I’m writing this now having finished my last main event of the year. It’s been a brilliant year for me, I’ve learnt so much, met some great people and got fitter than I ever thought I could. I wanted to wait until now to have a good overall perspective. This is a long post for me. Bear with it.
End of 2015
At the end of part 1 I explained how I had gotten a little bored and was looking at a new challenge. I didn’t want to go back to bunch racing due to the risks. I was finding the training for Time Trialling a little dull.
I’d been to Aerocoach for a session there to get me more aero, resulting in potential savings of around 30 seconds over 10 miles, however I never got to ride the new position on the road as I managed to defect my bike before I got chance. The frameset went before I thought to measure the position up exactly.
I bought a new PDQ frame and forks and built it up. It certainly looked the part. But as we’ll see later looks aren’t everything. I was poorly advised on the size I needed but this wasn’t apparent at first. I thought ‘GREAT! I’m going to be mega fast on this thing!
Having discussed options and goals with Garry from Sportstest we decided to go large or go home.
My injuries and subsequent metalwork over the years had really put a dampener on my ambitions, I never thought that I’d be able to run particularly well or swim, well, at all.
However, we decided to look at Triathlon. I also took on full time coaching with Garry. This was a massive decision for me financially but it made a lot of sense. I wouldn’t have the worry about fitting the training in around work/family commitments and even then, wondering if I was using that time effectively.
What I learnt-
- New goals can seem daunting but at the same time exciting. They can renew enthusiasm immensely.
- Measure your bike accurately when it is set up how you want, and keep a record of those measurements, just in case.
We were starting pretty much from scratch, I could barely run and couldn’t swim a length of a 25 metre pool without half drowning.
Rather than the Cycle test I was booked in for, we decided that I would go away for a few weeks, work on some basic strength and conditioning exercises to prepare me for run training before returning for a run test.
During the run test the first two sections were steady state but even during these I was struggling. Then the ramp test… If I thought that the cycling ramp test was hell, nothing could have prepared me for the fresh hell of a cycling ramp test!
The results were no surprise in that they were incredibly similar to my first cycling test in 2014. I was blowing out of my backside at a very low speed. No fat burning was going on, I was just blitzing through my glycogen at anything more than a walk. I was anaerobic at anything above a Dad-Jog.
From the test, my training zones were set and my training was then to be set week by week.
What I learnt-
- Bike fitness bears little relation to run fitness
- If you’ve never been a runner, don’t overdo it even if you feel fit enough. You need to make sure that your joints are up to it. There is loads on the web about running conditioning exercises.
I also started swimming. There was no great structure to these sessions other than actually aiming for one full length, then two, and so on. I studied numerous Youtube Videos and the Swim Smooth website to pick up pointers then one day something clicked and I went from 2 lengths in one go without stopping to 400 metres then a couple of weeks later my first mile. I was still incredibly slow but what I was pleased with was the effect it was having on my day to day living. I was getting less back and shoulder pain as the deeper muscles of my shoulders and back were getting a good, low impact workout.
What I learnt-
- If you have any back or shoulder injuries, get swimming!
- Bike or run fitness does not equate to swimming speed. Technique is king.
My first early season goal was a Duathlon, the Dambuster based at Rutland Water. This was a precursor really to an event in the Autumn, the Vitruvian Triathlon, a half IM based on the same course. There were no expectations whatsoever.
I’d started doing a couple of run interval sessions and brick sessions to get my body used to the change from run to bike and vice versa. In the build up Garry had been really careful to avoid me becoming injured but I picked up a bit of an ankle injury, it became quite sore after each session. We rested it a week until the Dambuster, thinking it was running related.
The Dambuster course featured a pretty flat run but a hilly bike course. As it was my first multisport event I mithered Garry relentlessly for some hints and tips. One thing was clear. I was overthinking things considerably.
We kept it simple which works for me. I was apprehensive about my ankle and the fact that due to the breaking strain of a kit-kat, I’d put on a fair bit of beef over the winter.
On the day of the race the weather was horrendous- sleet, 2 deg C with wind chill of -10 on the bike. Again I was worried but I just had to man up. It was the same for everybody and I just had to make sure I was attired correctly.
