Professional Ironman Triathlete

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Dealing with early season SAD

Back in November, I was supposed to be in Tempe, USA, racing Ironman Arizona, but instead I was starting off-season, side-lined and in rehab due to a flare up with a run. Adding to that the lack of sunshine in November and December in the UK I was planning for a few real grumpy weeks, much to the dismay of my wife!

To combat this, I put a rehab plan in place, set aside time for 'constructive' off-season (and a belated honeymoon), but that still left the fact that my body likes when the days are short, cold and wet.

So I signed up for a trial with Lumie. They sent me a Lumie Bodyclock Active to see if it can shake me out of my early off-season blues and give me some mojo back in spite of the onset of winter.

The Lumie Bodyclock is based on ‘light therapy’ and is designed to help make waking up less of a shock to the system and can help Seasonal Affected Disorder sufferers. I’d heard good reports about it and was interested in trying it out.

It arrived on a dreary Monday morning. It looks like a half sun, and fades in the evenings over a pre-set time like a sunset (which I’m using to tell my wife that its time to stop talking and actually go to sleep!), and then gradually comes on again like sunrise ahead of your wake up call. At the moment we’ve got a beach vibe going on with some gently lapping waves to get up to. Very calming, and I finally trust it enough to not set a back up alarm on my Timex or mobile.

The first couple of weeks we weren't quite in sync with the Bodyclock. My wake up times vary through the week due to work and training commitments, but even so I’ve not hit snooze yet... Even after 10 weeks, the lack of a set am wake up time probably means that it might not be as effective as it could be, but I find that most mornings I wake up before the alarm kicks in. No jarring buzzing needed - that's got to be a plus! There's the added benefit of not needing to look at the time in the early hours if I wake up and its dark - I've set the light to start coming on 20 mins before I have to be up, so without looking at the time I know whether I can go back to sleep or not without worrying.

I really like it. The gentle wake up makes me feel like I've woken up naturally rather than being startled into the day, and I haven't yet hit the snooze button. Its NOT any good for jetlag (you need a different model for that) but it might just put you in a better mood for those early season training sessions.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Ironman UK 2011 Race Report

Top line – for those of you who only read the highlights ;) Ironman UK – 8th Pro, with a PB marathon split of 2:48:53. That’s definitely moving in the right direction! Despite going 20 minutes quicker overall than last year, I still didn’t manage to crack the top five! Looks like the competition’s getting tougher…

Bolton once again was a great venue for the UK race – thanks to my homestay family (again!). Loving Ironman UK-style!

Here’s an article from Triathlete Magazine online for the race report details:

And because pictures say a thousand words…

At the top of Sheep House Lane:

...and running to an ironman marathon PB

Friday, 20 May 2011

The North Face Challenge 100km China

One step on the Great Wall

A view back over a flat section

Ming Tombs on the run route

7th May 2011

Definitely a ‘just for fun’ race for me, the North Face 100km China run near Beijing was a very late addition to the calendar. I received entry about 7 weeks ago, and even though I knew that I wouldn’t really get a chance to do any specific distance training or change my ironman training schedule to focus on the race, I still jumped at the chance. I’ve never been to Beijing and really wanted to see the Great Wall. Here was a race giving the opportunity to run on the Great Wall, through the Ming Tombs and surrounding mountains. Awesome.

With some trepidation I toed the start line at 4:30am, headlamp on, 100m climb up some stairs of the Great Wall just few yards away as the ‘warm up’ ahead of the 500m climb up a ruined section of the wall just around the next corner. I stuck with the lead group for this first 8kms, right up until about 300m up that first mountain, by which point I knew I was going far too hard. These 50kg ultra runners were FLYING up that mountain, and I knew it was time to let some of them go – otherwise I was in serious danger of ruining my chances of finishing. From then on, it became a much more solitary race. The 200 strong starting field had been spread out on the first section of the Great Wall, and that first mountain trail blew the field apart completely.

