Archive for the ‘Triathlon’ 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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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

New Kid on the Block…

Posted: July 6, 2012 in Iron Man, Triathlon

That is a kind of how I am feeling right now.  I am guessing most people in the ‘tri world’ will have never really heard of me before the OUTLAW and it is kind of cool to see my name being mentioned in the UK triathlon websites after the race at the weekend 🙂

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This was my first big race of the year and in the months leading up to the race things in training had been going well.  This always makes me nervous leading into a big race, because I worry about putting pen to paper as it were, and transferring good form in training into an actual result.  It is one thing to say ‘you are in good form’ and another thing to actually deliver on the day.  Time and time again in previous races I have failed to deliver the goods, but this time around things felt different.  I started to really believe I WOULD not could deliver on the day.

It then all went horribly wrong.  Monday – before the OUTLAW I got hit but vomiting and diarrhea in the very extreme.  On Tuesday I was a complete mess and spent most of the day in bed.  Mentally I was shot – convince I would not be able to race on the weekend.  BUT, the body is amazingly resilient machine and come Wednesday I was feeling back to normal.  The next battle was in my mind, to hunt out those demons of doubt and crash them.  It took time but come Friday afternoon I was back – physically and maybe more importantly mentally ready for the race on the weekend.

I had seen the press about Harry Wiltshire racing and having looked at his stats from UK 70.3 2012, I was guessing he would put at least 5-6mins into me on the swim.  I was convinced he would not put any time into me on the bike.  That meant if I was right, it was going to come down to the run.

In nearly every single triathlon race I have ever done I have ALWAYS lost places on the run.  It has happened with such regularity that I have come to expect it.  This has made we mentally soft out on the run course, where I am simply trying to ‘hold on’ to the position my swim – bike has put me in, with no thought of catching the guy(s) in front.  No way to race.

The way I see it is this – My running is not that bad, I just need to have BELIEF that I can RUN WELL and catch the man in front of me.  My mum sent me a text that afternoon which I think I will remember for a long time.  It simply said – “believe you can fly!”  It struck a real cord and although I have to admit R Kelly “I believe I can fly” is not the most motivational song in the world, I made a mental note of taking that thought we me – BELIEVE YOU CAN FLY CHRIS, BELIEVE YOU CAN FLY!!!!!.

THE RACE……

The swim was solid.  I could see a swimmer shooting off the front who I guessed would be Harry.  I am not a fast starter, so I slowly worked my way through to the front of second lead group.  At the turn around the group was down to three.  The return leg was SLOW going.  I spent my time just trying to stay relaxed and not push to hard. I was out of the water in 54:30 and had a slow transition of almost 3 mins (really got to work on speeding up my T1).  I hit the road 7mins down on Harry. 

As I headed out on the bike I have to say I really did not feel that good.  In previous races, I normally feel MUCH more comfortable at this stage.  Instead of worrying about it, I focused my thoughts firmly on the road, staying smooth and relaxed.  I was confident my legs would wake up eventually – they did.  After being out on the road for about 1hr a camera crew pulled up along side me on a motorbike.  I have never been filmed while racing before and it is the most surreal feeling in the world.  At times the cameraman was leaning right down and the camera can only have been a couple a feet away.  At that point I was on a fast section of road and all this was happening at speeds of 25 to 30mph!!  It kind of felt like you should look into the camera and wave or something.  But of course you need to keep your eyes firmly on the road in front of you!  After a few minutes I was please to see the camera crew head off and allow me to fully focus on the road in front of me, and the race at hand.  As it turns out, I would see a lot more of them as the day went on!

The next few hours on the bike passed quickly and other than the odd visit from my ‘friends’ the camera crew I was solo out there on the road.  This course has a lot of left and rights and made me nervous about taking a wrong turn!  For those of you who know me, I am sure you will vouch that if any one is going to take a wrong turn on a bike course it will be me.  I am a complete idiot sometimes and have taken wrong turns in numerous races in the past.  I had planned to drive the course in the early afternoon, the day before the race.  But having been kept up till 3am the night before due to a 21st Birthday party and disco meters away from our room I made the call to get in an afternoon nap instead of driving the course.  I had checked the course out using google maps and hoped the signs would be idiot proof (they would need to be!).  It turns out that they were.  Massive thanks to the ‘sign man’ who must have put up hundreds out there – I owe you a beer or two 🙂

As I crossed into the 4hr mark and the end of the bike course I was still feeling solid and the legs were holding power at ‘race pace’.  It was going to be a slower bike split than I had expected, 4:50ish, but man it had been windy out there!  Some of the strongest winds I have ridden in for some time and driving into those head winds was HARD!  Very glad to be riding the ENVE 8.9’s wheels in conditions like that.  These deep rim wheels have been specifically designed to cope with strong cross winds and trust me, they do!

