Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

The good AND the BAD

Posted: July 4, 2017 in Iron Man, Training, Triathlon

Triathlon Tales – the ups and downs of life in the saddle.  In 2010 in the aftermath of my bike crash, Carli (my then girlfriend, now wife) set up this blog for me and this was the name she gave it.

But with the exception of the first entry, IM Lanza crash, where you see me smashed up and in a bad way and Challenge Henley 2013, nearly, in fact all of my blog entries have been positive ones.  This is not because everything that has happened to me has been positive.  It is just that I have only chosen to write about positive things.  So much for the ‘downs of life in the saddle’!

It feels great to write positive stories of success and happiness, but the reality is that is not real life.  With the good always comes the bad.  Since 2012, I have had quite a few terrible race experiences and not surprisingly, no desire to share these experiences with anyone.  I think it is just human nature.

Anyway, on to 2017.  As always I had thought long and hard about how to approach the year.  The work / family / training balance is an almost impossible equation to answer. But after a couple of years getting this very wrong, I finally felt like I had found balance to this ‘almost’ impossible equation.  My answer, kind of like healthy eating, was everything in moderation.  Well relative moderation anyway….

So things were going well and my form was probably the best it has ever been.  I was hitting power PB’s in the few local TT races I had done (420W for 10 miles and 390W for 25 miles) and I had even managed to sneak a win at the Dambuster triathlon

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This was a great day racing topped of with A LOT of beer being poured over my head!!!!!

Things were looking really good.  So much so I even thought I should write a blog about  the Dambuster race.  Like I said, when things go well it is great fun writing about it!!!!

What happened next……. I did not see coming.

It was the Wednesday morning after Dambuster and I was doing some gentle stretching, when BOOM!!!!!!  Something in my back went.  Now I had meningitis a year or so back and the docs had to try and get a sample of my spinal fluid by sticking a massive needle into my back.  Twice they missed my spine and hit my sciatic nerve.  Trust me when I say that was VERY painful.  Well, the pain I was in on that Wednesday morning was pretty similar!!!  I was in a real mess and could barely move.

Carli and the girls were in Spain, my folks were in France and I needed to somehow get to work.  I made it to the car and then straight to get a sports massage, which did actually help a bit.  I struggled through the day and finally to bed, hopeful that it might be a little better the following day.

Sadly, when I woke up it was pretty much as painful as the second my back went on Wednesday.  I knew that I needed to just MTFU and start moving, so with a lot of swearing and screaming…. I did.  I made it to work and over the course of the day my back started to get a little better.  I saw a chiropractor that evening and the back was starting to feel OK 🙂  I really thought I was over the worst and on the mend.

The next morning was like ground hog day.  The pain was as bad as ever and mentally I was near breaking point.  Carli was still in Spain but she managed to get me a docs appointment and I slowly made it to the surgery in hope of some serious pain killers.  I got some and also booked in to see a top physio in the afternoon.  In true ground hog day style, my back slowly got better during the day and after seeing the physio I felt fantastic.  I would say 8/10.  This time I really thought I had cracked it and was on the mend.

The next morning…..  Saturday morning and ground hog day hit me like a truck.  It flattened me.  Without a reason to leave the house, just getting out of bed took hours.  On previous days, things had got better with movement, so I figured I just needed to MTFU and start moving once again.  The trouble was, mentally I was broken and had very little get and go left in me.  I just lay on the floor thinking – what the fuck am I going to do……..

I kept on saying to myself over and over again MTFU, MTFU, MTFU, MTFU……..  Eventually, with quite a lot of tears I made it on to my bike and started to pedal, somehow hoping for a magic fix?!?!?  I was going to beat this, I was going to beat this…. but I just couldn’t.

10 minutes later I got off my bike and this time I really did not have any fight left in me.  I went back to lying on the floor totally and utterly defeated.  I must have stayed there for hours drowning in self pity.  It is moments like this that really separate the men from the boys in terms of mental strength.  AND in this instance I would classify my self as having the mental strength of a small child.  I was like chicken little from the children’s cartoon – “the sky is falling… the sky is falling”.  Many people have to deal with much much worse than this for years and years.  Four days in and I am a complete mess.  I felt pathetic.

Carli kept on telling me to call a friend.  Chat to the people I never have the time to talk to.  “Call Dave Mc, he always makes you laugh”  etc… But I was hearing none of it.  Surely, nobody would want to talk to me in my sorry state.  So I called nobody, got out the violins and just went on feeling sorry for myself.

Somewhere in all this, my very good friend Alex Gattas came to the forefront of my mind.  Alex took his own life in January 2016.  He was a complete legend of a guy.  The life and soul of every party and one of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure to know.  Alex taking his own life came completely out of nowhere.  He had talked to no one, told no one about his struggles.

Now we all have ups and downs in life.  We all love a good happy story.  But nobody wants to share the bad ones.  Nobody wants to phone up a mate and spend the whole phone conversation moaning about how shit everything is.  But we all have bad moments.  Some people have moments worse than others, but at the end of the day it really does help to have a person on the end of a phone to talk to.

On that Saturday, Carli kept on telling me to call someone.  Half of me felt like I really needed to just spend hours complaining and moaning about how shit my back was and how it might never get better… ‘the sky is falling’.  But there was no way I was going to call up a friend to spend the day moaning to them.  Stupid really, as that is what friends are for.  In that moment I really got the importance of talking.  Maybe not to a friend, but to somebody.  That is where charities like CALM come into the mix.