The event was a shock to the system. by the end of the first kilometre’s running it was clear that I was a very poor runner, aside from the ankle being sore I just really was bad. I soon dropped off and arrived at transition in last place in my Age Group. However. I had just done a 10km PB at 55:18.
Once I arrived in transition I went to take a swig of water from the bottle on my bike. It was empty. The bottle had split. I set off, pre-warned by Garry to pace myself and not get giddy overtaking people. I was cramping straight away, the bike section was a delicate balance of trying to push on but not induce the cramp. I made up 83 places overall on the bike leg despite being disappointed with my time of 1:18:46, just shy of 20mph average.
During the final run I dug deep and managed to withstand the agonising cramp and ankle pain, only losing 4 places overall, the last 5k taking 25:05.
I finished completely empty but absolutely buzzing. I was rubbish yet better than I’d ever expected, finishing in the middle third of the field. There were quite a few DNFs due to the conditions and I was glad I stuck it out.
What I learnt-
- An experienced coach isn’t just there for training sessions, they can help enormously with logistical and mental prep for events.
- Check your equipment before using it
- Don’t be put off by bad conditions, they can work to your advantage
The atmosphere at the event was excellent. The organisation very slick. I was happy at the direction I was taking with my training and goals.
After the Dambuster I went to see a physio called Jamal at Lilleshall National Sports Centre. There were initial concerns that there was an actual tear to one of the tendons on the outside of my ankle but thankfully Jamal said it just needed rest and rehab exercises. These worked wonders and I got to the bottom of the cause too. It was the set up on my TT bike.
I’d spaced the crankset incorrectly meaning that my right leg was reaching out further than it should. A quick fix.
What was curious was that I had been struggling with results despite some really good power PBs on the bike. I got a small PB on one of my target TTs, the fabulous Beacon Little Mountain Time Trial but I was lighter and power was up a lot. I got VERY frustrated, not least I felt that I’d wasted the sizeable sum I’d invested at the Aerocoach session last winter. To cap it all I was lucky enough to get a start in a midweek 10 at the very fast course in Hull and despite another power PB my time was terrible, by far the slowest I’d gone on there. The only explanation being that I was as aerodynamically efficient as breeze block.
I borrowed Garry’s Cervelo P5 for a couple of events, one was a 25TT which I PBd at despite horrendous conditions, the other the Tour of Cambridgeshire Chrono, a closed road qualifier for the UCI world Masters TT Champs.
Garry’s bike felt right for me straight away, with only a minor adjustment for saddle height needed. The front end was a fair bit higher than mine, it felt great. I performed better at the Chrono than some other riders who normally beat me.
I really enjoyed the experience of the event however the course was a little, well, dull. I’m not sure whether I’ll ride it again. It was a little frustrating that I was drafted pretty much the whole way round by a guy I overtook after about 5 minutes.
I measured up to the millimeter and attempted to recreate the same position on my own bike. I could get it there with the help of a guy I had become acquainted with from the Bikeradar and TT internet forums, Andrew Tomkins. But it wasn’t pretty, it involved 90mm of spacers under the base bar, and the base bar was still too low for me. But it would do. It measured within a couple of mm of Garry’s P5 now.
What I learnt-
- Lower isn’t always quicker. It can be considerably slower if you can’t get your head into a good position with a low body.
- Even with closed roads it’s difficult mentally to take the fastest line through a right hand corner.
- Cervelo P5s with Dura Ace Di2 are amazing and garner quite a bit of attention at events.
Training moved on towards my first tri, the Castle series at Cholmondley Castle in June. It mainly consisted of endurance paced runs and a mix of endurance and threshold sessions on the bike.
I swam when I could, and I did my first ever Open Water swimming session at a place very local to me – Boundary Park, organised by USwim. The set up was amazing and it was only 2 minutes away from me. Why had I never tried this before? I loved it. A fantastic atmosphere.
I got some really good pointers from the staff there and, as predicted, after the initial panic attack (true story) when I started I got into it, building up to the 1900m I would be required to swim at the Tri. I was really pleased how I’d come on.
