doable. I came home in 8hrs 47mins at Challenge Copenhagen, so I was pretty close!

Since November, the numbers have just got better and better. So much so, that when I do the maths, the end result just sounds crazy. Totally nuts!! So nuts that I find it hard to even say my goal for 2013 out loud. Let alone, to put it down in words…. Suffice to say, it involves Challenge Roth and the magic number 8.

That is about all I can say. July is not that far away, so time for me to get my head down and work harder than I have ever worked before!!

Challenge Henley 2012

Posted: September 21, 2012 in Challenge Series, Iron Man, Triathlon

I thought I would start things by quoting the last few lines from my previous entry – “In 2011 I crossed the finish at Challenge Copenhagen in 8hr 59mins 42 seconds.  At the time I remember thinking ‘it does not get any better than this’.  Well, it just did!”.  That result was without a doubt the best sporting achievement in my life so far.  So as you can imagine, I was pretty bloody happy!  I remember thinking, you don’t get any happier than this.  I did :)

On 1st September 2012, I married Carli out in Moraira, Spain.  The whole day and the week around it was a blur of amazing memory after amazing memory.  So many special moments.  The best of my life!

When we got back from the ‘mini moon’, Challenge Henley was only 1 week away!!  I found it really quite hard to get my self mentally ready.  Physically I was in good shape.  It was the mental side I was struggling with.  Normally I have no problem getting my ‘race head’ on.  But after the amazing events of the last few weeks I was finding it hard to do!  As the week progressed, bit by bit I slowly got myself together and as I drove down to Henley on Sunday morning for the race start, I new I was mentally ready to rock.

Physically, I was not doing so well.  During the night I had noticed I was getting a very slight upset stomach.  Nothing major and I ignored it during the run in on race morning.  The swim started well and while I was not able to stick with the lead swimmer, I was happy to settle into the pack behind.  As the swim progressed I could feel my stomach churning.  It was not holding up well and I made a call to back off the pace in the hope that it would settle down.  It helped but I was still a little concerned as I entered T1.

As I got going on the bike, my legs were feeling strong and I soon forgot about my stomach problems and focussed on the road ahead.  Stephen Bayliss was about 6mins down the road, with 2-3 riders in-between.  Towards the end of the first lap a speed line had formed with 6 riders.  Leaving Stephen, as the sole rider out in-front.  I have to be honest, I really do not like riding in a speed line.  I am much happier when I have the open road in-front of me, but I guess this is very much part of riding at the front of the race.  Being a much heavier athlete than the other riders I had to push harder than I would have liked on the climbs and hold back more than I would have liked on the flat and down hill sections.

At the start of the third lap I hit the front of the speed line heading up the fair mile and the climb out of Henley.  Talking to some of the guys in the group after the race, it seems I built up a bit of a gap on that climb between me and the riders behind.  Not that this counts for much, it is nice to know that I was still holding my own in the group.

Anyway as the lap continued the pace in the group dropped as people were getting ready for the run.  It was at this point that my stomach issues reared their ugly head again.  I had to concentrate hard to avoid having a very bad ‘accident’ in my shorts!!!!  As the group entered T2 all I could think about was running as fast as I possibly could (pretty much full on sprint) to the loo’s!!!  After that I still managed a pretty quick turn around and was out on the run a minute or two behind the rest of the group.

I felt terrible.  All my nutrition on the ride had gone straight through me.  I was light headed, dizzy and running on empty.  Totally shot.  During that first lap I had some serious daemons on both my shoulders.  I had four loo stops and I was not sure if I was even going to finish the race at this stage.  I remember seeing my brother who was on the final lap of the Henley Half.  It was his first ever triathlon and he was loving it.  As we crossed paths he gave me a high five which almost completely knocked me over!  That is how far gone I was :(

But just as things started to look really bad, I hit the path coming back into Henley.  As I got near the bridge, I could hear the shouts and cheers from all my friends and family on the other side of the river.  It had a truly amazing effect.  Those daemons who had been sitting very heavily on my shoulders started to fade and I could feel myself getting more positive with every step.  It really is amazing what something as simple as a cheer from a close friend or even stranger can do.  Just look at the effect on the home support on the Olympics.  OK, I still felt terrible, but my mind was starting to turn things around :)

As I approached the fuel station where everyone was, I was greeted with my requested cups of ice which I shoved down my top.  As mentioned in a post race interview with tri247, I am not the smallest of athletes.  The result is I generate a whole lot of heat.  I have come to realise that I perform better in very cold conditions.  My idea of the perfect running conditions is in -15DegC running in the mountains at in Zermatt.  For me, ice on the run is almost as important for me as water or gels.  I could feel the ice doing its magic and my body started to feel just a little bit better.    That combined with a regular intake of gels and fluids resulted in a gradual improvement.  I slowly but surely I started to find my feet.