I hadn’t been anticipating quite how much of trail race this was going to be. With a 20km section of the Great Wall to run and being near northern suburbs of Beijing I had expected much more road and hard surfaces to contend with. I’d imagined stone and stairs. I’d not been wrong about that – there certainly were stairs and Wall, but about 60-70% of the course was on single track, (the ruined section being boulder track), and much of that was goat tracks up or down mountains and heavily foliaged brush trails which, had they not been marked, I’m not sure I would have found. It was a run, a scramble, a climb, and – more and more towards the latter half – a hike though the beautiful landscape north of Beijing, though small rural villages, remote orchards and fields, and through Chinese history: The Ming Tombs at 70kms (see photo) were a hidden gem, found somewhere between a gradual 5km climb on road and a 400m stair climb up the next mountain.
By the time I had reached the Ming Tombs I was in quite a bad state. The section from 40kms to 70kms was tough, both mentally and physically. I could no longer hold the ‘natural’ pace that I’d been enjoying in the earlier sections (barring the uphills!), and the constant steep climbing and – more importantly – descending on twisting, uneven and often loose surface trails had made my calves (up), quads and knees (down) really start to hurt. The walk-run strategy had really started to kick in.

By the 70km mark, I knew I would make it. There may be some walking, but I would get there somehow. There were also more runners on the course now as the 50km race course converged with ours there, so I fed off their motivation and numbers, enjoying having company again.

At the finish I knew I was properly broken as I could not even run the entire last kilometre without having a walking section. I’d gone much further than my training should have allowed and my body was telling me to stop. So with 10:45 on the clock and 10th place in the bag, I did just that.

But of course the next day we went sightseeing: 4 hours walking around the Forbidden City is a true test of how easy walking is (or isn’t). O yes, there are stairs in the Forbidden City too.
An AMAZING race. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The North Face Challenge 100km

This is what team mate Will Kelsay and I are up to this weekend: The Beijing leg of the North Face Challenge Series – of which Will is doing the 50km race and I am doing the 100km race – is taking place this Saturday.

Here's the course profile and maps

For me, the first 20km's is on the Great Wall of China, and the rest is in and around the nearby tombs, mountains and forests. The whole route should be stunning. Not only is it a 100km route, there's some aggressive climbs in there - like a 500m climb on the Great Wall in under 3kms (between km 9 and km 12). Sounds to me like that's just a set of stairs! In fact the whole profile looks more like an ECG than a route profile. There are 200 entrants running the 100km, 400 running the 50km (which Will is racing) and several thousand I think participate in the 10km which is around the reservoir where all three races finish.

Race day is Saturday 7th May. I have a 4:30am start, although the early start will be probably be a little irrelevant as I am not going to have any idea what time of day it is as we arrive on thursday morning for the saturday race. I am hoping that my brain will not get to Beijing before Sunday. Planning on wearing the GT for the race as it should capture some great data.

At the moment I'm trying to pack. So far, the Global Trainer is in the bag, with LOADS of Nathan products as I've not decided what to use yet, some PowerBar to keep me going, my On's, some BC compression socks and some run kit. Now back to packing...

Friday, 29 April 2011

Run Pace Normalising for Hills

So I tore myself away from the Royal Wedding coverage this morning for a 10mile run. This is a specific pace session, with a bit of a warm up then 10mile at 6min/miles. Ordinarily (over the winter at least) I’ve been doing this type of pace run on the treadmill for accuracy. But given the Royal holiday, access to treadmills today was a little limited (and indeed last weekend due to the Bank Holiday weekend too) so I’ve been getting out in the nicer weather and slogging it out on the roads.
The only problem with this is that around where I live is by no means flat. So, I strap on the trusty Global Trainer and head out for the run. With all the data that the GT collects, I did a little web surfing and found this article which suggests how to take into account ascents and descents:
The article’s author suggests that treadmill tests show that a 1% elevation means that per mile for a 5min/miler they should allow 10secs more per mile and that a 7:30 min/miler should allow 15 secs per mile more; and this is for every single % per mile. (52.8 feet per mile is 1%)
So this is what I’ve done:
The Global Trainer tells me that I’ve gained and lost (circular route) 1550 feet in total. So that’s 155 feet per mile, and at an estimated flat pace of 6min/mile, this amounts to a 3% grade or 36secs/mile extra due to the climbing. However, we need to add back in the descending – apparently you get back about 55% of the time of the climbs – so as you would expect, you do go slower over a hilly course compared to a flat course. This means that I’m left with a 16secs/mile handicap because of the hills.
My 6:28mins/mile pace through the rollers therefore works out at a ‘normalised’ 6:12mins/mile pace. Given that I was supposed to be running 6min/miles, I clearly slacked off a bit, but not as much as the actual pace suggested.
Its not a bad guestimate at how hills translate into flat pace – the GT data again proves itself invaluable.
But now I’m going to get back to the Royal Wedding highlights!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