I went back to Garry for a Running Test, I’d made big improvements to my endurance and Garry noticed my running form had improved from Lego Man to Passable. I’d also lost a fair chunk of fat. I was burning more fat at 10kph in this test than I had been at 8kph in the first test. My Endurance Heart rate zone had increased by a not inconsiderable 9 bpm.
When the Castle Tri approached I recce’d the bike route, it was 3 laps of an undulating, twisting course, a fair bit of which was on narrow lanes. It was, however, very scenic. There were a couple of climbs in particular I made note of, so I knew I could go quite hard up them and get chance for some recovery on the other side. Due to the undulating nature of the course and the fact I wouldn’t be at particularly high speeds I decided to use my Carbon 60mm clincher Wheelsmith front wheel rather than the Hed Trispoke. I also decided to use my rear disc though because I like the noise and it’s bloomin light with a SRAM Red cassette on. Paul Bonner from Bikes n Gear in Knutsford did me a massive favour and stuck some Stan’s sealant in the tubular for me. It gave me a lot of confidence.
After receiving numerous pointers from Garry about the logistics of a half iron distance event (mainly consisting of paring back – ‘what the hell do you need all that for on your bike?! was heard when I told him what I’d stuck on it) I was ready.
Registration took place the night before, brilliantly organised, and it was great to catch up with one of the guys who really inspires me, Steve Berry.
On the morning of the race the weather gods shone brightly, it was a most pleasant morning. Having been used to the very pleasant set up at Boundary Park I have to admit, getting in to the water at Cholmondley was grim. I’m such a softie when it comes to this but getting me feet into deep weeds and not being able to see my hands in the water freaked me out somewhat. I made sure that I acclimatised as I’d been told at USwim and others by getting right in, putting my face in the water and blowing bubbles. I had that awful panic again but after a few times I calmed down and was ready.
As we set off all the sediment got kicked up and I found myself gagging a few times but I cracked on, making sure that my sighting was ok (this was a big issue for me, I keep wandering off line due to imbalances).
The swim went well actually, my fastest pace yet for any distance. I was glad of the ‘Australian Beach Exit’ half way round though, despite banging my ribs rather firmly on the step out. It gave me a bit of a breather and a bit of confidence. I also saw that I was actually doing, well, ok.
I had no idea in the grand scheme of things where I was as I Jogged with those jelly legs to the bike transition.
I set off steadily on the bike and found myself flying past people. The bike leg went very well for me. My power was good, my position on the bike felt good and at the end of the first lap I was glad to see I’d clocked over 20mph average.
On the second lap we picked up riders from some of the other shorter events which gave me more impetus as I passed them. When I finally got back to transition, pretty damned pleased, there were hardly any bikes there! I Was a bit worried I’d messed up.
I set off on the run for the first of 3 laps and BANG! Cramp straight away. This was not good seeing as I had to run for quite some distance. In fact I’d only ever run a half marathon once before, in 2003, at a jog when I started to try and lose weight. I grimaced and cracked on and after the first mile the legs loosened everything else felt pretty comfortable. As I headed up to the first feedstation where there was a 180 degree turn I saw Steve Berry on his second lap, this was great for me to see and really gave me a boost.
I’m glad I hadn’t recce’d the route as it involved a bit of a shocker at the back of the castle, a steep off road climb and descent. This completely wrecked the rhythm but in some ways broke the run up for me. As I passed near the spectator artea I was absolutely over the moon to see my wife, kids, sister and her kids there all cheering me on. This is the first time any family members had seen me race and I cannot understate the impact this had on me. Any pain washed away and I got goosebumps. It was amazing..
I hung on for grim death for the remaining two laps, discovering I very much like flat coke. I fought the cramps and kept looking at my time thinking ‘I’ve gone wrong here, no way!!’
As I came to the finish line my family were there cheering and shouting again. The feeling of euphoria was immense. I crossed the line, spent, got hugs off the family and went to check my results.
To say I was shocked is an understatement. Not only had I absolutely smashed my 6hr stretch goal but I’d finished top 10 in my Age Group, 9th in fact. I was gobsmacked. And instantly addicted. The only downside was that the run was short by a mile so I couldn’t claim my half marathon PB.
It gave me a really good grounding to work towards the Vitruvian Tri in September.
What I learnt-
- Triathlon is AWESOME. Friendly, well organised, challenging, rewarding.