So this brings me on to the reason for this long drawn out soap story about my back, which by the way is much much better 10 days on (As I said Chris ‘chicken little’ Goodfellow – the sky is falling, the sky is falling…..) and that is mental health.

Sometimes, it is important to share the bad stuff as well as the good stuff, and if like me you find yourself in a dark place, not wanting to talk to a friend but wanting to

logo-black CALM

talk to someone, perhaps pick up the phone and call the people at CALM.  Talking about ‘it’ might just help……

Now please don’t get me wrong, I was not in a suicidal state on that Saturday morning.  I was just really blue and feeling very sorry for myself.  My back got better after a few more days and all was good in my world once again.  Mini crisis over 🙂

The reason for writing this blog was because in my sorry state I found that I could suddenly relate to why, when people are depressed, they don’t want to call out for help.  Just as I did not really want to give my friends a call on that Saturday morning to cheer me up.  I thought I would just suck it up and deal with it by myself and in so doing I spent the whole bloody day miserable.  What I should have done is pick up the phone, catch up with old friends, have someone take the piss out of me for being such an old woman, start to laugh and before long I would have realised I was being a complete arse.

So there you go.  I hope I have explained myself OK and before I go, I would like to pass you over to a very good friend of mine Dave Mc. who puts Alex’s story into words better than I ever could.  Over to you big man..

 

Dave, Alex and I were great friends and when Dave gave me a call thinking of doing a challenge in order to raise money for CALM, he asked what I thought about the idea of doing a Ironman???

Now for those of you that don’t know Dave, he is a big rugby playing guy built for power NOT endurance.  So doing a Ironman or even a Ironman 70.3 is a BIG challenge.  I said, ‘the idea of Dave doing an Ironman would have Alex pissing himself laughing.  He would have thought it was a fantastically brilliant but crazy idea’.  I did point out that with the arrival of his second child late last year, maybe starting with an Ironman 70.3 would be the most sensible approach.  Surprisingly, and much to his wife’s relief,  he followed my advice and on the 23rd July Dave is racing a half ironman.  I have been honoured to have been part of his journey thus far getting him ready for the race.  He is raising money for the charity CALM and for those of you interested in helping this cause, please see the link below:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/david-macaulay2?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=fundraisingpage&utm_content=David-Macaulay2&utm_campaign=pfp-share

https://www.thecalmzone.net/

Dave – Good luck big man.  Hope you smash it out of the water.  Alex would be proud…..

 

4 middle distance triathlons in 36 days – THAT WAS THE PLAN!

If you average it out, that works out as one middle distance race every 9 days. It takes your body 10 days to absorb any training, so there isn’t really any beneficial training that can be done to improve fitness between races.  There isn’t really enough time to absorb the overload from the previous race before you do the next one!  In fact, if you look at this idea on a ‘micro scale’ with the sole purpose to perform at your very best in every race, no part of this is a good idea.  It is more than probable, that performance would deteriorate a little bit in every race, leaving the athlete wasted at the end of the process with little to show for it.  At least that is one way of looking at this ‘idea’.

But there are always two sides to every coin. So here is the ‘other side of the coin’.

The race schedule was:

  • BEDFORD MIDDLE DISTANCE TRIATHLON
  • One week recover + 1 week build
  • BALA MIDDLE DISTANCE TRIATHLON – ‘A’ RACE
  • 1 week recovery
  • COTSWOLD 113
  • One week recover + 1 week build
  • GRAFMAN MIDDLE DISTANCE TRIATHLON

The plan for the Bedford was to get some race practice in.  Test out nutrition, race kit and get a feel for ‘race pace’.  Mostly importantly, dial the effort back just a few % on the bike and NOT push on the run.  This would give me a pretty good idea of ‘race pace’ and hopefully allow me enough time to absorb the race having not given it 100%.  Of course I wanted to win, but if this run of races was going to work in my favor I would need to be strict about this.

With two weeks between Bedford and Bala, assuming I had got pacing right in Bedford, this would allow me enough time to recover, make any necessary kit and nutritional changes, and build into the Bala race.  This time, hopefully increasing to full gas ‘race pace’.

Next up…. And only 7 days later – the Cotswold 113.  This was the only real question mark race I had entered.  When I say question mark, I mean I was really not sure if this was a good idea.

Bala was my main focus of the series.  It was the one I really wanted to nail.  So the Cotswold 113 was a bit of a ‘gamble’ race.  Over the years, on a number of occasions I have put in some of my best performances or training 1 week after my ‘A’ race of the year.  Back in 2011, I clocked 1hr 47mins for a 50mile TT one week after my first ever sub 9hr Ironman.  Sometimes your body just surprises you.  So, I had entered this race with the hope of being surprised.  You never know…..

After that I had another two weeks before the final race, the Grafman.  Now this was what I was hoping would happen.  My body would have absorbed the 3 almost back to back races and I would have moved my fitness up another notch.  I would have also learned a lot about where my limits were at this distance and be able to execute a near perfectly paced race.

This was ‘THE PLAN’.  How it turned out?  Well it is a bit of a long read but bear with me.

 

RACE 1 – Bedford

The race in Bedford was an interesting day to say the least, with a multitude of navigational mistakes on my part.  People who know me will probably not be surprised to hear this.  Anyway, I felt pretty good in the swim.  I was not able to stay with the lead swimmer, but led the rest of the field around the course.  I came out of the water a minute or two behind the leader only to be told that I had missed a buoy and to be sent back in the water.  Navigational mistake number 1!