FHM Editorial April 2011

Here's some editorial from FHM this month around the Virgin London Marathon.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Ironman South Africa Race Report

13th MPRO, 9:01

Port Elizabeth has to be among the most friendly Ironman races I've done – another cracking race put on by Triangle (who also run another of my favourites, Ironman Austria). Only there for a weekend, the warmth and generosity of the people there was as reliable as the weather was changeable.

But it wasn't just the locals that made this weekend a fun start to the season. As ever, the individuals participating in the race and some of the characters I met this weekend will make this a memorable event. Great times had – thanks to Dave, Kyle, Dominique, Clifford, Andi and to some older faces - Rachel, Ed and Sarah et al. Great to spend some time with you all in PE.

Race day the weather was a relative blessing compared to what it could have been. Despite a relatively calm swim, I struggled to hold form and pace in the water and exited the water minutes back on where I'd been hoping. That feeling of ticking over continued onto the bike, and then onto the run, where the heat and lack of top end was taking its toll physically and mentally. I'd counted near 40 bikes ahead at the first turnaround, and knew there was a lot of work to do, but had very little to give. I did start picking people off, but by lap two it was more and more difficult to keep tabs on position.

The run was flat and well supported. It annoyed me that I seemed to be wasting such good conditions ona mediocre day. I settled in though, pleased at least to be running, even if it was survival pacing, and focussed on finishing and picking up some Kona Points at the least, and not getting lapped by the Raynard and Andi who were cracking out course records there in PE.

Crossing the finish line I found out that I'd been too hard on myself, finally finding out that I'd placed 13th MPRO (note that one woman beat me, but that woman was Chrissie Wellington!). The British women had been having a stellar day with Chrissie and Rachel going 1,2; and a solid performance from Yvette who toughed out a rough day too.

In hindsight, I'm OK with the result. Yes, I wanted to go faster, but some days are just like that, ticking over the miles from one point to the next. As a benchmark, its the fastest early season race I've ever done (in fact the only early season race that has had a successful finish!), and it shows that the fitness is there, but perhaps the speed needs some work. A lot of new kit got tested out there in front of the roaring crowds of the Eastern Cape, and it all came through for me: the On's were light and fast, and their forgiving construction meant that even when midfoot landing wasn't working out (for most of the run thanks to some really tight legs), survival pace and some heel-toeing still got me to the line unscathed; the new Orbea Ordu performed to expectations, and she's a beauty; the new Sugoi race kit and the Orca 3.8 wettie are super-comfortable and sharp as; combined with the SBR Sports TriSlide the only chaffing I have is on my wrist from the Ironman wrist tag! Also notable was zero gut issues, even with the relative heat – I'm going to thank Neovite colostrum for that!

All in all, a solid early season race. A great starting point for great things later in the year. Now time for some recovery and a bike/swim block before a 100km run in China in 3 weeks. Bring it on!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Ironman Florida 2010 Race Report

I got to Panama City Beach on Tuesday night, about 6 hours later than anticipated thanks to a cancelled domestic flight with AA. Luckily I had a set of run kit and some swim trunks in my hand luggage as the rest of my luggage failed to appear with me. It finally arrived late Thursday night (ahead of a Saturday race) so I was guaranteed to be bike-rested at least J I wasn’t too upset by this however as most of Tuesday and Wednesday were monsoonal – not too cold but torrential rain, so I just snuck out in the occasional dry spell for a quick sea swim or run down the beach.

