Kona. I’ve changed…

Admittedly, I’ve been pretty slack on the old blog posts and updates this year. My year was planned during the off-season of 2015 and has been through various amendments! Originally I was registered for Ironman France in early June. When the European Football Championships were announced the travel prices and accommodation prices went sky high. I decided to change my focus to Ironman UK, some 6 weeks later and revisit where my Ironman career began 3 years ago.

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My training went as best as it ever had done. I enjoy the training just as much as the racing. Executing the Ironman race is just putting together all that work and appreciating the process that got you there.

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For me, Ironman UK felt like one hell of a struggle and a long, hot day of racing. As I mention in my race report, the run was survival mode. It wasn’t until after the race when I’d analysed my splits and seen my overall position that I could see how much all the other athletes struggled too and I had actually raced pretty well.

It’s hard to tell what position you’re in during an Ironman, even more so with a rolling start. Having a spotter with updates will struggle to be accurately up to date. It’s all about racing as hard and sensibly as you can against yourself and the course.

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Finishing in 6th place in my age group has made me realise a dream of going to the Big Island and racing at the Ironman World Championships. Some people have had a childhood dream to race the Big Dance and some have spent years trying to qualify. Being at the roll down on Monday made me appreciate how much it means to people that make the cut.

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I’ve raced motocross my entire sporting life and got ok at it. I wanted to race at the highest level I could in that. Dad and I raced some relatively big races, winning Championships, but we weren’t ever going to turn pro or travel with the sport. We loved it and raced as hard as we could every weekend. When I took up Ironman in 2013 I didn’t have a clue what everyone was going on about racing Kona. As I started to learn more about the sport and understand what qualifying for Kona was, I floated the idea with myself that it should ultimately be the aim – become as good as you can. If that is enough to reach the heights of Kona then that’s great.

I think I have a big enough ego to want to aim for the pinnacle of whatever I’m doing. Whether that’s in my working life or sporting life. If I took up guitar I’d want to eventually be good enough to release a hit! I work hard in the background, training everyday and pushing myself as far as I can. As it turned out, Ironman UK came together for me and I was able to realise that goal of Kona qualification.

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It was tough. My coach Paul Savage has been incredible. I went to visit Paul with a sore ITB back in 2012 and since then he has trained me from first timer to Kona qualifier in the space of 3 years. All credit to him and his vast knowledge. I stick to whatever he tells me and knock out the sessions as best I can. I can’t speak highly enough of Paul’s ability to motivate me to new things.

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My partner Lynsey. She has been there since the beginning and it’s a big call to go to Kona for the both of us. We are getting married next year and to be digging into a hefty chunk of money for my sport is hard to justify but she has encouraged me to be the best I can be and I love her for that. Unfortunately Lynsey cannot be with me in Kona due to budgets and also her best friends wedding taking place the same day!

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My parents are amazing. Dad and I love to race, always have done. We are a great team despite all my sports being identified as individual efforts, there is an ever present team behind me regardless. Whatever I decide to do, they never question it, just encourage it. Mum and Dad’s support is never overlooked and they have been at each of my races no matter where it is and they’ve seen me cross every finish line and are such an amazing sight for me.

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It’s been hard to sum up my feelings towards Kona. Everyone is different. Like I say, it’s never been my life long dream, but it has been something that has intrigued me since I came into the sport. I hope that doesn’t sound unappreciative or condescending. Once I set my mind to it, it did become my dream and to have the opportunity to test myself against the very best on the toughest course in the world is something that excites me beyond words. I could not have turned down the slot, I don’t want to resent the decision and be sat watching the race on October 8th knowing I should’ve been there. I need to do this.

Bring it on.

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Race Report: Man-Tri Aquathlon(s)

Since doing the first two events of the series, I have since been marshalling at the races. For £10 you get Tuesday night solid field and chip timing. Manchester Tri Club host several events across the year and the Aquathlon series have gone from strength to strength. This year a change of venue to Sale Water Park and high hopes for this race growing into an attractive series for North West racers.

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I had a good first race, charging through the run to make up the lost ground in the swim. The second race I ran I was just coming off the back of a huge training block and I could tell in the legs that this was a tough short and sharp race.

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I didn’t feel it at all and the times are telling by which day I struggled with!

Race Report: Darley Moor Duathlon

29th May Darley Moor Duathlon

Result: 4th / 1st AG

I won an entry to Darley Moor Duathlon after winning my age group at the Macclesfield Off-Road duathlon back in February. I won my age group again at a small local race.