With about 10 miles to go, I backed off the power and started to mentally prepare myself for the run.  As far as I was concerned, this was where the race was going to start.  Coming out of T2 I got the news I was 7mins down, so my race prediction thus far had been pretty much bang on the money.

I felt fantastic.  The best I have ever felt coming out of T2 in an Ironman distance race!!  I was light on my feet and without pushing at all found myself running at 3:55/km pace up the reservoir.  Turning to come back towards the start you were greeted by a huge head wind.  Suddenly the air seemed to thicken up.  Runner always take about hitting ‘the wall’, well the only way I can describe running into this head wind was like running into a brick wall.  Thankfully as you left the reservoir and went onto the trail into town you finally got some shelter from this wall of wind.  

At the stage of the run I was still feeling strong.  Relaxed with one sole focus in my mind – catching the man in front.  For the first time ever, I did not give a seconds thought to the people behind me.  As I neared the turn around point at the town hall I crossed paths with Harry for the first time.  I made a mental note of where we had crossed and it took me 5mins to reach that point again.  I had made up 2 mins in about 10km!  We had 32km of the run left.  At this point, and probably for the first time ever in a triathlon run – I BELIEVED in myself and that I would ‘catch the man in front’.  The return leg back to the res. went very quickly and I was soon running into that wall of wind again.  As I reached Carli I found out the gap was back up to 6mins 50secs.  I had been running well so he must have put in a big burst in the last 5km.  Back to square one.  Still, there was plenty of running left.

For the remainder of the run I continued to push as hard as I could, but the wheels were slowly coming off.  I think the gap stayed at around 7mins for nearly the rest of the race.  I think I knew, with about 10km to go, it was unlikely that I would catch him.  But part of me still held onto that belief.  My body was really struggling, but my mind was in a positive state telling my body to pipe down – keep pushing, anything can happen!

As I hit the res. for the last time I put in one final surge in the hope that he might cramp up and have to walk.  The last few km were into the wall of wind.  I was in a lot of pain and running as hard as I could.  I had the camera crew with me again for that last final run in.  I was pulling all sorts of faces and running with my eyes closed quite a bit.  I tried to picture myself running up the mountains in Zermatt and this kind of helped take my mind off the pain.  I think I made up a couple mins in the last 3-4km but it ended up being to little to late.

It is always a great feeling running down the finishing chute.  This one though, was a little bit more special.  It had been a near perfect day – almost.  OK, it would have been a fairly tale ending if I had managed to take the lead and win, but to just be in the mix and part of ‘the race’ left me walking away from today a very happy man.  I have COMPLETED 14 Ironman distance races over the last 7 years and I can honestly say that this was the very first time I have actually RACED one!

Hats off to Mr Wiltshire – awesome performance out there and thanks for making it a great race.  To the OUTLAW team – guys thank you for making the event such a success.  It must have taken a huge amount of work but it all paid off – awesome event.

I was a little disappointed I could not make the prize giving the next day.  It would have been nice to be able to thank everyone personally, but I had to be back at work 😦

Not one to dwell on the past to much I have got a weeks R & R, then I start ramping things back up ready for Challenge Copenhagen 2012.   Time to make that jump…….

By the way – For any of you that might be interested in seeing my ugly mug running around in lycra, the OUTLAW will be showing on Channel 4 on Sunday 12 August, ironically the same day a Challenge Copenhagen.  I will have to sky plus that one!

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……

Getting ready for the heat in Kona

Posted: September 22, 2011 in Iron Man, Triathlon

The race at Challenge Copenhagen feels like a lifetime away and it’s hard to believe I am heading off to Kona tomorrow.

