#alwaysusuallyright

So, what began as a mission to discover what I could achieve if only I put my mind to it, now draws to a close. I admit to having mixed feelings but am convinced this is the right decision.

I’ve spent the last two years really committing to something for probably the first time in my life, and I am very happy that I did so. Many people commit to all sorts of things for far longer than this, so I’m under no illusions that what I’ve done is in any way special compared to the achievements, trials and challenges of others. That said, it did me a lot of good.

In a nutshell, in mid-2012 I was pretty lost and lacked any kind of direction in my life. I’d left a senior job that hit me harder than I cared to admit at the time, and was drinking too much too regularly. I knew I needed to do something differently, so bought a bike. I’d previously been a bit of a runner, so my logic was that if I wanted to train regularly to keep my demons at bay, then mixing up a bit of running with a bit of cycling might be a good way to do so.

It wasn’t long however before my competitive instinct kicked in, and within 2 months of buying a bike I entered my first duathlon in August 2012. I got the bug – pretty badly!

I did a few more standard distance duathlons before realising that I wanted more of an endurance challenge, so sought out some proper long distance events. 2013 and 2014 were subsequently given over to some pretty serious mileage and some pretty daunting races!

Between April 2012 and November 2013 my run performances improved from 98 mins to 85 mins for a HM and from 45 mins to 39 mins for a 10K. From buying that bike in June 2012 I went on to work with a brilliant coach, Jimmy George of VO2 Maximum Coaching, (to whom I owe an eternal debt of gratitude) finished my first long distance duathlon at Powerman UK (August 2013) and then came 10th overall and won my AG at the London Duathlon (Ultra) in September 2013. So I proved to myself that I could realise tangible improvements through actually doing something properly, and that was always my original intention.

From that point, I knew I wanted to target GB AG qualification for the Long Distance Duathlon World Championships in Zofingen, Switzerland, so that’s what I set out to do with Jimmy’s help. I knew there’d be a lot of training involved, and despite getting towards the end of the last big training block feeling as though I’d kind of had enough (apparently this is normal for endurance athletes I’m advised!), I never once regretted spending the time doing the sessions, and when I actually got to the World Champs and was able to enjoy the experience (as much as one can enjoy 8 hours of hilly racing!), I knew it was because I’d been well coached and well trained, and therefore was well prepared for the event itself.

Since completing Zofingen I’ve been through all sorts of emotions, and have in fact re-entered for the 2015 race, along with entering my first marathon in Manchester in April. But all along something hasn’t quite felt right; more than just losing my ‘mojo’, I’ve been questioning whether I really want to continue to commit that much of my life to one thing – any one thing.

I’ve got two kids who are into all sorts, and it’s great when I get the chance to watch them doing their things, be that netball, theatre, cross country or triathlon, but at the back of my mind I know that when it comes to race season, I’ll be away for between 6 and 9 hours every weekend training. In all honesty, that feels like just too big a sacrifice to want to continue to make.

Originally I set out to prove to myself that I could commit to something and see genuine improvements from so doing, and at the same time improve my general health and wellbeing. One by-product of this – I hoped – would be that my kids would see me as more of a role model than I had previously been, and at least recognise that without commitment and perseverance one really shouldn’t expect to get better at anything.

It turns out that’s had the desired effect, which is brilliant. Jasper has really worked hard at triathlon and ended up winning the league in his first season, while Jessamy really commits to her lines and ‘moves’ (not even sure that’s the right technical term!) for her theatre productions and has been rewarded with some great parts in some highly entertaining shows for her efforts, all in the same year that she worked for and passed the 11+ exam with flying colours. So I couldn’t be more proud of my kids, and whilst not for a minute do I claim even the slightest credit for their achievements, if my continuing to work for something – even when it wasn’t easy/convenient/pleasant/even enjoyable – has sown just a small seed in their minds that to achieve one must first commit, then that makes me very happy.

Moreover, work has ramped up a notch or two, and for the most part I really enjoy the job, but I’ve found it increasingly difficult to manage living in Lincolnshire, commuting to Buckinghamshire once a week for a day or two, being a parent (even a feckless one!) and hitting all my training goals. And when I have missed the odd session, I’ve been racked with guilt, which isn’t healthy in its own right.

So, I’ve decided that I really don’t need to prove anything else to myself. I’ve learned a lot, including the fact that I genuinely enjoy running and riding, and want to continue to do so in order to stay fit and healthy, and also for the social aspects of doing so, albeit these are few and far between when one is tasked with nailing a 6 hour brick session on a Saturday and a 2.5 hour hilly trail run the following day!

On that basis, I’m not going to race Zofingen this year; in fact, I’m not going to race beyond April at all. As it stands, I plan to complete my marathon training as I’d really like to do myself justice in Manchester, and it would be another thing to tick off my list. I’ll also race one more duathlon at the Dambuster in March, as I’ve entered it, it’s my local race, and J2 says he wants to cheer me on one more time as I fly past on Vera the Versus TT!

Beyond that, I’m perfectly happy to spend more time ‘coaching’ and helping J2 achieve whatever he wants to in the triathlon world, and just to spend a bit more time relaxing in general. I’ll ride and I’ll run, on my own, with pals, and I’ll mix up the sessions a bit to try to avoid losing all my fitness gains and consigning all my newly acquired 31” trousers to the  bin (!), but I’ll do so on my terms and make sure it all fits into a slightly more balanced life…if I am able.

As I’ve already acknowledged, many of my friends and acquaintances manage to balance far busier lives than mine and still find room for big training volumes. Some combine parenting with coaching as well as working, others find time for charitable causes and still rack up the miles every week, while still others hold down much bigger jobs than do I whilst making tangible progress on the sporting front from year to year. I take my hat off to those who can do this; many of my Facebook friends are genuinely talented athletes and have found the right balance for themselves. They really are pretty damn amazing, and you all know who you are.

In some ways, I can’t help feeling that perhaps I’m ‘copping out’, giving up just when the going gets a bit tough – everything I told myself I was trying to disprove as character traits! But there comes a time when one just has to be honest with oneself, and whilst I couldn’t be happier that I took up the multisport game and gave it my best shot, I do feel it’s time to commit myself to some less selfish pursuits as well. Maybe I’m just plain lazy and fancy the odd lie-in too! (I can’t see everything changing though. Like a reformed smoker (which I am), where they say “Once a smoker always a smoker”, I can’t imagine going through a summer with hairy legs!!!)

At the end of the day, it comes down to trusting your gut. And my gut tells me to get out while I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, and before there’s a risk of the very thing that made me happy starting to make me miserable. This year, the new challenge is to find a balance. The gut’s always right, right?

Well always usually anyway…

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Gear Review: Skechers Performance GoRun Ultras

 

Shiny New Shoes! #fastfeet

Shiny New Shoes! #fastfeet

 

It didn’t bode well when I received my first pair of these shoes. I looked at them and thought, “Hmmm…I’ve spent a year getting away from chunky shoes and into sleeker little numbers…”

Well, it turns out that Skechers Performance Division knew what they were doing (why would I ever doubt that?!), and have created the shoe that the range was previously missing.

I’ve written about the GoBionic Trails before now, and they serve a purpose – particularly effectively in fact – when the going is soft, but for me, they just lack the cushioning needed for anything involving hard-pack or tarmac, so I need to know I’m going to be off-road for 90% of the time to be sure they’re the right choice, and this isn’t always possible, particularly given my sometimes-questionable navigational skills!

So for a while upon receipt of said GR Ultras, they did sit there in the corner staring at me whilst I tried to figure out what I was going to do with them! I had the GR Rides when I wanted a bit of additional comfort over and above the staple GoRun 3s, so they were a bit of a white elephant for a bit.