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Well organised and really nice folks at this race. A beautiful smooth be course on the circuit means you can just axe yourself and leave it all out there.

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The run around the circumference of the circuit was really hot and sticky, but I was out ran from a podium place by a very strong club runner. It took a lot out of me to ride hard up to the front and I lost out in the final ¼ mile. Good, fun, local event.

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Race Report: Southport Marine Lake Std Distance Tri

22nd May

Result: 30th / 7th AG – 2:14:41

Swim: 26:31 / Bike: 1:05:23 / Run: 39:29

I always enjoy a solid standard distance race and Southport was a fairly decent day. I really need to pick up my run legs and eek out a few more minutes of speed.

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My bike was solid, on a windy course and the swim is all about damage limitation for me. The officials were particularly power-trippy at this race, it didn’t have a great vibe about it.

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Nice venue for a post-race wander. I was forced to do a post-race wander because the parking is on the course so you aren’t able to leave until the final competitor is off the bike. I’d suggest parking off the recommended area!

 

Race Report: Monster Middle Tri

8th May Monster Middle

Result: 13th– 4:23:34

Swim 35:06 / Bike 2:18:25 / Run 1:28:21

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Really enjoyed this race. Great location and a great value for money race. It worked out to be a perfect tune up for my Ironman. A nice middle distance Tri based in Peterborough around the rowing lake. It was great for spectators as the location is all in one place.

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The bike leg was even fairly nice and I put together a solid day of racing. It was very warm and I’m really happy with my ride and run through the pack to take a good result.

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A long trek for us, but Lynsey and I decided to make a weekend of it and stay over. My folks were also able to join and visit a relative in Peterborough at the same time.

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All round, an event I would defiantly recommend.

 

Race Report: Ironman UK 2016

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Race day came around so quickly. I try to spread out the little jobs of race week across the final few days just to fill the time and keep myself occupied. My to-do-list on Thursday was ‘Steady Run. Sort kit. Massage. Hair Cut.’ I considered that a busy day! It’s a nice time to chill and embrace the feelings that surround race week. Checking the weather and boiling up more pasta all begin to fade into one.

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Ironman UK is a well oiled machine, with the Macron Stadium being a perfect venue to host registration, an ever improving expo (if a bit pricey) and location of T2. Nothing mega going on in the goody bag, but if you want to add to your shot of free shower gel, simply do a few passes of the Innocent Coconut Water girl.

The overnight rain had left T1 as a bit of a muddy one. I always leave my bike racked in T1 fairly bare, adding my nutrition, water bottle and spares on race morning. My bike was very damp and needed a wipe down before I could begin the finishing touches. I add my shoes to the pedals, check the correct gearing is good to go. At least I know nothing can get lost or rain damaged overnight if I keep hold of it all.

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Ready to rock, time to head to the seeding pens for the rolling start. Time is approaching. Nervous chat fills the air, crossed with the exhaling track pumps and requests for help with wetsuit zips.

Swim: 1:13:12 / AG Rank: 78 / Overall Rank: 518

My first experience of the rolling start, something IMUK introduced last year. The self seeding pens were paying lip service to the idea of everyone being of similar speed but it was pretty tight in there so just finding a space was a bonus. As soon as you cross the matt, your chip starts so get in the water and crack on sharpo. I’m never going to set the world on fire with my swimming. I found in training that my speed and times of reps had plateaued. I wasn’t getting any faster. But I was getting fitter. I could perform a good swim set or steady state swim much more efficiently. I could hold my splits rather than see them drop off. So I adopted this philosophy for my Ironman swim – OK, it doesn’t matter the time isn’t any quicker, but I’m much fresher for hitting the bike – fitter not faster.

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The rolling start gave us all plenty more room on the straight length of the swim course, with the usual bottle neck appearing at each buoy. Obviously the course tightening comes with the flying elbows and nonsensical kicking as standard. I lost my hat and goggle as a result, but was lucky to save the goggles and only lose the white swim cap. The swim caps at IMUK are decent quality, Arena ones. I opened mine out the packet and straight on my head the morning of the race, but when swim caps are brand new they are a bit chalky and too new. It came off my head fairly easily, next time I’ll give the hat a good rinse and make sure the first time it goes on is not on the walk to the start line.