So much has gone on in the aftermath of breaking the 9 hour IM barrier.  To start with, one week after the race  in Copenhagen, I clocked 1hr 48mins for a 50 mile TT winning by over 4 minutes.  What really surprised me was how easy it felt.  Can not really explain that one.  I guess that with all this training you naturally go through cyclic peaks and troughs, with the aim being to peak in synch with your ‘A’ races.  Guess my peak came a week late in this cycle!  What followed on from this was a massive trough.
I got a terrible throat infection that meant I was not really able to eat for 3-4 days and was totally out of action for 1 week.  This was kind of like a blessing in disguise really.  The enforced weeks rest had allowed my muscles to fully recover and when I did finally get back on the bike, I felt absolutely AMAZING.  Happy days 🙂 (more…)
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.  But one thing is certain, it is always one hell of a ride.
Over the last 15 months I think I have just about experienced every type of emotion possible.  The crash in Lanzarote started it all off and if I am honest I am not really sure what I was feeling.  I don’t think my mind was in any state to really ‘feel’ anything.  In the aftermath all I can recall is this intense anger and frustration.  My response to this was to channel all this raw emotion into my training and recovery.  I was solely focused on getting back to racing and this focus consumed me, to the point that I was missing the things that really matter in life.
I had entered both Challenge Barcelona and Ironman Mexico with the goal of going sub 9 hours in both races.
Challenge Barcelona was emotional to say the least.  Standing on the start line watching the sun rise I just felt happy to be alive and lucky, so very lucky to have been able to find my way back to full fitness.  I wish I could explain in words what crossing that finish line meant to me.  It was like I had been going through the last few months with a red mist blurring my view of things and the process of completing that race slowly allowed that red mist to lift.  Hard to explain.  The finish time (9hrs 26mins) that day was not really what I had been aiming for but I let it go.  Always next time.  Next time being Ironman Mexico.  But as is often the way in sport, things did not quite go to plan and while I was happy with the result (9hrs 23mins & a slot for Kona) I felt like I had not performed to the best of my ability.  This bugged me.  I knew I was better than that.  I just did not have the performance to prove it.

With Kona scheduled at the end of my 2011 season, many people might have expected me not to race much in the build up.  The thing is, I still had a lot of unfinished business and did not want to leave it to be put right in Kona.  I really want to be able to enjoy Kona and not worry about the result.  I know I am probably going to melt on the run and just want to go there, soak up the experience with no pressure on my shoulders.
Instead I put that pressure on both Ironman Switzerland and Challenge Copenhagen with the hope I might at least in one of the races do myself proud.  Things in Ironman Switzerland did not go to plan. I clocked 9hrs 33mins and was frustrated to produce another performance that I felt was below par.  After the race I spent alot of time analyzing why things had gone wrong and put together a detailed race plan for Challenge Copenhagen that hopefully addressed all those issues.
In my last four Ironman distance races I had clocked 9:34, 9:26, 9:23, 9:33 and I was beginning to loose faith in whether I would ever actually make it under 9 hours at all.
Going into Challenge Copenhagen I can honestly say that I was not thinking about breaking 9 hours.  After the last four races I just wanted to have a solid race and a result I could be proud of.  Things started well and I clocked a 52mins swim.  I had felt smooth, comfortable and happy with the pace.  The bike took you through Copenhagen centre and I took it very easy in this section.  As the route headed north I started to up the anti.

By the end of the first lap I was bang on the race plan of 280 watts average and feeling very comfortable.  Second lap went well, I picked the cadence up a bit on the climbs and with 20km to go the power had only dropped slightly to 273 Watts average.  At this point I made a big call. I was still feeling good but I backed the pace right down.  Freewheeling the descents and putting minimal effort in on the flats.
This probably meant I was 5 minutes slower into T2 but I was hoping it would allow me to hit the run with at least a chance of running well???
Out of T2 on the run I was feeling OK.  The 4m40sec/km pace I hoped to hold felt refreshingly comfortable but for some reason I was not in a great place mentally.  I think I was expecting to blow up at any point.  But as the marathon progressed to my surprise I was still holding pace.  Two laps down and I was still expecting to blow up but didn’t.  One lap to go and even then I thought, ‘things like this just don’t work out, I am never going to make it below 9hrs’.  5km to go and still I was convinced I would come home in 9hr 05mins.
Like I said my maths is rubbish.  I had 12mins and 3km to go!! I thought F**k it.  If I blow up now so be it, but I am going to ‘sprint’ at my very limit until I do.  The rest was a blur of pain.  I only knew I was going to do this when i was within 5 meters of the finish line.  That is how close things were!!
As I crossed the line I was consumed with emotion.  The culmination of the last six years training and focus was all there in that moment and it is one I will remember for the rest of my life.