I think the first time I really used them was for a recovery run on tired legs, and at this point they really came into their own. It was almost counterintuitive that a shoe with so much cushioning in evidence should simultaneously feel so light and unrestrictive, but I admit to feeling a bit sheepish about my earlier preconceptions.

My sheepishness grew when I got my head into my training plan for Powerman Zofingen and saw that every week there were brick sessions with 12-15 mile runs off the bike, hilly and multi-terrain, or long runs of up to 18 miles, again exhibiting a mix of trail and road. I distinctly recall heading out on the first of those sessions, looking at the shoe collection and trying to figure out what would be most appropriate, and almost apologetically grabbing the Ultras. It kind of felt a little like cheating, that someone had created a shoe almost with these sessions in mind, but as I racked up the miles on tired legs, any residual guilt was very definitely substituted for sheer gratitude.

The Ultras combine sufficient lightness to put a spring in your step, fantastic levels of grip for muddier or stickier trails and enough balance to feel very much a fully-fledged member of the SKX Performance range by keeping me firmly mid-foot striking even on those long runs.

I put so many miles on the first pair in the 4 months leading up to Zofingen that I had to source another pair. My regular brick / long run route was about 50:50 in terms of tarmac to trail ratio, and there’s no doubt that the slightly stickier compound used in the outsole to ensure reliability when off-road does translate to slightly higher rates of wear when hammering the tarmac. In fairness, I put a good 400+ miles on mine before I had any concerns about their ongoing longevity, and only grabbed the replacements to ensure I had maximum assistance on the notoriously hilly second trail run at Zofingen.

Save those quads...we'll be needing them later

#greatgrip

The first pair still has life left in them and continues to be used, although I doubt they’ll see out the winter. Nonetheless, in my book, a pair of shoes that does precisely what you need and gives you anything north of 400 miles’ use represents pretty good value. This is even more acutely true in the case of the Ultras when one compares their price point to other shoes. One can easily save 20-30% over and above offerings from other brands, and the Ultras have now won numerous awards in direct tests against leading manufacturers’ shoes, being recognised for the combination of low weight, high grip and comfort that has led me to draw on them with increasing frequency.

In fact, whilst I plan my assault on a spring marathon (will need to actually choose and enter a race first I acknowledge!) I am assuming that I’ll turn to the GR Ride 3s (or 4s when they’re launched…very excited about them!!) That said, I know I’ll be reaching for the Ultras whenever my travails take me anywhere off the beaten track, or indeed if its slippery outside with leaves lying around, or maybe just if there’s a ‘y’ in the day of the week…

 

Start with the end in mind

 

What I came for

The End

It has been a long time since I blogged. I have missed it, if only because a blog usually follows a reasonably significant occurrence in my otherwise dull and miserable existence (!), i.e, a race, or new gear to try, etc. (Look – in my world, those things are significant occurrences…let’s move on.)

In fairness, I did set expectations after my last blog post that you wouldn’t hear from me again in all likelihood until PZ (Post-Zofingen), and now that time has come.

So this is another race report, but an important one for me. At the end of the day, I blog because I like to share my experiences in multisport, and I enjoy multisport because it has imbued my life with a sense of purpose that was previously missing. That might be a rather sad admission on my part, but nonetheless, I have come to appreciate – nay, rely upon – the structure necessary to organise myself to train for long distance races, and do not relish the prospect of that structure being absent.

 

How did I get here?

Around 18 months ago, I made the decision – all of 6 months into my multisport ‘career’ (!) to focus exclusively on long distance duathlons. This was primarily for two reasons: firstly, it didn’t take me long to realise that there are too many quick boys in my Age Group over the shorter distances for me to ever be likely to be competitive, and secondly, because I like to beast myself. I say ‘like’, when what I really mean is, it represents some kind of self-inflicted purgatory which for some reason I appear to quite enjoy…at least after the session/race is over. In short, I gain a far greater sense of satisfaction from having completed something that is potentially beyond my capabilities than I do by shaving a minute off my best time for a 2 hour race. That’s in no way to belittle or decry shorter-distance races, and indeed I’m in awe of the abilities of some of my AG compatriots in terms of their sheer speed, but for me, it’s the longer stuff that hurts me more and therefore delivers a greater sense of fulfilment in overcoming adversity to just finish the damn thing!

Having made this decision in March 2013, I decided to set myself the goal of qualifying to represent Great Britain in my Age Group at the Long Distance Duathlon World Championships in Zofingen, Switzerland in 2014. I’m not even sure why I set this as my goal; perhaps it was easier to conceive as something tangible as opposed to targeting a PB over a distance that I’d never previously raced, and therefore had no point of reference against which to base it. Just to make sure that I would actually get off my backside and work for it, I made sure to tell a few people of this goal, including a select few I knew would doubt my willingness to actually commit to anything, namely close family and a couple of friends who’d seen me previously dip in and out of other ‘hobbies’ and interests, all of which started with the same high levels of enthusiasm!

Now I had to find some races – easier said than done. There were just two races in the UK in 2013 over distances even approaching those staged in Zofingen (10K/150K/30K), namely Powerman UK Long Distance Duathlon in August, and the London Duathlon Ultra Distance event in September. I don’t need to replay performances in those events here, but in essence, the dirth of races meant I was going to face a challenge in ‘learning’ to race over long distances.

So here we are – almost taper time

Fast forward to September 2014 and, having duly qualified to don my GB tri-suit at Zofingen, I now had all of 3 ‘long’ distance races under my belt; the two aforementioned events from 2013 and Powerman UK 2014.

As we approached my taper, it’s fair to say I had just about had enough of training. Funny how that happens. I suppose more experienced long distance triathletes/duathletes are probably used to it, but I got to my last week pre-taper and frankly, the thought of another 6 hour brick session followed the next day by a 2-3 hour ride really didn’t appeal. It wasn’t so much the physical side of the training, more the isolation that comes from being on your own for such long periods of the weekends, week after week. That said, I have previously admitted to being a man of contradictions, and there have been many times when I’ve been more than happy to be out on my own with my thoughts, but I’ve come to realise there’s a difference between being out for a steady 4 hour ride with an opportunity to reflect, and being out on a race-pace brick session with concomitant required focus on fuelling, pace, HR, etc.

Anyway, my choice, so no point whining about it. Primarily I was just extremely pleased to get through the last big training block without any injuries and having only missed one session over the entire year to that point. I trust my coach, Jimmy George, implicitly, and if I wasn’t going to perform in Zofingen then it wasn’t going to be down to a lack of training, or more to the point, a lack of the right training. We had been through all the right phases of intensity, volume and specificity, and both my body and the data were in good shape.

 

On to Zofingen we go

Won’t bore you with all the logistical details; nice road trip (at least once we escaped Dover) through France, Germany and Switzerland, and arrived Zofingen (about half way between Basel and Zurich) around 17.00 local time, in good time to attend the opening ceremony and pasta party. Nice chance to meet a few of the other GB AG athletes and team captain, Jon Cowell. Good to see that there were several of we newbies, as well as a few who hadn’t been put off by their prior experiences and were back for more.

Pre-pasta party - we're here now

Pre-pasta party – we’re here now

The local children’s dance troop was a bit ‘eclectic’ to say the least though…

Saturday brought race briefing and a chance to wander round the pretty town of Zofingen, before we joined the GB convoy to drive the bike route following Jon, and our first opportunity to witness the ensuing hell that would be the Bodenburg. On driving the route it was clear that there were two hills of note, the second of which – the aforementioned Bodenburg – was certainly a bit of a brute, but the views at the top made up for it…at least that was my thinking on the Saturday…

The winners' roll...closest I will be getting to this

The winners’ roll…closest I will be getting to this

What was clear from the days leading up to Sunday was that this was all I had been hoping it would be, i.e, a proper ‘event’. The atmosphere was great, there were grandstands, a professionally organised transition area with boxes for athletes’ gear, a really good expo with some nice gear (always important!), TV cameras and media crews, lots of people milling around and everyone being really friendly to one another, old friends catching up and new acquaintances being made.