It seemed a fitting way to end the prep for the race – rounding out the general lack of consistent training in the previous few months. Recurrent run injury since IMUK had broken my motivation, bad planning with work offered too much of an excuse to skip training – to sum up, I’d had one good 10 day block of riding done in Lanza but was generally very underdone.
So I entered race week in a peculiar state of mind. Ironman is very mental – knowing your potential and aiming to achieve is a large part performing well on race day. But I can’t blag that – I get that confidence through consistent training, through performing on a daily and weekly basis. There’s only so long you can carry on racing on the fumes of good training in the distant past.

Some might say this is not a positive attitude and that I limited my performance by not believing enough in myself. And you’d be right. But my work ethic requires certain things - the tenet that I base training on is not on winging it. I wanted to teach myself a lesson. Some part of me wanted to hurt, to go through the motions of racing and do only as well as I deserved.

Race morning promised a bright, dry day, but holy cow it was cold. The sand burnt your feet it was so cold. The water, at 72 degF was pleasant and the best place to wait for race start. The swell had calmed down from the day before, but was still a factor. The buoys were certainly not in a straight line, causing a few interesting sighting issues. The gun went and all I can say for the swim was it went. I didn’t go hard, I didn’t fight for position, it was a pleasant, cruisy sea swim with a few detours when I missed a turn or was blinded swimming into the sun. The hardest part of it was the beach run halfway and the run into T1. T1 was LONG. Numb hands and feet made getting arm warmers on and gels into pockets a challenge: luckily the volunteers were awesome!

The first hour of the ride was COLD. So I found I pushed hard. Power numbers were high, but it kept me warm. I over took the first three women within the first 10miles, and another couple of male pros by mile 15. Then the roads got a little empty, but I was riding well and felt comfortable. Then a right turn came onto a back road that was shaded by trees. The temperature seemed to plummet and my teeth started chattering. I watched as my power dropped 40 watts as I started shaking. I gripped the aerobars a bit tighter, but could barely feel them.

And so started a big patch of nothing in the middle of the ride. It lasted approximately 3 hours. Even when I warmed up a bit, the power didn’t return. I was twiddling around at long easy ride wattages. I kept expecting a pack of age groupers to roll on past, but only a couple of guys came past in the whole period. A couple of turn around points helped put my position into perspective, and it wasn’t actually as bad as it was feeling.

The last hour or so, things seemed to pick up. After a long period battling into headwinds (which felt like the majority of the ride!) the ride back into town was an opportunity to pick the average speed up again, although the power numbers were actually still rubbish and still dropping. But I overtook a few people in the last hour, which always make you feel a bit better – especially after riding for so long without many people around.

Coming into T2 my hands and feet were still so numb that I couldn’t get my compression socks on. Again the volunteers were awesome, but even for them it was a challenge as I couldn’t feel my toes to know they were getting caught on the sock material.

Out onto the run, everything was hurting. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just tough it out for a couple of kms and it’ll ease off. But by mile one, the only thing that had eased off was the numbness in my feet, and the entirety of my lower legs felt like they were swollen, and tightness in the front of my calves was making running difficult. Added to that my lower back was killing from a long ride in the aero position without decent preparation for it… my run form must have looked very strange! I tried to keep going, focusing on cadence, but the after a couple more miles it was getting unbearable, so I started to stop and stretch fairly regularly and walked every aid station. By about mile 7 my legs had eased off and the lower back had eased out. By mile 9 I finally felt like I could get into my normal run pattern. But I was dreading heading back into town. The massive crowd support for a few miles either side of the race village meant that I had to smile. Normally I love interacting with the crowd and am more than happy to exchange words and joke around, I wasn’t really in the mood. I knew at any moment my lack of run fitness could bite back and all I wanted to do was take on calories and fluids to try to stop this. I’d been running with a PowerBar belt loaded with gels, and had used them all already, as well as picking up more at aid stations.

By the turnaround on the second lap, I needed to run under 7min miles to squeeze in under 9 hours. My pace had been drifting as fatigue kicked in properly and a few muscle groups decided to revolt. Even though it was a tough call, I wanted to hurt myself at least trying. This was going to be my lesson. I needed to learn that to do well at Ironman, I need to train accordingly and not just drift through and hope for a miracle. Passing the 23 mile mark at 8:40, I just thought 20minutes of pain (and then whatever change to the finish). And that’s what it was.