Pennington Flash is a purposeful venue for the race start. It’s tough to see further than a foot in front of you so there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the swim. Just focus on technique, try and find some feet and sight enough to stay on track.

Bike: 5:33:40 / AG Rank: 5 / Overall Rank 65

I started the ride with a single water bottle. The first aid station appears after around 15 miles and is a gentle climb up towards this point. I didn’t want to be carrying the extra weight. I still had the bottle cage fixed on my downtube, as well as the torpedo mount between the areobars. The reasons were two-fold; Running out of T1, pushing the bike holding the saddle makes it very unstable with all the weight at the front of the bike and I also prefer not to climb with all that weight on the front of the bike. Secondly I wanted the option to have two bottles. I took two bottles at each aid station regardless. One for hydration, the other to throw over me but discard. The aid stations on the bike were regular enough for me to not have to carry more than one water bottle if I didn’t need to.

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The bike went so quickly. I was overtaking all day. I must’ve overtaken a couple of hundred people. My bike division rank was 5th in comparison to my swim of 78th. Defiantly need to limit the damage of the swim and use the strength of my cycling to move forward rather than catch up.

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The two-lap bike course takes in 4 climbs in total, 2 times up Sheep House Lane and twice also up Hunters Hill. The atmosphere was fantastic at both of these locations. The course is also very technical. The descents aren’t straight and gradual, but twisty and fast. I am a confident descender and enjoy using this to marry out that average speed.

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My bike was great, I felt fast and comfortable and was able to grind out a solid ride that I was hoping would come together from the training I had been putting in and seeing the gains slowly coming in time for a peak on race day. I experience some cramps in my quads on the final climb up Hunters Hill. I got through it, knowing the roll into T2 was not far away. I took everything I had left in my nutrition. I threw the remaining salt sticks down and as much water as possible, in preparation for a marathon that was beginning to warm up.

Off the bike in bare feet and a painful tip-toe across the car park at The Macron Stadium. I’m ready to run the marathon. I knew I’d had a good ride as it was quiet in T2, not many bikes on the racks. I felt good.

Run: 3:44:13 / AG Rank: 6 / Overall Rank: 74

Off the bike, I was in a confident mood. I felt strong. The first mile out of T2 was a brutal rise through a housing estate before a further 5 miles from Horwich into Bolton Town Centre to begin the laps. It was soon I realised I have lured myself into false pretences about how good I felt.

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I headed out of T2 far too excited, far too fast. It was early into the marathon when I started to make deals with myself. The projected marathon time went straight out of the window and I was holding on. Yes, from 6 miles into a marathon, I was in survival mode. I couldn’t face looking too far ahead. There was too much road in front of me. I concentrated on the next 3 yards. I turned my gaze to the floor, sunglasses down and tried to disassociate the pain I was in and let my mind only worry about the next 3 yards. My back was locked, perhaps a result of a slightly over aggressive aero position on the bike or not sitting up early enough on the final roll into T2.

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My stomach began to churn and I needed to have a toilet break to relieve myself in the most literal sense of the word. I thought things were going from bad to worse. I ran passed my coach Paul Savage who was well position for my current state of mind! I grabbed a gel at the next aid station, threw down coke and had a feast at most aid stations. I was craving calories and sugar hits wherever possible.

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I saw my Mum, Dad, sister, brother-in-law and my new nephew Abel soon after, on the brutal little climb out of Botllon town centre. This was a huge moment for me. I had to keep going. This race had to end on my terms. I slowly began to feel ok and decided to push on until the very end. My feet were in agony, I was hot, depleted and so close to home. I was still unable to ignore the aid stations and had to consider every ounce of energy right up until the final few meters. Any piece of extra effort was coming at a huge cost.

Result: 10:39:52 / AG Rank: 6 / Overall: 74

I’m so proud of myself for not quitting. It was the hardest and most mental battle I’ve had with myself in any race. Perhaps I pushed too hard on the bike? I set off too quickly on the run. I didn’t respect the hilly run course in my training so I was surprised at what came on that 26.2 miles.

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It seemed a lot of other guys struggled through the day as well. I ended up 6th in my Age Group which has concequently qualified me for a slot at Kona and a chance to take on the best at the Ironman World Championships on October 8th.

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For now, I’m eating and chilling!