Might sound strange to you guys who regularly race IronMan or Challenge events, but we poor duathletes often have to make do with little more than a clap from the families we drag along with us and a nice cup of tea and a biscuit in the canteen at the end!

This felt like a real World Championships, particularly so with the presentation of race numbers to the top elites after the pasta party on Friday, and it was brilliant to see – and give a cheer for – Emma Pooley and Matt Moorhouse up there on the stage representing GB with the other leading protagonists. When you’ve worked so hard for so long towards a specific event, it’s really nice when it feels special on arrival, and this did. Powerman and IPA may not have the following of their triathlon rivals, but they know how to organise a really big and key event, and they did themselves proud, making me proud in the process to be a Powerman Ambassador for them.

So an early Saturday night following the usual race-prep with nutrition, gear, bike, etc, and so we should have been in good shape for race day morning.

 

Race Day

Well we would have been in good shape for Sunday had I not inadvertently set my alarm to match UK time rather than EU time. This meant that I had a more hurried departure from the hotel than planned, but in fact worked out quite nicely, meaning I avoided the earlier queues to get into transition and had less time having to stand around and wait before race start.

Relaxed in transition pre-race

Relaxed in transition pre-race

So, having racked, warmed up and exchanged “good luck”s with other GB teammates, it was time to toe the line.

I’d walked the first hill on the first run course on the Friday evening, so knew what was in store. We set off and I found my rhythm quickly, reminding myself how much I had really enjoyed my hill repeats on Terrace Hill week after week after week during the summer…hmmm, well anyway, it was good preparation.

First run was nice, being 2 x 5Km laps circling back through transition having descended from the forest and then climbing the same hill to repeat the loop. Bang on target at just under 7 minute mile pace. I was not going to make or break my race through a variance of a couple of minutes either way on the first run, but I could have made it more difficult for myself later on if I’d pushed particularly – and unnecessarily – hard.

Save those quads...we'll be needing them later

Save those quads…we’ll be needing them later

So out onto the bike following a very smooth T1 and I was so, so pleased to be on the super-smooth roads of Switzerland. It was like riding on glass, and compared to the battering I had taken on my long rides on the TT bike back home, the difference in terms of energy expenditure just to keep rolling, was noticeable.

Paced myself well, climbed strongly, took on board Captain Jon’s advice to douse myself in water at the aid stations given the heat was rising all the time, and came in to end of lap 1 (of 3) bang on schedule at around 1 hr 33 for the 31 miles.

Just off top of the Bodenburg

Just off top of the Bodenburg

Surprised myself by overtaking David Cookson as we headed out onto the 2nd lap, as I knew he’d logged a really good time of around 7hrs 45mins in 2013, so having checked that my numbers were right and I wasn’t pushing too hard, I cracked on with lap 2 and headed for the hills again.

Approaching the end of my 2nd lap, I realised I wasn’t going to last another lap without shedding some of the excess fluid that had accumulated! This presented me with a good 20 minutes of debating with myself, until I determined that there really wasn’t any choice – I was feeling too good and too close to target timings to relinquish minutes through an unnecessary stop – but to, oh how shall I put this, oh sod it, let’s be blunt, pee on the bike.

Some things are better left unsaid, but I will admit to having practiced this once – and only once – before in order to work out the optimum lean angles, etc, so as I glanced behind me on a long straight stretch and couldn’t see anyone within around 300m of me, I decided that it was now or never. So, with a smile and unmitigated feeling of relief, the task was conducted without drama, at least that is until I heard a car behind me, and as it passed me I realised that it was the Women’s Race lead car and media bike, closely followed by one Emma Pooley pegging it down the road swiftly followed by Eve Nystrom in 2nd place. I don’t think I caused anyone any embarrassment, but nonetheless, my shouts of “Go on Emma” in response to her “Go Team GB” as she passed me were perhaps tinged with just a modicum of sheepishness!

The rest of the 2nd lap passed without incident and as I rolled through Zofingen again taking on fluids at the feed station, a glance at the watch confirmed I was still bang on target for the 4hrs 40min target I’d set myself for the bike leg.

Hotter than anticipated!

Hotter than anticipated!

It would be fair to say the 3rd bike lap was hard, but I expected it to be so. Climbing the Bodenburg for the last time I was moving more slowly than on prior laps, but then so was everybody else around me. This is when you’ve just got to get your head down, get in your ‘pain cave’ or whatever vernacular you care to apply, and push through. These are the times when the threshold turbo sessions prescribed by Coach Jimmy come into their own, as he always said they would do. Apart from some hot spots under the balls of my feet which caused discomfort for 20 minutes rather than outright pain, I felt good as I pushed on for the balance of the bike course to come into T2 in 4hrs 43mins , so marginally outside the nominal target but close enough to give me a fighting chance of hitting a sub-8hr finish if the 2nd run went according to plan…

T2 went well – I took the opportunity to change into some dry socks, grab my fuel belt and visor, drink some more water, and head out onto the run. The 2nd run was the only part of the course to which I’d had no prior exposure, so it was a bit of a surprise to find that the initial climbing went on for the best part of 2 miles into the forest, before one emerged onto a plateau, around which one zig zagged following an undulating route before heading back up hill into the forest and then relishing the 2 mile descent back to the finish.

The 2nd run comprised 2 out and back stints on this basis, and on the first stint I felt OK, but was conscious that my average lap pace was not where I wanted it to be. I decided not to panic, worked through some numbers in my head and calculated that I had almost a minute-a-mile’s worth of contingency in my pocket to still come in under 8 hours. I was also aware that I had passed my other ‘target’, David Connor, who had been around 7 minutes ahead of me 2 laps into the bike, but who was now suffering and having to walk some of the 2nd run. I took it easy on the descent into the town, being conscious of the need to run another 9 miles on those legs, so didn’t want to hammer my quads too badly with lap 2 still to come. I won’t pretend I didn’t curse the race organisers for their decision to place the turnaround point for lap 1/lap 2 within about 30cm of the finishing gantry, but nonetheless I was feeling reasonably OK when I headed back for the last stint and uphill again into the forest.

Plateau overlooking the town on 2nd run

Plateau overlooking the town on 2nd run – not sure there’s even the impression of speed in this picture!

Round about half way up the hill I realised two things: firstly, I was getting slower and any thoughts of maintaining a particular pace now needed to be rapidly eschewed in favour of a survival focus, and secondly, all around me, people looked like casualties. There were people sitting down under trees, walking, stumbling, leaning, crying, so whilst schadenfreude is not a laudable trait, I took some comfort from their discomfort and tried to focus on maintaining forward momentum. More positive vibes came from the shared thumbs-ups between GB athletes on this 2nd run. Few of us appeared to have the energy to speak – myself included – but it did feel really good to feel part of a team of people sharing a common experience and knowing that we were all doing our very best to justify the tri-suit.

At the plateau I passed one Rob Woestenborghs – seeded 1 and last year’s winner – walking. I wasn’t quite sure what to think, so just quietly muttered something ridiculous like “Keep going Rob” whilst plodding past. It got progressively harder on that 2nd lap, as one might expect, but with others dropping like flies, I determined to keep going and not walk. I did summon up just about enough energy to give Matt Moorhouse a shout of support as he headed back towards the finish looking strong. I have to say that here’s a guy right at the top of his sport – a damn tough sport at that – who couldn’t have been more accommodating or generous with advice and guidance before the event, despite not feeling anywhere near 100% himself. A class act, and I just hope he comes back next year to grab the medal his endeavours so obviously deserve.

