Professional Ironman Triathlete

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!):

Monday, 19 April 2010

T3 magazine April 2010

A bit of pre marathon coverage in T3 magazine:

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Running School

Interesting day for me yesterday. I went to see Michael at the Running School in Chiswick to have a look at my running style and get some pointers. I didn't go in with any preconceptions on what he was going to do - I've been disappointed by previous gait analyses, physios and proponents of run clinics, but the simple straight forward approach he applies can't be argued with. They tape you running fresh and fatigued to check what you are doing at both ends of your run and then you watch the video back and critique it. Now I finally changed over 100% to forefoot running about 16 months ago, but had been switching gradually for about 8 months before that... and while I did a lot of technique work over that period, most of it seems to have gone out of the window. Certainly a few of the major errors with my stride - landing too far in front of my centre of gravity for example - were things even I could notice (it was bad!) but its funny how you just slip back into bad habits and manage to fool yourself that its all going ok. Along with some biomechanical issues that I was already well aware of and a few issues that I need to address, there's plenty of things to improve... awesome. In many ways like the video analysis from Swim For Tri, simply seeing yourself running is enlightening enough. Then to have someone with an expert eye to highlight exactly what's out of whack makes the process invaluable. Looking forward to correcting all my mistakes! Highly recommend these guys. If you're lucky I might even upload some of the footage over the months to show improvements.

And yesterday evening was the first of 3 Timex Ironman Clinics held for the Serpies. The next 2 are on Tues 13th and Tues 20th April in Westminster, on Training and Heart Rate for Ironman and Ironman Nutrition.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Base training

So prep phase finished and I'm getting onto some real training at last. This wasn't the original plan, but the tough winter in the UK and work seem to have kept my training volume lower than I had anticipated through February.

Fortunately, I'm off to Lanza again on Friday. Hooray! Plus Jerzy - - another Timex pro will be out there at the same time so that'll be good. Also the first week is the Serpie tri camp too. Lots of familiar faces riding round the island :)

Last month also saw a trip to New York for the Timex Multisport Camp at the NY Giants facility (the Timex Performance Centre) which was AWESOME. Great time had. Amazing group of people. Learnt lots, good to have some team environment time too. Ironman training can be a little solitary a lot of the time.

Spent an afternoon at Runners Need last week in Victoria with the TIMEX UK team. Nice to see those guys. Got a VO2 max test done while I was there too - see photo - and the score wasn't too bad for the second day of base.

That's enough of a brief catch up. Will try to blog more often from now on! Photos from the sun up next.... roll on friday!