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

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

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

Challenge Roth 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Forestman

Posted: June 26, 2013 in Iron Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BIKE

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

Forestman bike

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

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

THE RUN

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

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

Forestman run

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

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

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

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

Forestman prize giving

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

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

The Goal Posts…

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

IM Switzerland 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenge Henley 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jump

Posted: August 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The final break down:

Swim 51:13   Position 8th

T1 2:35  Position 14th

Bike 4:41:00  Position 4th

T2 1:46  Position 8th

Run 3:10:34  Position 9th

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

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 🙂

tri247

beyondgoinglong

trifinder

triathlete-europe

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……