Category Archives: Personal
After Challenge Weymouth in September 2015, I decided I could squeeze one more big effort at the full Iron distance in 2016. I’d raced Challenge Almere in 2014 and Challenge Weymouth in 2015, the latter really coming up short on the experiential aspect of achieving something HUGE. I signed up for Ironman France, an epic, famous race on the Cote d’Azur, but I’ve since transferred to Ironman UK for 2016 – this is a long story I’ll talk about another time!
The ‘razzmatazz’ – for want of a better word- that Ironman as a brand has when it rolls into town is arguably worth the premium that comes with it. Yes, I am saying Ironman races are worth paying more for, but not necessarily agreeing with that cost – a lesson in diplomacy there! When I did Ironman UK in Bolton in 2013, my first Iron distance race, it didn’t disappoint in making me feel like ‘Anything Was Possible’ to coin the tag line. Challenge Weymouth notably lacked this. Yes it was a cheaper entry point, but the Pavilion where registration was held was a touch shabby, the finisher chute was extremely anti-climatic and as the event was ran as a franchise the organisers struggled to deliver that grandeur Ironman can seemingly replicate week in week out.
It’s similar to the current commercial radio model of ‘National Brands, Delivered Locally’ whereby Capital Radio and/or Heart are well established London born brands that have been rolled out across the country. A clear single minded vision, that filters down from the top under a brand guided umbrella, the experience of listening should be the same in London, South Wales, Manchester, Liverpool etc while maintaing a local touch. Ironman clearly governs centrally and retains its brand values and delivers that experience in the same way, whether that event be in Brazil, Bolton, Texas or Zurich. The success of this models is built on network communication and a defined image that cannot be compromised at ground level. The stand outs like Kona (and for this analogy Capital Radio London!) are the flagships, they rule the roost, they are a different entity setting the standard. Attracting the biggest stars to their events, blazing the trail of what they do and leading by example. They are the aspirations of every athlete – or listener – that is coming into contact with the brand and these brand expectations need to go above and beyond – at every moment. Clients and commercial partners they align themselves with for example. These established brands have earned the right to be ‘picky’ of who they want next to their logos (you might not hear an ad for The Sun Newspaper on Capital Liverpool nor see Kona take Malboro as a title sponsor!) – protect the brand at all costs!
It will be interesting to see how Ironman re-brand the Weymouth event now they have bought it. Will the juggernaut of WTC demand their brand be protected with a course alteration or venue change (the locals in Weymouth did not like the event being ran on their roads last year!). Much like Capital FM landing in Liverpool, replacing Juice FM, the all new Capital FM Liverpool brand needs to have an impact. It certainly has, with Justin Bieber and Fluer East being part of the launch campaign, so will we will see some big names racking their bikes at the inaugural Ironman Weymouth?
For a moment, whilst I was soaking in the finishing chute at Ironman UK in 2013 I was the star. The 25 meter long finisher chute at Challenge Weymouth was over before I could enjoy the moment. Just look the difference above. Hearing Justin Bieber say your city’s name or being put on-air as a caller to win some VIP gig tickets is also making you the star. Aspirational, they are off to sit in the posh seats with a slap up meal and see their heroes perform on stage. The Ironman just wants to hear his/her name being called and then told ‘You. Are. An. Ironman’. Those few words carry a certain commercial weight that is fully in use from a savvy brand like Ironman.
These two brands are closely related in corporate values, brand awareness and the monopoly presence within their respective industry, but what they fundamentally share is the desire to deliver a better experience on the ground for their audience. It is an uphill struggle for their competitors to replicate. These hugely successful brands capture your mind and for me, it is very difficult to resist the association with the mainstream in both of these cases.
Thats my ‘A’ race done and I’m back from a three week holiday travelling Croatia and eating – lots! But how did Challenge Weymouth go? Firstly it was great to once again represent GB Age Groupers at the European Long Distance Triathlon Championship and our team manager Tim Whitmarsh was great and bringing all the other GB athletes together in Weymouth. 4th in my Age Group
Starting on the stoney beach of Weymouth Bay, it was a 2 lap swim course in the sea. As it turned out, 2 very different laps. I had my goggles knocked off in the first 200m or so, but thankfully I kept hold of them and surprised myself at how quickly I got them back on.
The first lap felt ok, I held a reasonable effort and felt I was moving quite comfortably through the water. Out for the Australian exit and it was totally different swim – the water had become choppy and I swallowed a lot of it – I didn’t feel too great coming out of the water, a bit sickly and a touch off the pace.