16 Weeks – Time To Get Real

The weekend just gone marked 16 weeks until Ironman UK and the countdown begins!
We had the finance’s two sisters and their fellas visiting from Northern Ireland over Easter without their kids, so they were ready to let loose in Manchester. The girls went off looking at wedding dresses so I was left to entertain 2 Irish guys. To the pub, easy win.
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Took the Irish guys clay pigeon shooting

This drags me down with them I’m afraid. Although I could not keep up so was no point in trying, I did have a few more drinks than I usually can cope with and we ate out a lot over the 3 days they were here. Heavy on the wallet and liver. I pencilled in some shooting to break up the drinking – it kinda worked!
I was happy to have a big blow out to be honest. I’d been a bit under the weather twice in close proximity and was fairly fed up of feeling crap. I had an interrupted block of training, having to eventually give in to the cold and take nearly a full week off training. Even when I eased back into it I didn’t feel 100%.
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Lynsey & I Eating our way through the Easter weekend

The Easter weekend marked a turning point in my thinking and approach to IMUK from here on in. No more messing about with late nights out drinking and eating whatever is put in front of me and then everyone else’s leftovers! I can cope with that much in-take when I am slogging the training, but without it to balance things out, I was slipping into a motivational choke hold.
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Always going to be frosty up in The Peaks!

16 weeks pinged up in my calendar as a reminder that now shit needs to get serious. Although my swimming was looking good, my bike training was struggling. Motivation to throw a leg over the Turbo was creeping further down the list and my running was ticking along with the odd niggle beginning to creep in. My calves have pained me for a few weeks now and then my ITB’s have began to flare up after most long runs. Although they calm down reasonably quickly it’s just another problem to manage. Nobody said Ironman training was going to be simple, so you accept it and work around it.
I love getting out on my bike and savour the long rides now the weather is beginning to take an upward turn. I need to get back on the Turbo and hit those sessions as hard as I was before I contracted the dreaded cold. I took a ride over to Leeds to meet my new nephew. Felt good out on the road, didn’t feel my bike fitness had suffered as bad I’d anticipated. Aside, everybody meet Able Riding, healthy and happy. He’s awesome.
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My new nephew Abel, born 16/03/16

Up next is Wilmslow Half Marathon (see how the legs hold up in that one) and then a countdown to Monster Mojo (a half Iron distance race) will see me bring in the odd brick session to get that lovely feeling of running off the bike back in the muscle memory.
Onwards and upwards…

Race Report: Oulton Park Duathlon

Oulton Park Duathlon was a great day out. I did the sprint distance at this event a couple of years ago when I first started out in triathlon and multisport and didn’t have a great day. I look back and see how far I’ve come since then.

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This time I did the standard distance. Run 2 laps of Oulton Park motor racing circuit, then 9 laps on the bike and finishing off with a single lap run.
Nice smooth, closed roads which was steadily undulating but manageable for a chap who rides in the Peak District!
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My fiancé Lynsey came along with me to the race. It was nice to have her there. I’m admittedly unsociable around these events, I struggle to talk to folks in general before a race. Lynsey was fun to have around, she is very sporty and competitive herself (I was over at Wakefield watching her play hockey the day before so she owed me a cold day on the sidelines!).
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Everyone bombed off at the start of the race. Seriously, went off out of a cannon. It’s laughable at how poorly paced and excited some folks can be when the gun goes. I stuck to a pace that my training was indicating I was capable of and by the end of lap 1 I was reeling people back in and by lap 2 everyone had come back to me and they were breathing rather heavily.
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I was fairly conservative on that first run, knowing I would unleash on the bike. I made up 15 places alone on the bike leg. Felt great, holding a solid effort, consistent lap times all within a second of each other averaging 23mph. Bike felt great and I was unsure how my cycling was at the minute. There is only so much you can tell from a turbo trainer, especially as I turbo train to heart rate so I’m always working hard on the bike. Long rides have been pretty inconsistent with the variable weather so I was happy to see a really competitive bike split. I did add a few bolt-on parts to the bike over winter which I’ll come on to in another post.
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Transitions were on point, even topping the charts on T2. I only add this footnote because I hadn’t practised them at all!
Run 2 I felt fairly beat. It was the longest lap of the day. I went toe to toe with another chap who broke me on the final incline. I had a comfortable lead from the next guy so I consolidated my position and despite how slow it felt, it was on par with most of the other guys.
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14th overall and 3rd in my age group. Not a bad return and a huge confidence booster to see that riding my bike in anger is still roughly where it was. Speedwise anyway, I will be wanting to hold a similar average speed for IMUK so I will need to look at some endurance to hold that.
A good race, well ran event at a venue that lends itself to a simple and well executed race. On to the next one.