The result? 9:01:02, 18ht MPro. Man, that finishing shoot goes on for EVER. Disappointed? Not really, I got what I deserved. A day of hurt, lows and pain, and hopefully a valuable lesson learnt. Sometimes the best way to get back on track is to see how far off it you’ve gotten. I’d prefer to learn that lesson at the end of this season than in the middle of the next. Let’s hope I’ve taken it on board.

But congrats to Timex team mates Tamara who finished 4th FPro and Luis who finished his 70th Ironman (sic) and got his spot to Kona. Way to represent, guys!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Three top tens in three weekends Part 2: Ironman UK

Ironman UK 2010 Race Report

I came into IMUK with a different approach to IM Austria a few weeks before where everything went wrong. I changed my race prep completely, opting to keep volume 50% higher than the week prior to IMAustria and just generally keep training most of the way in. The thinking behind this was that I had rested too much before Austria, and actually I felt much more comfortable training at near normal levels into UK.

The race set up and the location of my homestay made this relatively easy. I went up by train on the Thursday to Bolton, to stay once again with one of my best mates from Uni’s parents – Ernie and Jean Roberts. Big thanks to them for having me again! They live a few miles north of Bolton, and this year the race organisers had moved T1 further South West than last year, kept T2 in roughly the same place, and had briefings at a third location. Without a car this meant that I stacked up 70kms just commuting to the race venues on the Friday, combined with a short bike of a course recce, and then another 25kms just going to rack on Saturday morning. Throw in a couple of swims and runs and I was ready to race!

But you could have fooled me… the Saturday night I was having a crisis of confidence that I’d messed up race prep again and my legs were so tight that I thought I was headed for another race day like at Austria. My poor long-suffering girlfriend had to deal with the fall-out on the phone on Saturday evening (sorry honey!).

Bolton was a bit drizzly on race weekend… perfect UK race conditions! But come race morning it was looking dry if overcast and patchy rain only was to be expected. Ernie drove me the 30 minutes to the race start early that morning, and dropped me off with the words “Hurry up, I’ve got things to do this afternoon” :) Yes, sir!
Ernie’s understated psychological coaching in that car journey had actually settled me substantially – his “don’t worry about something that hasn’t happened yet” advice was good, and I resolved to enjoy whatever the day threw at me.

Swim start and I knew I had better cruise the swim or pay the price. My over-tense legs are a good sign of impending cramping if I push too hard, so I swam easy, and then even easier as the familiar cramps started to kick off in my groin and quads. Less kicking, easy stroke. They passed. Second lap started and the group ahead had gapped substantially. There was open water, but Yvette was along side and going about the same pace so I dropped in behind her. Thanks Yvette! I sat on her feet for the entire lap until she kicked for the finish when I kept with the precautionary principle and got out steadily.

T1 came and went. Happily the field was well drained so there was no mud bath this year! First hour on the bike I felt good and solid, and the wattage was a little above target. But then I just felt flat and apart from the first hour (which was all uphill) that feeling of riding well didn’t really materialise and the average power for the ride was some 10 watts below target by the end. Perhaps I just started too hard, who knows. But what happened next is the interesting part: Having come off the bike in 14th, I had some places to make up.

Within the first 3 miles I moved up into 10th. Then I eased into a final position of 7th (6th MPRO) cracking out a 2:53 marathon. While the course was short, this was only a couple of minutes of Fraser’s and Stephen’s times, so I’m pretty stoked with that. No leg fatigue, no lower back ache. Something worked! There has been some experimenting with bike positioning (that I’ll probably talk about more later in the year), but I definitely think it is helping my running off the bike (thanks to Toby Jones).