Taking on fluid at every aid station, and shovelling a load more water over my head every 2.5km as well, I just about managed to keep down all my gels and I’m sure the final caffeinated gel – whilst difficult to stomach at the time – was much needed in making sure I could actually finish. Finally heading out of the forest and downhill to town, I made a couple of new mental targets, having figured I was going to miss my 8 hours by now. I wasn’t going to let the German past me with whom I’d been to-ing and fro-ing on the 2nd run for around 2 hours, and I was going to try to catch the Irish fella whom I could see about 100 yards in front of me and who I’d noticed earlier in the race. I had no idea whether either of these two chaps were in my category or age group, but some mental stimulation was called for in order to at least drag a strong finish out of myself.

I duly pushed on past the German and headed for Mr Ireland, drawing level with him as we approached the finishing chute. I decided my best chance – this was a one-shot opportunity the way my legs were feeling – was to leave it as late as possible, but I had reckoned without a 90-degree bend in the finishing chute with 30m to go to the line, and he had the inside line! I couldn’t risk turning an ankle or, worse, stacking it under the grandstand, so discretion had to be the better part of valour, and I finished some 2 seconds behind him. It transpired he was in my bloody age group category as well so 9th could have been on the cards!!

The final push gave rise to massive cramps in my left quad so unfortunately the world was denied a nice smiling picture of yours truly crossing the finishing line, since I collapsed in a heap within centimetres of the line, drawing the concerns of the medical staff as I did so!

Hardly arms-in-the-air-elation but there you go

Hardly arms-in-the-air-elation but there you go

I was fine, and as the cramps subsided, and I managed to stand up, I will admit to basically getting a little emotional and sobbing my way to collect my medal! Around this point I checked my watch to find that I’d missed my 8 hour target by just 4 minutes, but I was surprisingly not disappointed. I knew I’d executed the plan agreed with Coach Jimmy, I’d done my best and I’d stayed calm when things got tough, so this time at least I wasn’t quite ready to start berating myself for missing what had always been a nominal target.

It’s difficult to explain quite what was going through my mind at that point, but suffice to say there was a degree of outpouring of pent-up ‘whatever’ and it took me a couple of minutes to regain some semblance of composure.

We did it (stood up again, I mean!)

We did it (stood up again, I mean!)

The aftermath

So, 8 hours and 4 minutes, 2nd Brit in my AG, 10th overall in AG and 58th finisher overall from 142 starters in the Long Distance ITU event, albeit 27 of these Did Not Finish. That is a staggering 19% of starters who failed to cross the finish line. I guess it was a tough little day out.

I owe an awful lot of thanks to my brilliant coach, Jimmy George of VO2 Maximum Coaching, who must have wondered why on earth he agreed to take me on 3 months before my first ever long distance race in 2013, but who has kept me injury free and motivated for longer than I would have dared to believe in readiness for this. I also need to thank Skechers Performance division for providing me with appropriate footwear throughout training and for racing, without which I might not have remained injury free, and, I have to say, I might have suffered a lot more discomfort on that damn 2nd run! Similarly, Xendurance have been very supportive with the provision of supplements that I am sure have helped me to recover quickly enough during major training periods so as to be able to absorb the training load without always hobbling around like an (even) old(er) man.

As usual, this post has gone on far too long – almost as long as the race itself – so I will dispense with any summaries or forward looking statements about ambitions, plans, 2015, etc.

I will just say this. For once in my life, in the minutes and hours after the race, I actually felt a little bit proud of myself. This happens rarely.

For that reason, I would like to thank whomever invented the stupidly brutal event that is Powerman Zofingen, as for now at least, it has enabled me to come to terms with a few of my demons, and provided a relatively worthwhile outlet for my undeniable mid-life crisis.

 

Lonely Together…so to speak

My name’s Duncan. Lately I’ve become a watcher; and I’ve enjoyed it. This isn’t an extract from a meeting of Athletes Anonymous, but a reflection on what I’ve been doing at weekends recently.

My own race season exists in two parts, at either end of the triathlete’s main season, so I won’t be racing again until September. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to race over the summer – far from it – but since nobody puts on duathlons in the good weather, I don’t have much of a choice.

Moreover, having got my first long distance race of the year out of the way in May (PowermanUK), my training has been building back up after a post-race break and then gradual reintroduction to the twin joys of volume and intensity, but we’re nowhere near peaking in volume terms just yet, so it’s afforded me a little more time to do other things than was the case in the run-up to PowermanUK.

This has coincided with my 8 year-old son, J2, beginning his own race season, and I’ve absolutely loved watching him prepare for and compete in his first local triathlons in the BTF East Midlands Junior Series. He’s doing really well and more importantly seems to be really enjoying it. It has been fascinating to observe him learning to cope with self-inflicted discomfort, and to learn lessons both when winning and otherwise.

Most gratifying though were his views upon having joined a Triathlon club for the first time. He’d done a couple of races in the EMS as an ‘unaffiliated’ athlete, winning the first (a duathlon – that’s my boy!) and experiencing his first open water swim in the second, which left him so far behind the leaders in T1 that he was never going to make up the ground (although he gave it his best shot and managed to amass a decent haul of points by virtue of closing the gap on the leaders by the finish.) We were fortunate that one of the coaches (Julie Whaley) at Absolute Triathlon – a fantastic club with a thriving junior section and correspondingly long waiting list – worked tirelessly to secure an additional venue/time slot to accommodate those on the waiting list. Julie’s selflessness meant that J2 was able to join Absolute Tri in time to represent them at the Nottingham Kids Triathlon earlier this month.

He raced well, making up ground on the bike and run to close down the leaders in his age group and ended up 3rd on the day, 1st EMS league competitor, and so grabbed his 1,000 points in the league table. He was shattered at the end, and it took him a while to get over the pain of the stitch he’d run through, so determined was he to claw back ground lost during the swim. He was uncharacteristically quiet on the journey home, so I asked him how he was feeling. He replied that he was delighted that he’d got on the podium, but that he was even more pleased to have been representing a ‘proper club’. I asked him why this was important and he told me he liked feeling as if he’d been able to help the club get points for their team competition as well. He’s not generally prone to self reflection – I don’t suppose that’s unusual for 8 year-old boys – but being part of a community and doing his best for his colleagues (most of whom he doesn’t even know as yet!) as well as for himself had clearly struck a chord, and I have to admit to being very proud as we drove home.

As well as supporting J2 in his new-found triathlon adventures, I managed to get down to the Dambuster Triathlon at Rutland Water this last weekend, for the English National Age Group Championships. In the interests of time-efficiency, I combined the trip with the weekend’s long ride, enjoying a beautiful early morning cycle along the back roads of Lincolnshire to get to the race venue in time to see most people coming in off the bike leg, but I admit to questioning why – with a bit of a hangover and tired legs following a 10K race and drinks/dinner the previous evening – I had decided to get up at 05.30 to ride to a race in which I wasn’t even competing. My wife really didn’t get this one at all.

The thing is, I had a brilliant time at Dambuster. I knew loads of people who were racing, and really wanted to get down there to cheer them on. I am lucky enough to be involved with several triathlon clubs in one way or another, and this brings me to the crux of this blog. I knew that a strong contingent from VO2 Maximum Triathlon Team would be racing, and these were the same guys with whom I’d shared a thoroughly enjoyable week earlier in the year on a training camp in Mallorca (see earlier blog post). Although I’m not actually a member of their race team, and they’re predominantly South East based, I’m coached by Jimmy George who runs the team with his partner, Paula, and stay in touch with several of their athletes, following their progress from afar and generally engaging in some suitably nonsensical social-media banter and mutual baiting when the opportunity arises!