By the time I came out of the water for a second time I was probably a good 5mins down on the leader and well down the field.  Out on the bike I was not feeling fantastic and quite happy to sit at my slightly conservatively planned power (around 310W).  I was still moving through the field pretty quickly, that was until I made navigational mistake number 2.  There were some other signs on the course for a local TT.  I mistook a TT sign for a triathlon sign and went the wrong way at the T junction.  One of the benefits of not yet being at the front of the race was that I soon noticed a lack of cyclists up the road to over take so I figured something must be up and did a quick U-turn.

Back on the correct course and I managed to almost complete a full lap before navigational mistake number 3. Again, I mistook a TT sign for a triathlon sign!  But this time, I was alone at the front of the race with no more cyclists to overtake up the road. As a result I continued on this detour for about 5km before almost by chance finding myself back on the triathlon course (All of this I did without even realizing I had gone wrong).

On to the second lap and I managed to avoid navigational mistake number 2 but not navigational mistake number 3.  By the time I had finished the bike I had cycled an extra 10km. Doohoo. Still other than a FEW navigational mistakes, I had been really happy with kit, nutrition and the slightly conservative pacing strategy.

There was only one other bike in T2 when I got there and to be honest I was happy not to see more!  Out on the run and I stuck to my plan of not pushing too hard.  I held a steady pace and managed to avoid any further navigational mistakes!!  As luck would have it, the chap leading the race was not having a great run.  There was a 4 min gap but I was slowly closing him down.  By half way the gap was down to 1min and I broke my ‘not pushing hard’ plan for just for a couple of km to make the pass and put in a bit of a buffer before slowing things down again for the last few km’s.

Back in the car park after the race, I got on the turbo to warm down and reflect on the day.  I had won by around 3mins with plenty left in the tank.  Kit and nutrition had been spot on.  Pacing wise I felt confident I had not overcooked things.  So all in all, it was just the start I had hoped for.

Befdford trophies

 

RACE 2 – Bala

Despite holding back ever so slightly on the bike and run I still need ALL of the next week to fully recover.  Making me question my idea of racing the Cotswold 113 a week on from Bala even more.  But first things first and that was Bala.

Bala was the first middle distance race I ever did, way back when.  It is a hilly course and one that I have always thought does not really play to my strengths being somewhat of a heavy unit. Nonetheless, I went into the race determined to give it everything, and be happy with whatever that gave me.

The swim ended up only being 1000m, due to low temperatures in the lake.  I was a little annoyed but rules are rules.  My swim went OK I guess, but I was way off the pace.  I think I came out of the water around 14th and at least 2-3mins down on the race leaders.

On the bike I had a very simple race plan.  Hit ALL inclines hard and back the effort off just a little on the downs.  I was hitting crazily high power numbers for me.  The highest I have ever seen in middle distance racing.  I was feeling OK, so I figured I would push a little more and see what happened.  To my surprise I felt solid, strong and still not at 100% effort.  I love moments in sport like this when your body finds new limits.  Today was one of those moments.

By the time I caught the leaders I was feeling fantastic.  I took stock for a few minutes then went off the front…

As I reached the top of the final climb I had managed to build a pretty solid 2-3 min lead.  From this point it was around 15-20km down hill to T2.  Downhill was where I seemed to be making up the biggest inroads, so I would have hoped to entered T2 with maybe a 3-4 mins lead.

However, as many within the triathlon community now know – an incident out on the course brought all road traffic to a stop and no cyclists were allowed to pass.  Myself and a large number of the people racing, waited for 30mins or so before being allowed through.

In my mind the race was over.  We entered T2 in a group and explained to the organisers what was going on up the road.  It was felt by myself and many fellow athletes, that the race should be cancelled. It was.

It transpired that the person involved did not make it.  It was an incredibly sad, somber and sobering day.  My heart goes out to all the friends and family of the athlete involved.

So Bala was not the day anybody racing had imagined and it made me really stop and think about what’s important in life.

 

RACE 3 – Cotswold 113

The following Sunday at the start line of the Cotswolds 113, my mind was in a far more thoughtful and reflective place than a normal race morning.  I think that is the best way I can describe it.

Anyway, I had a pretty good swim.  At least I felt smooth and strong in the water.  I came out in first place and had felt very comfortable.  Good start.

113 Middle Distance Tri - 14.6.15 -- www.113events.com

113 Middle Distance Tri – 14.6.15 — http://www.113events.com

The plan on the bike was simple.  SMASH IT! No holding back.  After Bala, I wanted to see how hard I could push on the bike.  I had hoped to go sub 2hrs, but had to settle with 2hrs 03mins.  It had been a wet slippery morning.  Not the fastest conditions.  The reason for pushing extra hard on the bike was simple.  I wanted to put my body out of its comfort zone and just see what would happen.

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The run course was three laps and I had it in my mind that I would hold a steady pace for the first two laps.  If I was feeling good, I would to increase the pace for the final lap.  I actually felt pretty good for the first two laps and so as planned I upped the pace at the start of the final lap.

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After a couple minutes – boom, my heart rate spiked from 165 to 220 bpm!!