- I was a lot better than I thought I was going to be.
- I only need two 500ml bottles on the bike and 4 gels. Don’t be put off by others who look like they’re taking part in an unsupported Race Across America attempt.
I had a great summer holiday with the family on holiday in Menorca, running most days and generally enjoying myself. Which resulted in quite a considerable weight gain.
One event I did which I’d done last year was the Wild Wales Challenge. A hilly ride in Wales organised by Merseyside CTC. The course changes each year and features roads you’d NEVER happen upon yourself unless by chance. I loved being fit for this as it meant I could actually enjoy the climbs and have energy to savour the descents rather than dreading that it meant it led to another steep hill. It’s very much a club event with the only prize being for the club with the highest amount of finishers.
Once back we recommenced a similar regime that led to the Castle. I still wasn’t making much headway with the swimming but bigger gains were to come at this time from running and consolidating my bike fitness.
I’d read about someone using a standard road fork and stem instead of the fully integrated front end on the same bike frame as mine. This would be a big deal in my attempt to get my position sorted without recourse to a new frame that I couldn’t afford. I ordered a cheap Deda fork and got it fitted with a 90mm stem. It was instantly better. I was easily able to replicate the position I’d got on Garry’s bike, the base bar was in a better position for handling and climbing and another bonus, a Dura Ace front brake rather than the weak integrated effort. A few training sessions on and I was confident this was the answer.
As previously mentioned, the Vitruvian Triathlon follows the same course as the Dambuster Duathlon, with 2 laps of the bike course and 2 laps-and-a-bit of the 10k run course. Despite the longer run and more climbing I had hopes of beating the 5:32. This was the national middle distance champs so there was a quality field.
As I registered and set my bike up in transition the night before I was mindful that the weather was going to be awful. It was most pleasant at that time but was forecast to start raining overnight. I saw a few people had put bags over their bikes. I had one of my Logistical Panics and rang Garry who reassurred with the rather obvious fact that the bike would get p!ss wet through the instant I sat on it after the swim and throughout the race…
I had a fantastic meal the night before at a restaurant in the town I was staying over at in Uppingham. Making sure I didn’t eat anything too heavy. I allowed myself one nice glass of white wine and half a gallon of water.
I got an early night but was repeatedly awoken by people leaving drinking establishments then the rain came. And my word did it come.
I got up at 5 to make sure I got to the event and make sure transition was set up properly before it shut at 6.30. I just had a little bowl of muesli at the hotel before heading out. It was absolutely pouring down on a biblical scale. There was no getting round the fact that I wasn’t going to dry out after the swim.
It was my first time racing in Sportstest colours too. My Nimblewear Trisuit had arrived just in time, in fact I picked it up en route to Uppingham the day before. You shouldn’t really race in something you’ve never tried before but the suit looked quality, so I thought sod it! However getting the tight suit on whilst getting rained on was quite an amusing challenge. Well, amusing for those watching me trying to get it over my damp shoulders anyway. I was only prevented from swearing by the presence of a child nearby. The talc I tried just got washed off by the deluge. It fitted perfectly if a little tight due to my excess baggage, the material felt FAR better than the Descente I’d worn at Cholmondley.
The lack of sleep was well and truly behind me and I was ready for the swim. There were 3 waves off before my age group and I was eager to get going.
My swim was not much different in terms of time to Cholmondley, however I was swimming faster but I was terrible at sighting this time due to the amount of people around me and the heavy rain so I did a bit further than I should. I was glad again of the small Australian Beach Exit.
Off out to transition knowing I was well down the field. As expected, everything was wet through but I didn’t really notice once I was off.
The difference in the bike set up was noticeable. I was more comfortable, power was good and I was cruising at a pace and the conditions weren’t really affecting me as I thought they would.. There were quite a few hold ups in traffic as motorists overtook without looking ahead to see that they had to brake sharply just in front of me for other riders. I kept it steady on the climbs and pushed on over the tops to get back up to speed, a method that worked well for me. My average speed was in fact 1mph faster than Dambuster, despite the fact it was twice the distance.