Finally I’m getting the run split that I’ve been working for. Among the contributing factors as I see it: 1. The Running School ( – Michael has been coaching me on technique since February, and there have been some ups and downs – dealing with acute injury (April/May), dealing with chronic injury (the whole way and ongoing), deciding to bail on Weymouth half in order to maintain recovery etc etc. Not least is the fact that for a lot of this period I’ve been running on very low mileage weekly due to the injuries and trying to implement a sane recovery plan. Thanks to Michael! 2. Bike position – what the trade off in bike time vs gain in run time is I don’t know, but just wait til I settle into that ride position! 3. TPT footballer… this was sent through a few weeks preIMUK and has made inroads into dealing with my calf issues, along with Sid my sports therapist of course. But having the TPT kit means that I can deal with issues on a daily basis. Awesome. 4. Having a really patient coach (thanks Mr Trew!) 5. Short marathon… gotta love it!

IM UK… great British race, mainly due to the incredible British field that assembles. Nothing better than cheering on hundreds of British athletes all out to conquer the ironman distance!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Three weekends, three races, three top tens… (installment one!)

So, I know I’ve not blogged for a while… three weekends, three races, three top ten finishes. In reverse order:

London triathlon 6th August

This is one HUGE event. With something like 13000 triathletes competing over the course of the weekend, it literally fills a warehouse where the transition areas and expo are situated. The Timex stand was large and loud at the expo, and as ever I was happy to be stood in front of a 12 foot tall Kyle Marcotte. Kyle did you know you are plastered all over our UK expo stand?

Dan managed to get me an entry to the race the day before, which was good as I wouldn’t have been sure any earlier if my body was ready for a little hit out post Ironman UK the weekend before. I wasn’t expecting much, but an intensity training session makes the trip to Docklands over the weekend a bit more rewarding from a training point of view.

Sunday morning and we were feeling the logistical headache that holding a massive tri festival in East/Central London brings. The closed bike course that heads all the way into Westminster and the Houses of Parliament caused major traffic diversions, and combined with the usual London weekend road works meant that driving round London with two other athletes was quickly turning into a comedy of errors with directions and diversion signs.

Arriving at the race venue about 40 minutes before race start (and about an hour later than planned) meant that there was minimal faffing – rack the Orbea, which hadn’t seen much love since a similar time the weekend before in Bolton, quickly check where bike out/in and run out were, a fleeting note to self that maybe I needed contacts because the transition was SO big that I could barely read the signage at the exits, and it was off to swim start.

The docks, as ever and despite passing EU water quality standards, tasted decidedly strange and was very brown/green. Deep water start and a horn and the ‘fast’ wave were good to go. The event is so large that the field is broken into waves of age groupers and a ‘fast’ wave (sub 2:30) which is supposed to be the most competitive part of the race. The only guys going faster than us today would be the elite, draft-legal ITU race happening a few hours later.

So off we go. I think I started quicker at the ironman last weekend. Arm turnover slow. Heart rate staying really steady state. O yes – the effects of racing last weekend were clear already: zero top end. But that’s good too. This is supposed to be my fun race, to get a bit of work done and shock the body back into training ahead of the next hard 4 week block leading into IMWisconsin. Keep going! The good thing about having done an IM the weekend before is that 1500m goes REALLY quick.
The same thing wasn’t true about T1. Out of the water, onto a pontoon, along the dock, up some stairs into the Excel centre, running around T1… still running around T1…. A bit more running. Several minutes later, thanks to the enormous nature of the race, your lucky enough to be somewhere near your bike. I only missed mine by a row so I think I did quite well. Helmet, race belt and off. At this point I am patting myself on the back for not going for the usual ironman transition which tends to include socks, a bit of food and drink etc etc.

The bike course is uniquely London – Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament happen at one end, and the Docklands dual carriageways and a beautiful stretch of the A13 at the other. It couldn’t be more representative of the capital if it tried. Somehow I managed to keep pushing, though my legs weren’t wanting to go very hard. An hour passed quickly and uneventfully and we were back into the cavernous transition area and out onto the run.

No spark on the run, but I hung in to pass a few people and managed to avoid the splash back from someone vomiting on themselves next to me mid stride. Lovely. 4 laps later the finish happened, but I pretty much headed straight to the Timex stand for a debrief and chat. It was only the next day that I found out I came 6th – a happy bonus!

A good day’s work considering one week on from IM UK. And a lot of fun had on the stand with the Timex/Assit guys. Hats off to Dan Calvert for a storming first Olympic race too. Good job Dan!

Views in the expo/transition area (warehouse!):