I know watches sometime give you crazy readings, but I was feeling really strange, so I slowed to a walk and manually checked my heart rate.  It was going too fast to be able to count properly but it was definitely north of 200!!!  It scared the hell out of me.  Not enough to make me stop racing, but I have never been that sensible when I have my race face on.  I walked to a short while until my heart rate had come back down to below my supposed ‘MAX’ then jogged the remaining 6 km keeping my heart rate down in ‘normal’ regions.

I came home in 4hrs 03mins to win by about 4mins.   I had mixed feelings immediately after the race.  My main concern was the stupidly high heart rate I had just seen while racing, so I headed straight to the medics tent to be checked out.  After being given the all clear and speaking to them in some detail I felt a lot better about the spike in heart rate.

It had been an interesting day.  I had wanted to see what would happen if I pushed it really hard on the bike.  Well, what happened was my heart just couldn’t keep up with the intensity my body was putting it through.  I am sure that there was an element of fatigue from the race in Bala the previous weekend that also contributed to the onset of this mega spike in heart rate.  That being said, the rest of my muscles were still feeling pretty good.

I think this is the first time that I have found my heart to fatigue before some other muscle in my body.  But then again, this is the first time I have ever tried to do some many races back to back.  So I guess it is hardly surprising, when you come to think about it.

If you look at the Cotswold 113 race in isolation, you might say that I simply overcooked the bike.  On the day I would 100% agree with you.  So the obvious solution, looking forward to the Grafman, would be to back the intensity off just a little on the bike and allow myself a better chance of putting down a solid run and a much better overall triathlon performance.  That was the obvious solution……

But the whole reason I came up with this crazy series of races, was because I wanted to test and push my limits.  Not back off at the final hurdle!!

IF…. my body is able to absorb all of this high intensity overload, maybe, just maybe I might be able to hit the same power numbers at Grafman as I did in the Cotswold 113, but this time be able to hold it together for the full duration of the run.

 

RACE 4 – Grafman

 

So Grafman race day…

I had a really poor swim.  Everything felt hard.  I found myself swimming in a far from straight line and generally just feeling like I was going backwards, and fast.  I must have come out of the water 5 minutes down on the leaders and way back in the field.  Not a good start.

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Out on the bike and I felt much better.  The power numbers were where I had come to expect them to be.  I put my head down – let the chase begin…  I was making good headway on the guys up the road and after about 20mins I had moved from 22nd into 3rd place.  Another 20mins on and I moved into 2nd place.  At the 1hr mark I come to a U-turn.  As I retraced my steps back up the road my mouth dropped open.  Behind my lay a long pace line!  I had just assumed, given the speed at which I had overtaken everyone, that they were long gone.  I had not once turned to look behind me, which turned out to be a VERY BIG mistake.

A few minutes later I took the lead with a now very large pace line in my wake.  I slowed for a couple of minutes and allowed a couple of people to overtake me while I had a think about my next move.  Option 1, sit in this pace line.  Let someone else do all the work and hit the run with fresh legs.  This was a good plan, but I knew there would be faster runners than me in this group.  I wanted to win and to do that I needed to enter T2 with a good lead.  So I went for option 2…

Option 2.  Put your foot down and loose these guys.  By the next turn around I think I had 1 minute lead.  But the next lap was heavily congested with competitors and traffic.  I believe a couple of strong riders leading the pace line behind me were also trying to get away, but not having much luck.  All this meant I was loosing valuable seconds to the chasing group.  Add to that the ‘relay cyclist  factor’.  The only person to put in a slightly faster bike split than me was this ‘relay cyclist’ who came through the field towards the end of the bike.  With him he brought the pace line I had worked so hard to shake!!  So with 20mins left to ride I was back to square one!   ARRGGGG.

As this guy took the lead from me I actually managed to make a smart tactical move!!!  I waited.  Allowed a biggish gap to open up before surging back up to join him.  This actually worked and only one other rider went with this move.  We put 40 seconds into the pace line behind coming into T2.  The power numbers had been higher that in the Cotwold 113!  I had put it all out there on the bike and had a slim 40secs on the rest of the main field to show for it.  As I said to a few people after the race – “This was not the race for strong bikers!”.

IT WAS ALL DOWN TO THE RUN.

I started the run running along side Kit Walker (the other rider who had gone with my move in the dying stages of the bike).  He was breathing harder than me and I slowly pulled away from him over the first few 2-3 km’s.  But at the same time the first of the speedy runners came flying past.  I tried to surge to go with him and actually stayed close behind for a km or two.  But then I got passed by a couple more speedy runners and I could feel the race slipping away.

At this point I tried to ignore the race around me and focus on my day, running to the best of my ability and letting the rest go.  AND…. I did just that.  I held my run together all the way to the finish line.  No crazy heart rate spikes, just a solid run performance.  I crossed the line 6th and was happy with the performance my body had put together on the day.

Looking back over my MIDDLE DISTANCE MADNESS, I can honestly say I got everything I could have hoped out of the experience.

To me, it was as much about the exploratory nature of this race series as the results that may or may not have followed.  In this case they did not ALL follow, but I proud to say I loved the process of it all nonetheless.

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I have always been someone who wears my heart on my sleeve. I guess that is just my nature. With the 2012 season about to kick off for me in one month, I thought I would talk about the dilemma that faced me over the winter and my ‘hopes and dreams’ for the 2012 season.