I also knew that several of my Racetime Triathlon Club teammates would be racing, and wanted to show my support for them in a local race. Similarly, I saw people from Absolute Triathlon Club and even managed to say hello to a local chap who rides for Witham Wheelers (my cycling club) but who attended the same school as me 20+ years ago!

I suppose the point is that as duathletes/triathletes, we spend an inordinate amount of our time training on our own. Sure, from time to time we might get out on a club ride or even join forces for a steady run now and then, but the bulk of our ‘serious’ training is done on our own. It’s lovely to be out for a long steady ride in the evening sunshine, and perhaps less ‘lovely’ to return home at 20.30 after a day in the office 110 miles away to contend with a threshold turbo session in the garage that doesn’t see you showered and ready for dinner before 22.00. In fairness, I find those solitary training sessions great opportunities to think and find some perspective about other things going on in my life at any particular point, but nonetheless, it’s quite a lonely existence, especially when we get right into the meat of our training plans and we’re logging 10, 12, 15 or even 20+ hour training weeks, as I know lots of us do.

So when there’s an opportunity to get together, it’s great, and I didn’t want to miss that opportunity at Dambuster. I didn’t even see that much of the racing, but just being able to catch up with my pals after the race and find out how they’d got on, what went well, what was tough, how they felt they measured up on the day relative to where they thought they were in training terms, was a great bonding experience. When we’ve spent so long on our own logging the requisite miles, I find that one of the most enjoyable parts of our sport is just being able to share the experience with like-minded individuals, and there’s no better time to do this than in the aftermath of an adrenaline-fuelled race on a sunny day in south Lincolnshire.

And that’s why I got up so early to get to Dambuster. And what’s more, it reminded me how lucky I am to be involved with two such great race teams as VO2 Maximum and Racetime Events. Both teams were well represented on the podium in several age groups, and pals of mine took honours in my own 40-44 Age Group.

It’s quite inspiring to be part of the same teams that produce such high quality athletes, and again, great to get the chance to have a chat, share experiences and bask in the reflected glory of athletes far, far more competent than yours truly. In fact, in the case of the Paul Lunns, Duncan & Claire Shea-Simonds, Martin Jessups and Paul Bowyers of this world, it demonstrates that there’s at least a ‘two-level’ age group structure in the UK, with some really, really strong athletes operating so consistently and often beating some of the Pros into the bargain…and then there are the rest of us! But – having only been doing this multisport lark for around 18 months – I’m pleased to report that there’s no such split on the social side of things. Quite the opposite in fact. The Racetime Events team in particular have a fantastic, dynamic and very supportive team ethos, and it was great to be able to cheer on people I’d never before met just by virtue of recognising their team kits and knowing we were all part of the same bunch. In the same way, there were 4 or 5 other VO2 Maximum athletes competing at Dambuster as well, who all had their own goals and gave their all on the day.

I don’t have many close friends (no tears, please), and don’t feel any less fulfilled for it. However, I really do find I enjoy being part of a team, a community, a group of similar people doing something they clearly love doing, and it’s even more enjoyable to see J2 starting to enjoy the same kind of camaraderie and team spirit with Absolute Tri. We multisporters may be a bit daft, some might say self-obsessed even, but we stick together, and in terms of an environment in which I’d want my children involved during their most formative years, I can’t think of a better one to let them learn some life lessons, have some fun, and enjoy what being part of a team is all about.

You don’t have to be with your teammates all the time to know that you’re part of that team, at least not if it’s a good one. But when the opportunity presents itself, it’s nice to support your mates.

Lonely…together. See?

Desert Island Shoes

 Shoe Review – Skechers Performance GoRunRide3

Skechers GoRunRide3

Skechers GoRunRide3

It has taken me a while to get around to posting this review, partly because I wanted to log sufficient miles to enable me to be confident that I’ve drawn conclusions that are based on evidence rather than assumption, and partly because I haven’t been entirely sure quite how to classify these shoes, even in my own mind. Should that conjure up even remotely negative connotations in your mind, I urge you to read on…

Disclaimer: Once again, those of you seeking a highly technical review with all the appropriate jargon in terms of materials, composition, sole structure, etc, would be well advised to look elsewhere. There are plenty of reviews that will provide all the technical insight you require, but this isn’t one of them. These are simply my thoughts as a middle-aged runner trying to maintain the right balance of comfort and speed in my key weekly run sessions.

 

When I was sent them originally, I had been using my GoRun3s for anything from speed work up to 10-15K runs, and had been very impressed (see earlier review). The GoRun3s had in fact surprised me with just how comfortable they were compared to my Saucony Kinvara 3s – for which I also maintained a great deal of respect – over distances between 5K and 15K. They’d certainly become my ‘go-to’ shoe for pretty much anything other than my weekly long run. I did do a long run (20K) in the GoRun3s, and whilst I wasn’t acutely uncomfortable, just felt that I needed a little more in the way of cushioning to protect my ageing joints, particularly knees and ankles.

Cometh the hour, cometh the shoe, and the GoRunRide3 to the rescue!

My first impressions were of a GoRun3 ‘Extra’, but I soon realised that to couch them in this way would be to do them a bit of a disservice. Yes, I started to use them primarily for my longer runs where I wanted that extra cushioning, and found them to be ideal. The archetypal wide Skechers toebox is retained, allowing the toes to splay and avoid rubbing together. Cushioning is certainly improved over the GoRun3 but the shoes still feel anything but heavy or bulky.

They are certainly soft to put on, and – at the risk of bordering on romanticism – feel a little like walking on clouds! I prefer to run with the insole in place, and this confers upon them a heel-toe drop of 4mm, which is pretty much standard for me across my running shoes these days, so although the comfort is immediately noticeable, it doesn’t feel as though I’ve put on the wrong shoe should the session call for a quick injection of speed from time to time. I have in fact found that I’m sometimes pushing on a little more than the session-plan calls for in my steadier runs whilst sporting the GoRunRide3s, since they encourage you to make swift progress with the same mid-foot striking tendency as the other shoes in the Skechers Performance range.

Some reviews of this shoe may suggest that it lacks ‘ground feel’; I admit that I am a long way from being a ‘minimalist’ convert, and like a degree of protection even in my lightest racing flats, but in my view the GoRunRide3 strikes an almost unparalleled balance between inherent comfort and low weight. Their 238 grams places them somewhere between the Saucony Kinvara and Mirage, both of which I have happily used for faster sessions, (although neither of which gave me quite enough cushioning to consider wearing for a Half Marathon or similar), so they can hardly be accused of being salad-dodgers!

I indicated that these seem to me to be far more than just a GoRun3 ‘Extra’. What I meant by that is that whereas for me the GoRun3 has a very specific place in my shoe armoury, the GoRunRide3 could be used for pretty much any kind of session and not feel like a compromise.

When I took them to training camp in Mallorca a couple of months ago, I also took the GoRun3s, which I used for the timed 5K effort as planned. However, for pretty much every other session (dry trail runs, 10 mile run-off-the-bike, 12 mile long run) I used the GoRunRide3s. This selection even extended to my run intervals session, for which I would normally have expected to choose the GoRun3s, but given the sheer volume of training I was doing that week, the GoRunRide3s offered that little bit extra protection for tired legs and it was much appreciated!

They’ve also proved to be precisely what I was after for the longer 2nd run in my long distance duathlons. Whether or not they’ll get me through 30 hilly off-road kilometres off-the-bike in Zofingen in September I don’t know…that really depends just how shot my legs are after the hilly first run and 150K ride, but I wouldn’t discount them just yet.