I’d chosen the Bambino helmet again, but foolishly I’d left it upside down in transition so the inside of the visor was wet through and it never really cleared properly. I ended up taking the visor off and stowing it using the magnets on top of the helmet. The visor promptly blew off when I did a quick check over my shoulder when overtaking and was never seen again.
I’d used the same nutrition strategy that stood me well at Cholmondley but due to the cold I hadn’t drunk quite as much.
On to the run I set off steadily, a bit of cramp initially and a few overtook me. However I started to feel more and more comfortable and built speed throughout. I actually and managed a negative split, doing my 2nd best ever 10k time in the second half. I overtook a fair few of those that had got past me early on the run.
This wan’t about finishing positions but improving on my Cholmondley performance and I’d improved on that in spades! Power was higher on the bike and my run time was pretty much the same as Cholmondley despite being 1.2km longer. I was very pleased indeed. Oh, and the Tri Suit was a resounding success.
What I learnt-
- A good night’s sleep is nice but not essential to good race performance. I think it has more of an effect long term/on recovery.
- Watch where you’re going whilst swimming!
- Don’t be put off by bad conditions (Have I said that before?)
- Knowledge of a course is a massive advantage. Knowing when and where to push on is key.
- Self belief is very powerful.
- Dura Ace brakes are fantastic, even on carbon rims in the wet.
- Bambino visor magnets are as effective as a jelly hammer.
Garry and I had a bit of a discussion. It was clear last winter I had stagnated so Garry suggested some winter events, or at least one event a month to keep me focused. I immediately suggested the Oulton Park Autumn Duathlon in early October, a qualifier for the 2017 European Champs. I also entered a couple of 10ks and a half marathon. in November.
As Oulton neared I had a couple of run speed work sessions and top end bike sessions. Training was going well and weight was coming off. I got a few comments from colleagues and friends that I had lost weight which is music to the ears of anyone into endurance sports!
I was really relaxed for the Oulton Park Duathlon. One of the aspects I was looking forward to was the circuit, to be bombing down Cascades Corner on my bike like I’d seen British Touring Cars do in my youth.
The weather was perfect. Sunny, not too warm and only a little wind. Registration and transition were a doddle, I loved the fact that Transition was in the pit lane. The race was slightly shorter than ‘standard’ distance at 9k run, 39k bike, 4.5k run.
Off we went and I felt great, yes I’m not a fast runner (yet) but for the 1st run I set my fastest pace ever for anything over 5k.
The bike was (mostly) a joy. I posted the 4th fastest split in my Age Group. averaging over 24mph. I wasn’t disappointed by the circuit. Cascades was a hoot and the banked hairpin was fun too. There are a couple of short sharp rises on the circuit that after about 5 laps start to really hurt. The tarmac surface though, sublime! One observation was the difficulty avoiding drafting. With 9 laps and a field of over 300 it was hard to keep moving line and avoid getting boxed in. Thankfully I did OK and avoided any penalties.
The 2nd run brought about my usual cramps but I hung on, ran a faster pace than my first run and finished in a touch over 2hrs. In fact it was a faster pace than my 5km PB. I finsihed with my legs seizing and reached for my much deserved Erdinger AlcoholFrei awaiting me. I’d finished in the top quarter of the field and had a great day out.
I’m still waiting news of a possible roll down spot at the European champs.
What I Learnt-
- Motor Racing Circuits are AMAZING for riding a bike on
- Being relaxed about an event can be of benefit. I still had expectations of myself but I think the difference was confidence. I went in with some self-belief.
- I lost a lot of time to those at the sharp end on the run. A LOT.
- I need focus on running over the winter
- I need to lose weight over the winter
Going Forward to Winter and 2017
As I said at the start, I’ve loved training and racing in 2016 once I’d got my early injury worry and my bike issue out of the way. Garry has been absolutely brilliant at dealing with my comical meltdowns and sorting my training out.
I have saved up over the last 12 months for another session with Aerocoach in December, I’m really looking forward to that. November is going to bring my first ever stand alone 10k run. I’m determined to get well under 50 minutes in that.
I’ll be retesting soon so I’ll post about that too. I’m just having a bit of a week off, We will then set some clear aims over the winter, and the blog posts will be more frequent and (substantially) shorter and more about what I’m up to than an overview.