Over the winter months, I had a big decision to make regarding my path within the sport of triathlon. My result in Challenge Copenhagen 2011 was just good enough to meet the requirements set out by British Triathlon for registering as a professional athlete. This meant I was faced with the following decision to make:
Option 1.
Continue racing as an “Age Grouper”…..
Option 2.
Take the Pro license and race as a “Professional”

In the process of trying to make this decision, I found myself looking back on my journey into the sport and ultimately this provided me with the answer……

History has a funny way of repeating itself.  Way back in 2002, in my ‘rugby days’, I was playing for Moseley Rugby Club in the National One Division (one league below The Premiership).  After a successful season with the club, I finished University and made the call not to continue my rugby any further.  I had been playing rugby since I was six and I had come so close to playing at the very top end of the sport (The Premiership).  To play at this level had been part of my ‘hopes and dreams’ since I was a child. Then, as my University degree came to an end, I did something that I still can’t believe, even thinking about it today (ten years later).  I walked away!

I could have continued to follow my dream of reaching the very top of the sport.  The thing was, in my heart of hearts I knew I was simply not good enough to make the next step up to the Premiership.  To play for Moseley was stretching my ability to its very limit – I knew that and accepted it.  To my surprise I was not disappointed but proud, to this day, of what I achieved.

So I left both the UK and rugby behind, to explore the world – the beginning of my journey into endurance sport…..

During my travels I re-discovered my passion for adventure and I found that the best way to explore the amazing places I visited was running.  I would just put on my trainers and run in no particular direction, just to see what was out there.  I would sometimes catch the attention of the local kids who would decide to join me for a bit.  They always wanted to know ‘where I was going’ and would find it hilarious when I turned around and ran back in the very same direction I had just come from.  And so I ‘ran’ my way around South America (Equador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil), New Zealand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Throughout my trip one run remains vividly fixed in my mind.  It was ten years ago but I can still remember it like it was yesterday.  It was in a place called Wanaka (New Zealand).  I had been on the road for a few days and after a nights rest in the town I headed out early for a run around the lake.  It was a horrible wet and cold morning but I figured I had nothing better to do.  The cloud was really low in the sky and it was the kind of morning when you feel like the sun has not really ever come up.  On my way around the lake I saw a path heading up into the cloud. I have always liked running uphill so I thought I would take the path for a little bit.  After about an hour I was still running.  Not sure why I had not turned around, just didn’t feel like it I guess.  I had reached the snow line and was running in ankle deep snow. Just as I was about to turn around I noticed that the sun was starting to shine through. I figured I would carry on just a bit more until the sun broke through. When I finally broke through the cloud I was hit by a view that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  A sea of bright white cloud with jagged mountain peaks rising out of the ‘sea’.  I could finally see the peak of the mountain I had been running up.  It was quite a way off but I could not help my self.  I was a man on a mission!  The last bit was a scrabble in waist deep snow but I was running on adrenaline and totally focused on reaching ‘my’ summit.  When I got to the top I sat there awestruck for an hour – I wish I could relay in words how amazing it felt.  I managed to find a picture online that kind of gives you an idea of the view…

Anyway, during my trip I ran my knee into the ground and when I got back from my travels it was well and truly shot. It must have taken me a good 2 years before I could properly run again 😦

In my frustration I took to the pool.  I have always loved the water, ever since I was a kid, but front crawl was never my strong point.  I would fight the water up and down the pool, trying to beat the water into submission – the water would ALWAYS win and I loved how utterly exhausted I could make myself in such a short period of time.

At some stage in 2004, a friend who was training for Ironman Switzerland, lent me a bike and we went out on a 3 hour training ride.  Being out on the road was awesome and almost immediately the idea on doing an Ironman started to form in my mind.  I entered Ironman Switzerland in 2005 still unable to run at that stage!  However, the miles on the bike helped build up the strength in my knee and I was able to start running again 🙂 OK I only managed to clock a max of 1hr running in the build up to Ironman Switzerland but it was enough – just.  I truly loved every single part of the process and the personal challenge it presented.  The raw emotion your go through when crossing that finish line is like nothing else.  Just stand at the finish line of an Ironman and you will see what I mean.

So that is me and my journey from semi-pro rugby player to the triathlete I am today.  If you told me in 2005 that I would have gone on to finish 13 Ironman distance races, almost die in a serious crash during an Ironman, clock a sub 9hr time and qualify for Kona I would have NEVER NEVER believed you.  The whole lot sounds totally crazy!

Back to ‘the decision’ at hand.  I have found myself in a very similar position to the one that faced back in 2002.  To this day, I don’t think I had what it took to make the step up to the next level, from National One to The Premiership. This may sound strange but it sort of feels like my performances to date put me in the ‘National One’ league.  In 2002 I walked away from Rugby thinking I had reached the very limit of my ability.  One thing my journey over the last few years has taught me, is just because you think have reached you limit, does not mean that you actually have.  I still find myself breaking PB’s I thought I never had a chance of beating and have just come back from a weeks training camp where I smash what I thought were my limits to pieces.