By the end of the second lap I actually felt OK.  In the previous race out in Copenhagen, it was at this point that I hit a very bad patch for around 6km.  I had made a point in my mind to start to push hard at the 20km mark.  That is exactly what I did.  My perceived effort went through the roof!  My splits dropped…. a little.  At the end of the third lap I was in 6th place.  I had overtaken one pro and had not been overtaken by a single person for the entire run!  I remember thinking ‘this is a first’.  But seconds after that thought, another pro came flying past me like I was standing still.  It served as a pretty good reminder that the race was far from over.  A lot can happen in 10km.  My effort from the previous lap meant I really did not have much left in the tank but I managed to hold it together…. JUST!

Running up the finishing chute was a very different feeling to that of previous IM distance races.  The emotion when you cross that line is always so raw but very rarely is it ever the same.

On this occasion I just felt deeply content.  This may not sound dramatic or that impressive but trust me it was a very good feeling :)

Big thank you to the entire Challenge Henley team.  You guys put on a stella event.  From the iconic start on the beautiful banks of the river Thames, to the closed roads bike over the chilterns hills.   To the run, which follows the banks of the river Thames.  Much of it along the famous Henley regatta rowing course.  In my mind, you don’t get much better.

I remember meeting Alan and team (awesome group of guys) in my first race back after my crash (Challenge Barcelona 2010).  They were in the process of planning the event.  I told them my story and of my hope to one day race as a pro in Challenge Henley.  At the time I was not sure if this dream would ever become a reality, but thanks to the huge amount of support from the people around me, it did.

2012 has been the best year of my life (so far) & I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Final Result    8hrs 53 mins  Overall Position 7th  Verdict  chuffed

The Jump

Posted: August 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

Following on from the Outlaw on the 1st July I had 6 weeks run in to Challenge Copenhagen.  Not a lot of time!  Factor in 1 weeks recovery after the Outlaw and 1 week taper that left exactly 4 weeks in which I was hoping to get some quality training.  History has shown that I always perform better in my second Ironman distance race of the season – In planning out my 2012 race calendar, I took this into account and the plan was to use the Outlaw as a spring board to jump off.

The final training block leading into Challenge Copenhagen went as well as I could have hoped.   One week after the Outlaw and I was feeling awesome.  I was like a horse chomping at the bit.  I know I recover quickly but I was careful to wind things up slowly over the next 4 weeks.  Building each session on the last, I could feel myself getting stronger and stronger.  But more importantly, with each session, I could feel the “BELIEF” inside me growing.  For me, that last 4 weeks training was a much about convincing myself I was good enough to make this jump into the pro ranks as it was about anything else.

Standing at that start line along side all the other pro’s I honestly believed ‘I could do this’.  No doubts, no fears, just focus and a lot of pride.  To be even standing along side all these awesome athletes was the best sporting achievement of my life and the gun had not even gone off yet!

The swim went pretty well.  A few guys shot off the front pretty early on.  As it happened I settled into the second group of swimmers at what felt like a very comfortable pace.  After about 1000m the pace settled down and I found myself swimming a bit slower than I would have liked.  However, by now the gap to the guys in front was just too big to bridge, so it was either swim solo or stick with the pace in the group.  I opted to stay with the group.  I had made the call not to wear a watch for the swim so I had no idea of my swim split.  To be honest I did not even give it a seconds thought.  I just got my head down and went through T1 as fast as I possibly could.  I was surprised to find that having come into T1 in a group 8-9 strong this quickly spread out.  Leaving T1 I could only see 2 other riders.  I had either been super quick or super slow?!?

The bike was very strange territory for me.  Normally, I am solo for the entire bike leg in Ironman distance races.  I knew going into the race and starting with the pro’s it was likely that other bikers would be around me.  My biggest concern was about staying 10m or more behind the bike in front.