Transition 1 went smoothly and I was off out into the Dorest Jurassic Coast on the bike. I soon began to feel good and respected the early climb that comes after 5 miles. This a two lap race and thankfully I had overcompensated in my training for hills so I knew the 5, 500ft of climbing over the course was going to be manageable. The course was undulating but it was possible to spend the majority of of time on the aero bars. I had a very solid bike ride, registering one of the fastest bike splits in my Age Group and moving myself up the field to level out the time lost in the swim. My nutrition plan worked well on the bike and the time passed relatively quickly. It got a bit lonely out there and I had to keep my mind busy. It took away from the fatigue and passed a few miles. I tried to name every motocross I’ve ever raced on. Then I even tried to name every girl I’ve ever kissed – but that only took about 5 minutes! The bike course was scenic enough, but the country roads made for a very solitary time and with nobody in front or behind I had to be confident I was even on the right course. Luckily I did a recce drive around the course the day before so I had a vague idea where I was headed! Finally back into T2 and I got my first glimpse of my friends and family which was a big boost that I needed.
I came out of T2 feeling woeful. Perhaps I had gone too hard on the bike. I’d stuck diligently to my nutrition plan that was tried and tested in weeks of long ride training, but this short stint to the first aid station had all the wrong signs. I perhaps went off a touch quick, but I knew pretty early on that this marathon was going to be a long day of survival. I walked through this first aid station, had a quick word with myself and took on some more nutrition. Within moments I felt better, but by no means ‘good’. My game plan amended slightly, I was holding a steady pace but walking every aid station and constantly cooling myself down. It was getting a bit warmer in the afternoon and running through the crowds of ice cream eating, pint drinking and bbq-ing family and friends was agony! 4 and 1/2 laps up and down the promenade, thats just broken down into 4 x 10k’s which is ok isn’t it? The last one was fairly brutal and probably my undoing. I just wanted it to be over with. I began ignoring aid stations and just focusing on getting to the line as quick as I could and in whatever state that would be. My last 3 miles were the quickest of my run and not out of the coaching manual. I crossed the line 5th in my Age Group and spent the following 2 hours in the medical tent. I had put everything into that and I can’t have any complaints that I didn’t give it absolutely everything I had. It was a tough day and I am proud to have battled through it. I’ve not been to that sort of place before and I had to dig deep in that final 5 or 6 miles to pull through it.
I had an amazing support crew from all my family, especially Mum and Dad and girlfriend Lynsey as well as my coach Paul Savage (physio-coach.co.uk). The days leading up to an Ironman can be odd. Probably different for everyone, but I go very quiet and want to do anything but talk about the race or the weather etc, I drag out little jobs to fill time. I get a bit short and sharp with folks and the littlest things not being triple checked can keep you up at night. They are great to have around and do everything to help me and that is so important even if thats leaving me alone! It’s an individual sport, but the folks in the background make it all possible and on every single lap of that run just seeing them was the highlight of my day and massively kept me going.
It’s been good to finally get outside and even throw in the odd spring event recently. It’s been difficult to chase those cycling miles over the winter, so I’ve taken the opportunity to mix up the riding and also get the all important bike fit done before the race season rolls around.
I’ve had the mountain bike out quite a lot over winter and used this as a good alternative to the turbo trainer. The Mountain bike works you hard and has transferable skills for bike handling and is much more accessible in all weathers. Now it’s a bit more bearable to get out on the road bike and clock up some miles in the Peak District hills, it means I’ve not had to sacrifice too many weekends to the indoor turbo sessions. It’s great having North Wales and The Peak District on the relative doorstep of South Manchester.
The time spent not racing was a good chance to get the TT bike dialed in and set up for the season ahead. I had a great bike fit session at Paul Savage’s (www.Physio-Coach.co.uk), tweaking my position to get the best possible fit. With my main races being the British Middle Distance Championship at Bala and the European Long Distance Championship in Weymouth we reached a set up that isn’t too aggressive and means I can comfortably stay on the aero bars for long periods. It’s a thorough process and an important one to get right.
Getting the bike fit done before the season kicks in means I have plenty of time to get used to it and familiar with the set up as each Mountain bike, road bike and TT bike are all slightly different. I won’t have to touch this again now so everything is on point and ready to go racing.
My road bike is an old Specialized Allez Sport that I don’t mind running into the ground and is heavy. Once I switch to the TT bike (Cannondale Slice) it feels so slick and light and easy to go quick on. The training effect of the old tank-like Spesh is actually a great benefit when I swing a leg over the Slice. I don’t think I’d be allowed another bike even if I did want to upgrade, as when she reads this, I’ll have to admit that I never did actually sell the mountain bike!