So this time around I am going to make the jump for ‘The Premiership’ – what happens after that….. well I will give it my everything and see where I land?  My first race as a pro athlete will be Challenge Copenhagen on August 12th 2012.  The very thought of it make me nervous and excited all at the same time.  A lot can go wrong in Ironman racing, I more than anyone should know that!  So I just hope it comes together and I am able to step up to the next level……

4 & 3/4 Peaks out of 5

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Running, Training
Chris Goodfellow's Zermatt 5 peak Challenge
The ‘Zermatt five peak challenge’ – In the aftermath of Kona, recovering from the race and shingles my mind started to look forward.  What was next?  The answer my brain came up with was the ‘Zermatt five peak challenge’.  This entailed running up to the top of every ski mountain in Zermatt.  It is not a formal event, just one crazy mans idea of a great day 🙂
I guess I will start with the broken nights sleep leading up to the run.  I found my self waking up every 30 mins looking out of the window checking the weather was still looking good.  I could not sleep much and time seemed to slow down, with the night going on forever, kind of like the night before a big race.  When the alarm did finally go off at 5am it really did feel like the middle of the night and as I got my self ready to head out, I did start to question what the hell I was doing.

It was a new moon as I left the flat, and as I slowly distanced myself from  Zermatt, it felt like I was entering a different world.  This world was totally silent except for the crunch of snow under my feet.  From time to time I would stop and take it all in.  I could hardly believe how utterly alone and isolated it felt running up the mountain in the dark.  I felt like an explorer with the unknown ahead of me and there was a mixture of apprehension and excitement.

Before reaching the top of the first peak (Rothorn) I had not seen a single thing move since I had left the flat.  Only at the top did I see the first sign of movement in the form of a chamoix.  It was amazing how still the mountains were and the very smallest movement of the chamoix caught my attention immediately, like a hawk focusing in on its prey.  I had hoped to watch the sun rise at the top of the first peak, but as I stood there staring into the expanse on darkness the sun was not showing any sign of hitting the peaks.  Heading back down the mountain towards Gant the sun finally kissed the top of the Matterhorn at ten to eight.  Magic does not even come close to the way the mountains look as the sun slowly spreads over them.  Having been running in darkness for almost 3 hours I was hypnotized by this view of the sunlight expanding across the vast mountain range on the other side of the valley.

The climb from Gant up to Hohtalli was tough, steep and cold.  Being north facing, the sun would not be hitting these slopes for a good couple of hours.  I had never run up to this peak before and it was the only real unknown of the days challenge (aside from doing each climb back to back of course!).  So I was relieved to reached the top around the 4 hour mark, still feeling in good shape 🙂

I then had a 20 minute down hill section heading towards Gornergrat.  The climb up to the third peak was a short 200m one and as I emerged into the sunlight for the first time that day I felt an new man.  I stood still for a few minutes just soaking up the view and then, re-energised by the sunlight, descended from Gornergrat with a bounce in my step soaking up the warmth of the sun 🙂  The clock read 4hrs 30mins.
By the time I reached Furi the downhill had taken its toll and mentally I was not is a good place.  The climb from Furi up to Scharzee is up through a beautiful valley but despite the view, the bounce in my step had gone.  Towards the end of this climb the clock passed the 6 hour mark.  This was the longest I had ever run and mentally was a difficult barrier to push through.  My body was still surprisingly in good shape and I was holding a good pace, but despite this, my mind was shot.  I reached the top of the forth peak and the clock was at 6hrs 15mins.   I did not have enough day light left to safely make it all the way to the top of the final peak.

I so very badly wanted to stop.  I was going to stop.  I was done.  4 out of 5 is not bad!  Why would I bother running any further given I could not make it to the last peak?  At that point I surprised myself.  I am not sure why or what happened but I found myself running down to Furg and up towards Trockner Steg.  This section is steep and packed with skiers.  I was expecting to find it tough, really tough.  But then out of no where, I had found a another gear! 🙂

I have to say, I honestly was enjoying every step.  The clock passed the 7 hour mark and the slope eased to a gentle gradient in the last few km to Trockne Steg.  This was to be the finish for today.  I found myself turning around and even running backwards as I starred at the mountains I had run up.  As is always the way, the view is always that much better when you have made it up there under your own steam.  Multiply that view by four peaks and you get some idea of how special this view was right at that moment.
I hit Trockner Steg and the time was 7hrs 12 mins and 2 secs.  4 and 3/4 peaks in one day.  Just in time for some lunch 😉

Zermatt Five Peak Challenge

Posted: December 9, 2011 in Iron Man, Training

What happened out in Kona?  This is a question that has gone around my head endlessly.

Looking back on the race, in the days that followed I could only explain my poor performance by my body’s inability to cope with the extreme heat.  However, this did not sit well with me.  I had put so much effort into trying to adjust my body to the heat in the build up to the race and it had been working well.  My body was adapting I was making major improvements in the heat training sessions that I had done.  I found it hard to believe that after all that effort I still ended up melting out there, but short of another explanation, this was the best I could come up with.

Eight days after the race I was still feeling utterly shattered.  Something was not right so I popped into the doctors for a quick check up.  It turned out that I had shingles.  Which, for me ended up being a few sores on my forehead, unusually low energy levels and swollen glands around my ear.  The drugs I was prescribed knocked it on the head pretty fast, but here is the question that has been with me since then. Did I have shingles before the race, or did I get shingles as a result of the trauma I was exposed to by doing an Ironman in temperatures that my body could not cope with?

The logical answer to this would be the latter of the two scenarios.  However, if I look back on the week building up to the race, I was already starting to show symptoms of shingles, in the form of few raised bumps on my forehead that eventually turned into the sores you associate with shingles.  The thing is, in my search for an explanation, it could just be my mind trying to find any possible sign, however tenuious, that could confirm I had shingles before the race and thus an explanation for the days events as they unfolded.  At the end of the day, it could just be my mind playing tricks on me and I honestly I don’t think I will ever know if it was shingles or the heat out in Kona that broke me.  I will just have to move on and let that one go.