How do you gauge 10m?  To solve this problem I had practised spotting points in front of me and then making sure those points were 11 long strides or more away from me.   I did this while walking to the race briefing and was relieved to find that, with a bit of trial and error using this method, it was actually very easy to gauge 10m :)

I love the bike course out in Copenhagen.  It starts out winding through the city before you head north along the coast on a fast stretch of road.  By the time we had reached this section of road I had passed 4-5 riders and a speed line had formed behind me.   The course then heads inland and onto some smaller roads with a bit of climbing and some more technical sections.  As the 1st lap went on things changed around a bit.  A few riders took their turn at the front of the speed line and a few riders were dropped.  As we hit the second lap the group had whittled down to three riders.

This all changed at the 150km mark.  We had just hit a short incline.  This is where you have to be really careful not to enter the 10m exclusion zone.  I was at the back of the speed line and the pace dropped much more than I was expecting.  So much so that I had to put the brakes on quite hard to avoid entering the 10m exclusion zone.  The rider in front of me did not.  He must have only been closer than 10m for just over 30 seconds and the motor cycle came up along side him to give him a yellow card and a 4 minute penalty.  I had been riding in and around this guy most of the day and it must have been the first time he had got closer than 10m, from what I had seen.  Gutted for him, but rules are rules I guess.

At that point I made the call to put my foot down and push for the last 30km.  I was still feeling strong and thought this would be the perfect time to break away from these guys.  It seemed to work :)

As I entered the edge of the city I could see three riders in front of me and by the time I entered T2 I had caught them up.  My bike split was 4:41:00 and was the 4th fastest of the day.  What really surprised me was what happened next.  All three guys in front got directed into the penalty tent to serve a 4 min penalty for drafting and I found my self leaving T2 4th in the race!!!

I was running with a bounce in my step and feeling good.  Only problem was I desperately needed a loo stop!  I really did not want to stop, but when nature calls, it calls.  So I found my self in the aid station toilets counting the seconds down.  It felt like the longest loo stop I have ever had!!

Back on the road and I was running well.  Nothing amazing, but a solid 2:55 – 3:00 marathon pace.  I was passed by a 2-3 pros over the first 20km but that really did not phase me.  I was running well, really well.  They were just running better.  Simple as that.  Around the 23-24 km mark the pace started to drop.  This happened to me in the Outlaw and fundamentally the reason why I was unable to win that race.  I was expecting this drop in pace to happen in Copenhagen.  At that stage of the race I have come to believe that holding pace is as much mental as it is physical.  I knew I needed to find something to mentally hold onto that would pull me through that dark patch when it hit, I just did not know what it would be.  With 13km to go I could feel the race slipping away from me.  What really upset me was the thought of failing to make this step up into the pro ranks after all the sacrifices Carli (my fiancée / wife in two weeks!!) has made in order that I could achieve my dream.  She has gone through so much, from sitting at my bed day and night after the crash in IM Lanzarote, to putting up with my relentless drive to get back into a sport that almost killed me.  Putting up with the never ending hours of training AND listening to my drivel about power, heart rate etc…..  Coming to watch every race I do.  In this instance she was up at 3am to make an early flight on Saturday morning.  She then was up with me at 4am on Sunday and flew home at 9pm after the race.  The thought of that all being for nothing was just not an option.  As all of this was going through my mind, Carli’s face just popped into my head and simply said ‘just run faster’.  So with 12km to go, I did just that with Carli ‘pulling’ me along all the way to the finish.

I had no clue what my overall time was going to be until I turned the last corner.  With 20m to go I saw the clock.  It read 8:46:xx.  It was all a bit to much.  As I crossed the finish line I could feel the tears starting to well up and the bottom lip starting to shake.  Good thing I was still wearing my sunnies!  I went straight through the finish area to find Carli.  I gave her a massive massive hug and said ‘we did it babe’ :)

In 2011 I crossed the finish at Challenge Copenhagen in 8hr 59mins 42 seconds.  At the time I remember thinking ‘it does not get any better than this’.  Well, it just did!


The final break down:

Swim 51:13   Position 8th

T1 2:35  Position 14th

Bike 4:41:00  Position 4th

T2 1:46  Position 8th

Run 3:10:34  Position 9th

Overall Time 8:47:06 Final overall position 8th