Post Triathlon Blues is something I’ve never really had. When I completed Ironman UK I was such a high for completing the event I never came down from that and almost enjoyed the pain I was in because I knew the process I’d been through.
2 weeks on from Challenge Almere and I wouldn’t say I have ‘The Blues’ per se, but I have been constantly thinking about my race and noticed more than ever that the training is absent.
I consciously talk myself out of doing any training, instead I started walking home from work (roughly 5 miles) just to keep some activity going. The weather was good and it was a few days until pay day and the tram is a fiver!
What are the ‘symptoms’ of post triathlon blues?
– Missing the challenge of training
– Everything seems like an effort
– More time on your hands so you’re bored
– mood swings
Nutrition can play a part in the mood swings as the body is now super sensitive to sugar and I’m probably eating more but minus the training. I’ve put on over half a stone in weight in 2 weeks and it was a bit of anti-climax being able to let loose on the Domino’s and curry and beer and wine. I thought I wanted it more than I needed it. Moodyness probably comes from thinking how my race could have gone better, but then balances out by thinking about how it could have gone worse! My stresses of water in goggles, getting beat up in the swim, mechanical failure on the bike or punctures or blowing up on the run never materialised. So that’s good. But I wasn’t in bits like I was after IMUK and feel I may have left something on the table during my run. But when I tried to pick up on the pace on race day, my hamstrings were tight, so perhaps that was my best performance for the day. It’s easy to forget the good things about a race when it went well and heighten the minor ‘could haves’.
Taking a two week break was important to rebuild my hunger for training and rushing back into anything may have delayed any enthusiasm I had for returning, focussing on what can be done in the future rather than what has happened in the past. My mind needs a rest as much as my body. I was having trouble sleeping when I returned to my usual routine of work in Manchester and couldn’t really concentrate on things for too long. I was unmotivated to do anything; housework, the big shop, everything was an effort. I had devoted so much time to training and sacrificed little things like drinking and late nights, my routine had been solely based around training rather than anything else, so taking this away overnight was massively noticeable . Without the adrenaline and endorphins released from training there was no real reason why I had to do anything at all.
It’s good practice to write down a race report and something I’ve always tried to get in the habit of doing. I have a record of went well and it’s documented for next time. I never saw training as a burden and was always up for it, and when both my body and mind are no longer active it’s been difficult to replace it. I believe I needed this tunnel vision to get up for training and my race and wouldn’t change anything in my build up for my ‘A’ race. Placing such emphasis on it makes it a big deal to me personally and therefore something I don’t want to risk fucking up! I train alone so have no social aspect that has been taken away, just my own sense of well being.
I’m not overcoming post race blues, but I have enjoyed getting out on the mountain bike again, something I put away for most of the summer while I hit the Ironman training hard. I didn’t want to risk injury or be using up energy on the MTB that could be spent on road miles. It’s nice to not have the clock running over my rides and just being out doing things I want to do rather than the things I have to do.
I’ve signed up for the Leeds Abbey Dash in November, a 10k flat road race. It’s a reason to get back into some good running and have a structure back in place. I’ll be back in the pool, social riding and on the turbo for just the one day a week.
My coach Paul Savage has again fired up the plans and will continue to be my main man for 2015. Now Paul and I have worked together for a couple of years I appreciate he knows my body, my injuries and what I am capable of more than anyone and I’d find it very difficult to go this alone. I do as I’m told and it’s worked every time so far.
My 2015 calendar is beginning to take shape with a few races pencilled in, which is great to have set so early on:
March – Wilmslow Half Marathon
April – Manchester Marathon
June – Bala Middle Distance Triathlon – British National Champs
September – Challenge Weymouth – European Long Distance Triathlon Champs
Reference to more on Triathlon Blues is in Mark Kleanthous’ ‘Triathlon. The Mental Battle’
My name is James and I am a nerd. It’s a good admission, one I’m not scared to say out loud.
I always take my race prep very seriously and for Challenge Almere this was no different. Literally, I did nothing different in my race prep and made sure that this was going to be the case. Although this time I was travelling abroad, living out of a hotel for 3 days before the race.
I took my own pasta, bread, peanut butter, jam, honey, orange juice and even the toaster just to make sure I could have what I wanted when I wanted it and not rely on any outside factors disrupting that.