I have a tendency to lose perspective on things sometimes, and let my drive to succeed blur things.  Adam Moore wrote some very kind and wise words after my last entry – “When I saw you were on your way Kona it did put a smile on my face and despite not knowing you that well I felt my self really egging you on to have a good race.  So despite the fact you are not entirely happy with the result (when are we ever!) I think on this occasion you don’t need to worry about it, because in my eyes you have won.. because after this incredible 17 month journey, you got to kona, completed the race and got the girl!!!”.  Adam, thank you for that reminder and help to keep things in perspective.  Like you said; after that crazy crash in Lanza, I made it to Kona, completed the race, AND GOT THE GIRL!!  Things don’t get much better than that.

So where do I go from here?  For me, the whole reason I ended up doing triathlon is because I truely love getting out there pushing my limits and enjoy every second doing it.  So I am going to carry on doing just that.

Over Christmas and New Year I am heading out to Zermatt again with my family.  Last Christmas I ran up and down three ski mountains in 6 hours.  However, it was only midday when I finished.  There was still a good 4hrs day light to play with so why stop at three?  There are five skiing peaks in Zermatt and this Christmas I going to try and run up all of them in one day!!!  The ‘ZERMATT FIVE PEAK CHALLENGE’: Rothorn (3103m) – Hohtalli (3286m) – Gornegrat (3090m) – Schwarzee (2583m) – Kl Matterhorn (3885m).  It is a crazy idea, I know, but I get excited at the very idea of this.  I will need to leave the chalet at around 4am and will probably reach the first peak around sunrise.  How cool does that sound!!  I have run up all of the peaks before and kind of know what to expect.  But like all of these crazy things, it is the journey and the unknown of it all that makes it all worth doing.

Can I make it?  Probably not, but I learnt a very long time ago, NEVER say NEVER.

Mountain Moments

Posted: January 12, 2011 in Running, Training

For those of you that know me well, you will be aware of my love of running up mountains.  It all started about 5 years ago.  I was in Zermatt for a skiing holiday and a friend of mine suggested we ran up the ski run for a laugh.I had been used to running around the village and down the valley on the roads.  It had never occurred to me that you would be able to run UP the ski runs.  As it turned out it was surprisingly easy to do.  During the night the snow bashers come out a groom the runs.  This leaves the runs in a perfect condition and provides a pretty decent amount of traction, even with regular trainers.

From the very first run up the mountain in Zermatt I was hooked and five years later words can’t really describe quite how much I love running up the Zermatt peaks.  Try and imagine you are in the mountains, surrounded by snow covered peaks and stunning views in every direction.  The sun has not quite come up yet, but there it just enough light to soak up the view.  The whole mountain is silent with a sense of calm. The air is so cold you can feel every breath enter your lungs as you leave the warmth of the flat.

As you start the run the severity of the slope hits hard.  The only way to approach the run is one step at a time.  As you slowly start to climb the mountain the sun rises and begins to kiss the peaks.  It is truly stunning, and moments like that make me feel alive to the very core.  It typically takes me about 45 mins to emerge through the tree line and by then the sun has started to spread over the slopes.  With the sun comes a surge of new found energy, for a while at least.  The final push for the top is always a tough one.  With the top in sight I always put in one final effort in an attempt to beat my previous PB.  Something I am still managing to do, to my surprise.  I think my first run from Zermatt (1600m) to Gornegrat (3100m) took me 2hrs.  Today my current PB is 1hr 39mins and dropping.  To be honest the time is irrelevant.  The views from the top are breath taking to say the least but running up somehow magnifies the view, making it almost magical.

This Christmas I found running up stupidly easy and started to think a little outside the box.  Why stop at one mountain?

In Zermatt there are essentially three ski mountains, so I decided I would run up and down all three, in one day…

The ‘ZERMATT THREE PEAK CHALLENGE’.

The plan was to run up to Rothorn, down to Gant and then up to Gornegrat.  From there I would head down to Furi and then up to Trockener Steg.  Strictly speaking the top of the last peak is Klein Matterhorn, but that is another 700m up and if the weather changes, causing the lift to close, the only way back down is by foot!  Not ideal to say the least.  So Trockener Steg (3100m) was my last ‘PEAK’.   The run would involve climbing 3300m and to be honest I had no idea if I would be able to get close to finishing it.  The way I figured it, I would just give it a crack and enjoy every second out on the mountain.

Below is a map of the ski area.

I set out on a perfect day; clear skies and fresh temperatures of around minus 10 DegC.  The run to Rothorn was an easy two hours and at the top I was feeling good and pretty positive about making the three peaks.  On the way down to Gant, the descent was steep and tough going on the legs.  By the time I started up to Gornegrat (2hrs 30mins into the run) my legs were starting to feel it.  I just put my head down and thought about the next few steps and soaked up the views.  I made it to Gornegrat in just over 3hrs 30mins.  By this time I had decided I would just head down to Furi and calling it a day.   An hour later I was at Furi.  My legs were shot and my mind was set of calling it a day.

This is where my stubborn nature kicked in.  I was broken and in no shape to attempt the 1100m climb to Trockener Steg.  But it was only 11.30am and it did just not feel right giving up.  So what did I decide to do?  Crack on up the mountain!  The next 1hr 30mins was tougher than any ironman run.  The slope was an icy black run full of people skiing down!  I have to admit, on a number of occasions I thought to myself ‘what the hell are you doing?’.  My sole focus became my next step, and this consumed my every thought as I slowly climbed the slope.