So there you have it. For me, the Skechers GoRunRide3s are just about the best ‘desert-island shoe’ available, that is, if you had to choose just one shoe to cover a multitude of running scenarios, this would probably be the one. That’s not to suggest that they are a generic shoe in any way; as a relatively lightweight neutral shoe they’ll still lend themselves best to runners with reasonably good form, but when space or other constraints dictate a singular choice, I’ve encountered nothing as versatile as the GoRunRide3s to date.

(Moreover, whilst I was really hankering after them in royal blue, have decided I quite like the grey & orange look now, and my new GoMeb Speed 2s have arrived in the same colours. Those will be reviewed in due course, probably after the Summer Solstice 10K next month. Matching orange lock laces have duly been ordered in bulk!)

Desert-island shoes

Desert-island shoes

Powerman UK Race Report

It’s been a while since I penned a blog post. Since then I have:

  • raced twice (National AG Duathlon Champs & Powerman UK)
  • completed a big training block
  • realised just how much of a weekend a long hard brick actually consumes
  • hankered after a cold beer (more than once)
  • made a reasonable fist of not forgetting the wife’s 40th birthday.

So, it’s been quite a busy period.

Training

I have always been diligent about my training, and the arrangements with Coach Jimmy (@V02Maximum) and Training Peaks continue to work well in keeping me on track and focused in the build up to big races.

That said, and whilst I do enjoy my training, I did begin to realise that when one includes the preparation time (filling bottles, bike prep, early night, etc) and the recovery time (useless for several hours afterwards), the 5-hour brick sessions (circa 80% race distance) conspired to pretty much wipe out half of two weekends on the trot in late April. Although I don’t give her anywhere near enough credit, I am extremely lucky to have an understanding and tolerant wife, but even whilst recognising this good fortune, I have been conscious that to do myself justice in these long-distance events, the compromises are significant. As the children get older and their range of activities and support/transport requirements increases, my ability – and desire – to effectively ‘go dark’ (Jack Bauer-speak for any non-24 afficionados) for the best part of an entire Saturday will at some point inevitably diminish.

For now at least, I was pleased to have completed both key sessions in good shape (‘good’ being very much a relative term) and they put me in a much more confident position heading towards Powerman UK, as I knew I could comfortably run 10 miles at 7:30 pace off the back of a race pace 60 mile effort on the TT bike. This was just what I needed so Jimmy and I were both feeling positive (or at least, he said he was!) as the first ‘A’-race of the year loomed large…

Powerman UK – Build-up

Last year’s Powerman UK was my first taste of long course racing. With the saddening dirth of long distance Duathlons in the UK, I only had last year’s race and the London Duathlon Ultra to look back on and review what lessons I had learned. This also made setting targets a little more difficult. I decided that I should really be aiming to at least match the time achieved by the winner of my AG in 2013, which was pretty much dead on 6 hours.

I travelled down on my own to Dorset this year, as family commitments meant my usual support crew couldn’t join me. In some ways it was a little easier with only having myself to worry about, and having raced the circuit for a year now I’ve made one or two pals who I knew would be in attendance, so I arranged to meet up with a couple of them (David Truman and Chris Aitken) for dinner on the Saturday evening. (The Italian restaurant in Sherborne must take more on Powerman weekend than it usually does in a month given all the athletes keen to get busy with their carb-loading pre-race!)

I spent some time in the afternoon loitering around transition trying to gauge what the weather was likely to do the next day. The winds were pretty strong and I was getting a little nervous about the prospect of hanging onto Vera with her 88mm front wheel being blown like a sail in the cross-winds. I knew the course was quite exposed on the higher ground, so when Chris decided he was going to use his 30mm front rather than his 60mm option, I dived in and ‘invited’ him to let me borrow it! 28mm could make all the difference after all, so having realised that his wheel came with an aluminium rim, I hot-footed it 5 miles to Yeovil to the UK’s largest triathlon stores (TriUK) and bought a new set of brake blocks for the front wheel.

I will admit that Coach Jimmy was less than ecstatic when I told him my plans to change brake blocks in transition an hour before race start, but it seemed to be the lesser of two evils given the forecasted gusty Sunday we had in store. In fact, I was more concerned about trying to decide whether to run in my Skechers Performance GoRun3s or GoRunRide3s; quite why this kept me awake I don’t know but in the end I chose the former for the 1st run and the latter for the 2nd, and was very pleased with my ‘split decision’!

With a number of pals racing in the somewhat warmer climes of Mallorca (IM 70.3), I admit to feeling mildly inspired by some of the reports coming in from the likes of Paul Lunn and Matt Fisher (1st and 10th in AG respectively, with both qualifying for Mont Tremblant 70.3 World Champs and Paul logging a stunning 25th place overall!), and was determined to go out there and give a decent account of myself the next day.

Powerman UK – Race Day!

There’s little point harping on about the weather; it was windy – very windy – but not raining, for which I was grateful.

Breakfasted, I made my way to transition and made sure the front brake blocks were swapped as a matter of priority. I then got chatting to others before warming up with Cat Faux and Chris Aitken, and watched the Sprint race get underway, heralded by the presence of Dame Kelly Holmes (who would eventually win the ladies’ race…perhaps unsurprisingly?!) I also bumped into LIsa Picton – a Racetime Triathlon Club team-mate – recognisable by her very smart looking tri-suit. We wished each other luck and soon enough we were off.

Having decided to don a gilet for the 1st run so I didn’t have to faff around putting it on in advance of the bike leg, we headed out round the field before the descent into Sherborne town centre. I took the 1st run possibly too steady, conscious that I was likely to be working pretty damn hard on the bike and wanting to conserve energy for the (inevitably) debilitating 2nd run.

Towards T1

Towards T1

Heading into T1 about 30 seconds behind Cat Faux, I briefly harboured (apparently fantastical!) ambitions of keeping her in view for at least some of the bike, given that she was competing on a road bike this year, I had Vera underneath me, and I knew my biking was stronger than 9 months prior. Never. Even. Saw. Her. (Until the 2nd run…more on that in a bit.)

Still, I did manage to catch Lucie Custance whom I knew to be a very strong runner (sub-3 hours for the marathon) and tried to pace myself on the first half of the 37 mile bike lap, as I knew that cross winds and finally headwinds would characterise the bulk of the second half, along with the long drag up above the Cerne Abbas giant. By the end of lap 1, I had passed a couple of Long Course competitors, and been passed only by the top 3 elites in the Classic distance event, including Matt Moorhouse to whom I gave a gasped shout of encouragement as he came by.

Top of Dancing Hill...just what you need to start a brutal 120K bike leg!

Top of Dancing Hill…just what you need to start a brutal 120K bike leg!

It’s never easy turning to begin the 2nd lap, and less so when you’ve been battered by the wind for the best part of 20 miles, but my fuelling was consistent, I was maintaining my discipline and in relative terms felt OK.

I saw nobody for the entirety of lap 2 – it’s a lonely race is the Long Course – and knew my legs were feeling the effects of a tough bike when spinning pretty much my lowest gear for a relatively benign gradient at points into the headwind during the last 7 miles, but I felt confident as I rolled back down Dancing Hill towards T2 and got myself mentally prepared to head out on the run.

T2 was slightly slower than I would have liked – partly as a result of having to grab the fuel-belt I’ve been using in training for longer bricks, and which I’d decided I’d take with me to ensure no lack of accessible energy sources on the 20K run. As is my wont, I managed to avoid looking anything approaching athlete-like whilst passing the official photographer, choosing that moment to try removing my arm warmers and hence resembling a stumbling patient trying to escape a strait jacket. Still, I made my way down hill towards the town feeling reasonably good but also knowing that I’d worked harder on that windy bike than I had done in pre-race training bricks.