Switching from Ironman France to Ironman UK

As I mentioned previously, I have decided to switch my 2016 Ironman plans from Nice, France to Bolton, UK.
I did an old fashioned ‘Pro’s & Con’s List’ (see below) and it just made sense when I went on a 4 hour bike ride to argue the toss with myself. I got off the bike, still in my kit and paid the £50 transfer fee.
I signed up to Ironman France with all the best intentions. I wanted to do an EPIC Ironman race, one of the iconic races that is on the calendar. A real tester, an honest course. A swim in the Med, an alpine pass on the bike and a stinking hot seafront run – I knew if this were to be my last Ironman for a while I would be going out in style in a race that would really hurt me.

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So why am I now back at Ironman UK, the site of my first Ironman back in 2013? As you can see below the ‘Ironman France Con’s’ list is the longest list!
I was stressing myself out with questions about gearing and bike set up. There are long standing arguments all over the internet about using a road bike vs a TT bike at IM France. I was looking at a brief trip to do a course recce, but this wasn’t going to be possible.
The major problem came when the European Football Championships were announced and Northern Ireland are based in Nice from the same weekend. This naturally meant the flights from Manchester and Liverpool to Nice doubled as well as the accommodation – air BnB etc all saw the chance to cash in alongside the football.
Ironman France Pro’s:
Epic Course
Tough bike ride to play to my strength
Opportunity to travel for a race
Guaranteed weather
Ironman France Con’s:
Price of flights inc bike haulage
Need to hire a bike box
Hire Car in France
Price of accommodation
Sea Swim (proven not too good in the sea at Challenge Weymouth!)
Paying for Lynsey to be there
Extended time off work
Ironman UK Pro’s:
Local, able train on the course
20 minute drive to start line
Known entity
More family & friends able to watch

 

Ironman UK Con’s:
Done the race before (albeit a slightly altered course)
I believe I’ve made a sensible decision and with both courses spitting out similar finish times I’m still opting for a tough course and a long day of racing. I’m over the idea of having to do an epic race (for now). I just want to do an Ironman and I forgot how lucky I was to have one on my doorstep!

Race Report: Stockport Trail Half

Another well ran event by Crazy Legs Events. It was the same events company I raced with recently at the Macclesfield Off-Road Duathlon at the beginning of February.
I spotted the Stockport Trail Half on their website at the same time as signing up for the Duathlon so thought I’d put my name down.
I’ve been steady running 90 minutes (12-13miles) each week, so I knew I could handle the distance and worth giving it a go at a slightly higher tempo.
I had to take Friday off work after feeling a bit peaky all week so I knew I wasn’t in tip top shape going into this race but happy to toe the line and enjoy a crisp and cold morning in Marple, Stockport.

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The route was as good as an out and back with the back 6 miles being into a chilly headwind. Following The Middlewood Way, starting out at Marple Rugby Club, the route was reasonably flat and bearable, with a few undulations in the final two miles.
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I had an elevated heart rate from early in the race, touching 170bpm as I stuck to 6:40-6:42 min/miles. I was curious to see how long I could hold a heart rate this high as I usually stay between 160 & 170bpm in my long interval Turbo sessions when I am working with FTP. I was happy to see my body able to continue working (running at a decent pace) with a heart rate that can better cope with the demands of increased lactate. A sign of improving fitness.
It was becoming harder work in the final 3 miles of the run, but this is when the field actually began coming back to me and I must have made up a good 5 places in that final quarter of the race. A good sign that my pacing is good and I have a good understanding of my own fitness.

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My calves were shot at the finish line. They just locked up. At the time I could barely walk back to the car, without any  prior warning during the race. It was instant as soon as I stopped running. Kinda love to hate that tight calf feeling! A good indication I worked hard. The same can be said for my left ITB, which tightened and caused a lot of pain as the afternoon went on – and then went on into the night and still hanging around the following morning! What a frustrating injury.
I did do around 15 minutes on the foam roller before I left the house for the race, but alas, I have not been plagued with the dreaded ITBS for a while. A concerning familiar feeling. Perhaps being a touch ill in the week and missing a long mid-week run just gave everything a chance to tighten up. I’ll defiantly be back on the foam roller for this week as I try to manage the ITB & recover ahead of Oulton Park Standard Distance Duathlon on March 6th.