Finally, I reached the last section of the run which levels out to a nice steady incline.  It was soaked in the bright sunshine and I knew the run was in the bag!  Job done  🙂

It was 1pm when I reached Trockener Steg and it had taken me just under 6 hours.  I can still not really believe I managed the whole thing.  When you think about it, it seems crazy.  I think that is the key with challenges like this.  You don’t think about it, JUST DO IT!

Carli was there to meet me and that made it the trek up the three mountains worth every step.   We had an awesome lunch in the sun and trust me, food has NEVER tasted so good.

Looking back on the run, I think I could have made the final push for Klein Matterhorn (700m up).  A small part of me even considered it at the time, but only a very small part!  That will have to wait till next time, but for now ‘that’ll do’.

Running on Empty

Posted: September 2, 2010 in Running, Training

This is really turning out to be an unlucky year for me race wise.

The Trans Rockies Run turned out to be a very different experience to that which I had imagined.  The trip started out well with a smooth flight and travel up into the mountains.  I was feelling well rested and ready to push it hard over the coming week. That is certainly what I did, but not in the manor I had planned.  The day before the race I came down with a serious stomach bug and was pretty much unable to get out of bed.  Just walking the 500m to the race registration was more that I could handle.

The next morning I was feeling a bit better and positive I would be able to race.  This was not the case.  It became quickly apparent that I had very little to give and after about 6 miles I felt like I was at the end of an Ironman which had gone badly wrong.  I put my head down and struggled on through most of the run, but at mile 17 I pulled out of the stage.  I was well and truly broken and thought that if I wanted to stand a chance of completing the race I needed to call it a day.  The rest of the afternoon was a blurr and I think I passed out in my tent pretty soon after reaching camp.  I had not been able to eat a thing!  Never a good plan for a multi-day race.

Morning two of the race and I was feeling considerably better.  I tried to eat some breakfast but found this almost impossible.  Still, in my warped sense of reality, I was feeling positive I would be able to race.  Day two was only 14 miles and despite the 900m of climbing I was hopeful I would not be holding my team mate back too much.  I actually managed OK on the climb, and while I was only at around 40%, we made good progress relative to the other teams.  The descent was hard work for me as my legs were just dead weights.  The last 3 miles were relatively flat but it took pretty much everything I had to give to keep on running.  We crossed the finish line probably 15 minutes slower than my team mate would have hoped, but I was amazed to be crossing it at all.  Again I felt like I was at the end of a Ironman gone very horribly wrong!  Back at camp I tried to eat, but the little I was able to take on was just going straight through my system.  Still in my mind, I convinced myself I would be OK to race the 24 miles ahead of us in the morning.

Day three ended up being the toughest day of the week.  My body was truly broken and as we jogged down the first hill I knew it was going to be a very long day.  Nonetheless, I managed to make it through the first 10 miles in reasonably good time.  Then the wheels well and truly came off.  My stomach was so bloated I could barely jog and I could not really take on any food or drink.  The next 14 miles was a case of survival and simply making it to the finish line.  After quitting on day one I really did not want to repeat that again.  In the last mile I think I must have needed at least 4 loo stops.  Not a pretty sight and by the time I crossed the finish line I thought that my week was well and truly over.  I could just not imagine myself making it to the start line for stage 4 of the race.  Later on in the day I was able to eat my first proper meal for 4 days and the temporary cap on my front tooth fell off in the process.  Eating a dorito of all things!!!  Anyway, during the evening I was given the chance to swap team mates and race with a girl called Leslie.  The idea being that I could take it easy with her at the ‘back of the pack’, while Leslie’s team mate (a stronger runner) could race with Scott and save him from another day waiting for me.

Chilling at the back of the race ended up being a life saver.  For the first time since I started the race I could actually appreciate where I was and the people racing around me.  Both of which were awesome.  I think I talked non stop all day and was just loving every second out there in the mountains.  I was feeling more like myself with every step and to be honest did not really want the day to stop when we reached the finish.  When it did, things just kept on getting better with a pub by the finish serving cold drink and food, which I was able to eat.  Happy days!!!!!  Having eaten a proper meal in the evening I was really much more like my normal self and probably could have raced stage 5 with Scott at a decent pace.  However, I did not want to make the same mistake I had done over the first few days so opted to take it easy at the back, as I had done on stage 4.

Stage 5 was another awesome day out in the mountains and made even better by the people I was chatting to along the way.  Just as the previous day, I did not want the stage to end and I could feel a bounce come back into my step by the end of the day.  I was back 🙂

Stage 6 and the final day of racing.  I knew I was back to full health now and was confident I could race all out.  The plan had been always to race the last day with Scott and I was just glad to be doing so, feeling 100% better.  As we all lined up at the start of stage 6 it really did feel like the first day of racing to me.  We went hard from the gun and it felt great to be bouncing, not crawling, up the mountain again.  The day flew by, as did the 20 miles and 2000m we climbed.  We came home in 3hrs 39mins and I think were the first non professional team home.  It was a great way to finish the race and at least showed ourselves what we could have done had I not been ill.  Maybe next year 😉

Massive thanks for all the help and support from everybody during the week.  It was an amazing event to be part of but was made legendary by the people doing it.