Note to self - concentrate on one thing only (running would be a good choice) whilst passing photographer...

Note to self – concentrate on one thing only (running would be a good choice) whilst passing photographer…

The 1st lap was OK and I felt comfortable at 7:30 mpm pace, but as lap 2 approached, I was beginning to realise that target pace might be difficult to maintain. I wasn’t bonking by any means, but I’d obviously used up more energy on the bike than perhaps I’d expected or realised up until this point. Although I was disappointed to have to admit to myself that 7:30 pace was no longer realistic, I stayed calm, stuck to my fuelling, and walked the aid stations to make sure I took a decent amount of water each time.

At some point during lap 1 or 2, Cat passed me and was sufficiently magnanimous to enquire as to whether I was “having a good race”. It took me almost as much mental energy to process my thoughts as to quite how I felt my race was going as it did to spit out “Not bad so far, thanks”! Sorry if I seemed less than chatty, Cat, but I genuinely appreciated the enquiry!

I slowed to around 8:00 mpm pace but held this pretty consistently as opposed to capitulating with every lap as happened in 2013! So, back up the hill towards the finish, and I spotted someone about 400 yards ahead of me doing his final lap of the field. I knew at this point he had to be on the same lap of the same race as me, so having not seen anyone with whom I could be said to be in direct competition since Lucie passed me in the town centre, I finally had someone to aim at! Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I was 3 seconds short of reeling him in, but at least I enjoyed a little battle right at the death…so to speak.

And there we have it. I crossed the line having left nothing out there, in 6 hours and 9 minutes, good enough for 1st in AG, although there were only 3 finishers!

Finished...in more ways than one

Finished…in more ways than one

Race summary

  • Really well organised event again – thanks to Powerman UK (especially Richard) and Events Crew; logistics were excellent, as was marshalling
  • Wind was brutal
  • Bike took it out of me
  • 2nd run was slower than I wanted but almost certainly impacted by how hard I’d had to work on the bike
  • Initially disappointed not to break the 6 hour target, but subsequently reconciled myself having seen most people register slower bike legs than 2013, whereas I was 8 minutes quicker on the bike and 23 minutes quicker overall (although run legs a little shorter this year)
  • Lots learned from 2013, and avoided any silly mistakes around fuelling, transition, aid station logistics, etc (had my own stash of Jackoatbars so no need to try grabbing one of those at 20mph!)
  • No cramp!
  • No DOMS (Now that was a surprise. I know there are those who don’t subscribe to the use of supplements such as xendurance – in combination with a sensible training plan, healthy diet, recovery regime, etc, etc – other than around race time itself. To them, I’d simply say that I’m increasingly convinced there’s a cumulative impact from my own use of xendurance that has allowed me to sustain performance through a major block of training and the season’s first long course race without any real muscular soreness. Try it for yourself and form your own opinion.)

I guess part of my difficulty in assessing my own performance is that I still haven’t raced many times (3) over these kinds of distances, as much as anything due to the dirth of such races. For this reason, I have a limited experience bank against which to relate current performances and create some kind of context. This was a tough day on a tough course, so to have delivered a material and measurable improvement in the 9 months since Powerman UK 2013 should leave me feeling vindicated in terms of the training I’ve done.

This is definitely where a big part of the value is to be found in my relationship with Coach Jimmy. Yes, he sets a plan that is sensible and borne out of considerable experience; yes, he’s available for advice during the training blocks (we speak weekly) and yes, he has built me a fantastic race bike! However, were it not for Jimmy’s ability to objectively assess a race performance in the context of the conditions and my ‘training age’, as well as my personal goals, I’d still be wallowing in the quagmire of self-doubt.

So, having (for the first time in 2 years) taken an entire week off from any kind of activity whatsoever, recharged mentally as much as physically (and enjoyed a decent quotient of red wine it has to be said), I am now ready for the next phase of 2014, namely preparation for the Zofingen ITU Powerman Long Distance Duathlon World Championships in September. Jimmy says he sees this as coming close to Ironman in respect of preparation needed, with Powerman UK perhaps being more akin to a Half IM race. This means another step-up in terms of volume as well as specificity, given the notorious hills for which the Zofingen run course is infamous. What a way to spend the summer, eh?!

Probably no further race reports from me (unless I set a huge PB in the Summer Solstice 10K on June 20th and can’t stop myself from sharing it with you all) before September, but I do have a couple of gear reviews which are long overdue, so they’ll be coming soon.

Finally, thanks to those who support me on an ongoing basis, despite my not being able to offer much in return other than some post-race pictures of my not being dead, which I suppose might encourage others of a similar vintage to realise it’s not impossible to push oneself in some pretty stupidly tough endurance events whilst (for the most part) enjoying it and improving year on year. Xendurance, Skechers, Jackoatbar, Trion:Z and especially VO2 Maximum have all contributed in a variety of ways to making my life a little easier over the last 12 months, whilst I find ways to make it more difficult! For that I’m genuinely very grateful. I hope to not let any of you down – nor bring shame on the GB AG tri-suit – in Switzerland in September.

 

Roll on Zofingen

Roll on Zofingen

Boys’ Boozy Blast in the Balearics…

…nope – didn’t think you’d fall for that.

So my first week away from the family – for business or pleasure – in the best part of 4 years was spent in the company of a dozen other athletes on a Triathlon training camp in Mallorca.

Have to say it was early nights and zero alcohol all round…at least until the final evening, and that was hardly the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah!

Rather than bore you learned readers with day by day accounts of precisely which sessions were undertaken, by whom, at what time, etc, I’ll focus instead on the things that made the camp most worthwhile for me – a camp ‘virgin’ at the outset – in the hope that this might prove useful to some of you who might be considering a warm weather training camp but thus far remain unconvinced of the need for it or value to be gained from it.

I spent some time in Lanzarote last year – not on an actual camp, but helped by the wonderful Daz & Debs of TriSports Lanzarote. The location was great and the riding tough but rewarding. TriSports offers a great option for warm weather training, and there are clearly others from which to choose as well. In fact, choice is not the inhibiting factor these days.

On this occasion, I chose to attend a camp run by my own coach, Jimmy George, along with his partner, Paula, who between them run VO2 Maximum Triathlon Coaching. They were supported by a third coach, Tony Bennett, so for 12 athletes there were 3 coaches, meaning plenty of opportunity for 1-to-1 dialogue throughout.

Location

We stayed in Colonia St Jordi, about 40 minutes south east of Palma. This wasn’t the most mountainous part of the island (the northern coast reaching up towards Porto Pollenca holds that accolade), nor was it the most scenic part of the coastline in terms of informing future family holiday planning. However, it was the ideal location for our purposes, and having played host to VO2 Training Camps on three prior occasions, Jimmy and Paula knew all the best run and cycle routes, meaning that precious time wasn’t lost searching for where to head out for any given session.

View from hotel

View from hotel

Moreover, whilst I’m not a swimmer, I could see why the Camp’s proximity to the Best Swim Centre Mallorca was a huge advantage for those who do swim. Its purpose built, 10 lane, 50m pool is a truly impressive facility that has seen some of the world’s very best swimmers and triathletes return to train there time after time, and the rest of the guys seemed very impressed with its facilities.

Best Swim Centre Mallorca

Best Swim Centre Mallorca

The hotel itself – Hotel Cabo Blanco – was a perfectly adequate hotel, being clean and comfortable, and with the key attributes of both a huge and varied twice daily buffet and great bike storage facilities. Having Erdinger Alkoholfrei beer in plentiful supply also kept us sane during the week!

Training fuel...honest!

Training fuel…honest!

Cold one please

Cold one please

Structure and Focus

The camp was structured in such a way as to provide for 3 sessions per day on most days, but since I don’t swim – and was, unsurprisingly, the only Duathlete on camp – Jimmy had planned core stability and mobility sessions or additional run sessions for me to coincide with the swim sets for everyone else. Although this was undoubtedly made easier by the fact that Jimmy and I have worked together for almost a year, so he knows the areas where I need to focus, I have little doubt that had he or Paula been approached by any of the other athletes – whether coached by VO2 or not – with a view to providing some specific sessions based on their perceived needs or preferences, they would have had no problem in accommodating them. Indeed, several of the other attendees chose to sit out the occasional session according to how they were feeling or in order to protect a niggling injury, and one or two undertook slightly different versions of certain sessions based once again on their own needs.

What was clever about VO2’s ability to structure the camp was that at no point did the group feel at all fragmented, nobody felt marginalised (apart from the entirely expected banter directed at me for being a non-swimmer!) and everyone was able to take what they needed from each session. Given that there was a wide variety of abilities and strengths across the group, this is an even greater endorsement of VO2’s ability to organise an effective camp from which a range of athletes can all take maximum benefit without subjecting everyone to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. (I’m still not entirely sure quite how they managed this, but it’s testimony to Jimmy and Paula’s studious planning and behind-the-scenes diligence that it worked so well.)

Highlights

I really enjoyed the bike sessions and the fact that there was genuine variety in terms of the riding we did during the week. Rides included an easy warm-up ride, 4.5 hour ride including timed hill repeats up a 5K climb, time trial efforts and a long 5 hour cafe ride on the penultimate day which brought the reward of ‘cake of the week’ (see below!) in Porto Cristo. (This ride ended with a couple of us choosing to do another big climb up to the monastery at Sant Salvador which I’m pleased I did as the views were stupendous from the top and it was a fun descent too!)

Before hill repeats...

Before hill repeats…

 

Porto Cristo - café ride

Porto Cristo – café ride

"Cake of the week"!

“Cake of the week”!

 

View from top of Sant Salvador

View from top of Sant Salvador

Run-wise, again there was a good mixture of steady paced off-road runs through scenic wooded trails, timed 5K efforts on a carefully measured course (bringing a new PB for me despite the strong coastal winds!) and some early morning run intervals where some athletes undertook fewer or more reps based on what they were trying to gain from the week and how they were feeling on the day.

Run Drills

Run Drills

 

From a personal perspective, the true highlight has to be the long brick day, otherwise referred to as ‘Breakthrough Day’. This consisted of a swim, bike and run session for most of the guys, although I did two runs instead of the swim as one might expect. The bike course was based around a lap of around 28 miles, which we had ridden as a steady ride following the previous day’s key run session in order to ensure we all knew the route. We were each asked to indicate our preferred number of laps for both bike and run in order that the coaches knew who ought to be where at what time and could therefore check us in and out without losing track.

I really wanted to use this as a means to test my body’s ability to deal with race pace efforts and avoid cramping on the second run. For this reason, Jimmy and I agreed that I would in effect conduct a close-to-race-pace simulation effort in advance of my first A-race of 2014, Powerman UK, to be held in May in Sherborne, Dorset. To that end, I planned to do an initial 30 minute run, move straight onto a 100K bike and then finish with a 15-18K run depending upon how I was feeling. What was critical was that I correctly judge the required intensity and fuelling on the bike so as to maximise my chances of ‘enjoying’ a non-cramp-affected second run.

In actuality, it went even better than planned, and having eaten more frequently during the bike leg (on which I deliberately went pretty hard) than I had previously done in long distance races, I held up well to complete a 10 mile run at around 80-90% target race pace with no cramping at all – SUCCESS!

It was clearly too early to put this down to the work I’d been doing to strengthen and mobilise my glutes earlier in the week, but we now know that it’s this area of relative muscular weakness/inactivity (i.e, non-recruitment) that has caused the cramping, and the time spent 1-on-1 with Jimmy during the swimmers’ ‘splash-time’ meant we could identify some key dynamic exercises and strengthening drills to help me build up these critical muscles and so gradually reduce the workload my hamstrings are having to bear. (The fact that I managed to achieve this off the back of several days’ high volume training is even more pleasing from my own point of view.)

Lowlights

The only slight disappointment for me was being overcharged by Easyjet for being marginally over my ‘combined’ weight limit for bag plus bike, whereas others on the same flight had been allocated a much higher weight allowance for the bike alone. Still, it was but a minor blip in an otherwise brilliant week, and I’d far rather have opted for a £40 ‘fine’ than any sort of equipment damage, or worse, still injury, had I been offered those choices in advance.

Summary

I amassed the best part of 30 hours of training during the week – including core and mobility work and drills – which is around 40% more than I have logged previously in any given week, and significantly more than I can commit to on a regular basis when trying to fit in around family and work, as do the vast majority of age group athletes.

I was delighted to come through feeling so strong- no soreness at all – albeit this has to be almost exclusively down to having the ability to recover properly between sessions and overnight each day. This for me was the real luxury of the week; not so much the chance to put in so much training – although that was indeed great fun – but rather the chance to genuinely rest, even take a ‘siesta’, eat and fuel properly, and bag an average of 9 hours sleep every night!

In my eyes, this was perhaps the biggest vindication of my decision to ‘invest’ (and I use the word advisedly) in this training camp. I really do believe that anyone endeavouring to schedule a week off work in order to significantly ramp up their training volume would be best served by doing so in an environment targeted at enabling proper recovery as well as increased training load.

Had I tried to log 30 hours of training at home, I could probably have achieved it (albeit the weather might have made things more difficult), but in between sessions I would no doubt have got caught up in the trials and tribulations of daily life, such as those with which most of us have to contend I suspect.

The camp will have paid me back several-fold if, as it seems, it has allowed me to (a) spend quality time with my fantastic coach, (b) bank some high volume/high quality training hours, (c) build ‘race confidence’ by nailing my breakthrough brick session and (d) do all of this without injury or illness by virtue of being in a semi-controlled environment where rest and recovery could be prioritised equally alongside the training itself.

Coach Jimmy enjoying the sunshine!

Coach Jimmy enjoying the sunshine!

A Final Word

Of course, being away from home with a group of people one doesn’t know at the outset could end up being an unmitigated disaster depending upon the make-up of the group itself. I have to say that I was fortunate enough to be thrown together (this is perhaps doing a disservice to VO2 Maximum since I know they think long and hard about who to invite and accept onto these camps) with a really sound bunch of chaps and three top coaches.

 

Top bunch

Top bunch

Everyone was respectful of one another, people seemed to be at their ease very quickly, and I got the impression that even as the week went on and tiredness inevitably manifested itself, everyone was genuinely enjoying themselves and taking an awful lot of positives from the experience.

The sheer number of ‘repeat offenders’ who had previously attended VO2’s camps and come back for more must mean that the organisers have struck upon a winning formula. For anyone wondering whether a camp is for them, I should point out that these repeat attendees were a mix of relative newcomers to multisport, more experienced triathletes and some damn quick GB AG representatives from Olympic, Middle Distance and Long Distance disciplines. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that VO2 will be able to add a MAMIL-Long Distance Duathlete to the list in 2015 as well!

Top of Sant Salvador Climb

Top of Sant Salvador Climb

The proof of the pudding is of course in the eating, so all that remains is for me to justify my ‘investment’ by racing well in my key races this year, and to wish all the guys I met on the camp the very best of luck in their respective A-races in 2014; I hope to get along to support some of you at the Vitruvian and Dambuster events, since there won’t be any decent Duathlons for me to race at that time of the season in any case! And final thanks to Jimmy and Paula for organising such a great Training Camp – I can highly recommend it.