I ate plain white pasta and some chicken I grilled in garlic and turmeric that was batched up in Tupperware and put in the cool box for Thursday and Friday meals (race day was Saturday). I had the toaster just in case the hotel kitchens were not open at 5:30am on race day. I did attend the pasta party on Friday early evening, mainly for the social aspect, and I had some of their plain pasta and bread – I didn’t take the sauces, so true to this philosophy, I wasn’t going to risk it.
If It Ain’t Broke…
I had my last long ride the week before Almere and the bike was superb, running like a dream, so I didn’t need to strip it down and rebuild it – why? I’d be risking it not going back the same way. I did tighten everything, check it over several times and took it for a spin on Friday to triple check the gears were clicking, the brakes were ok and nothing had worked its way loose in the car journey.
It was a warm day on Friday (24C) when I racked the bike, so I deliberately let some air of the tires, thinking the afternoon heat could expand the tires and cause an overnight puncture. I would be checking the air pressure on race morning anyway, so I’ll just do it then.
I spent a lot of time in the transition area until I got bored of it. I eyed up a flag that was directly in front of my bike and I was 3 rows back from there. I walked up and down, until I was really familiar with the place.
I had thought about another way of securing my spare tubes on the seat post, getting rid of my obscure hanging saddle bag that every rider politely reminds me looks like is hanging off, but again – why? I’d hit my training times with this saddle bag on, so why try and switch it up now? So it stayed. A little to the right, but it stayed.
I saw the press release from Challenge Almere that the race would be sponsored by High 5 gels on the run, so I bought a box of 20 of these to train with. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction to them and I knew what they looked like, what they tasted like come race day.
My bike nutrition had been tried and tested several times in training which I mentioned in the race report.
A few guys had problems out on the bike. A frayed gear cable eventually gave way for one, a pedal arm worked its way loose for another, a bad reaction to the caffeinated sports drink caused a DNF and one fella had to run 8 miles back to his hotel after bike racking. All massively avoidable problems.
I checked with the race organisers via e-mail that it would be ok to wear my race number belt underneath my wetsuit from the start (not allowed in Ironman races) and familiarised myself with the rules for a different branded event. Another chap was DQ’d for removing his helmet while he fixed a puncture.
Control The Controllables…
I was actually quite calm in the few days leading up to the race, because I was never on the hunt for anything I needed. I knew it was all under my control and I can’t wast energy worrying about the things that aren’t.
I carried 3 spare tubes, but didn’t need any of them. I had two spare chain links, but didn’t use them. I had 2 too many salt sticks taped to the bike and carried 1 more Go Bar than I needed. I’d rather be bringing them home than coming up short. I threw away the sports drink I had accidentally been given at a bike aid station as I’ve never had it before.
I trained in my GB Age Group Tri-suit as this was new to me. I did my long Ride and Run Brick sessions at 6am every weekend, because it was the same time I would be racing at.
I even knew how difficult it would be to find Guinness in The Netherlands and I was dammed if I was not going to have that after 3 months of sobriety, so into the cool box that went. Along with a bottle of champagne we had saved from our trip to Epernay, France. Even my post race (drink) problems are fixed!
Basically, I try and leave nothing to chance. The only thing I did leave was the toaster and said bottle of champagne, which has pissed a lot of people off.
Russell Hobbs & Dom Perignon probably don’t go into too many sentences together, which is ironic as they are the only two things we needed to make any kind of a toast.
Race Date: 13/09/14
Race Type: Iron Distance
Result: 10:38:35 / 12th AG
Performance: Played the percentages 9/10
My 2014 ‘A’ Race is done! In windy and warm conditions at Challenge Almere, I went around The ETU Long Distance Triathlon Championship course in 10:38:35 – a 51 minute PB.
Flat and windy was the forecast for the event and it lived up that. For a Brit, there was literally no hills to talk about on both the bike and run course, just a savaging headwind on the 60km Coastal road.
The whole week was fantastic, from getting the ferry, to meeting up with the other Great Britain Age Group athletes and sharing the trip with my parents and girlfriend Lynsey.
Swim 1hr 11mins:
This was not my best swim, but also an improvement on what I had recently been going through in training so I can’t be too dismissive of the performance. The water was murky, weedy (not even the Amsterdam type of weed) and busy. The Age Groupers set off 10 minutes after the Elite start cannon and it was brutal swim for the entire fist lap, it never seemed to settle down. I was in the main group, taking a few elbows and whacks here and there, but I never let it get to me and just cracked on. There was nothing to write home about the swim, just focus on technique and get it done.
I was deliberate through T1, finding my bag and putting my helmet on. It felt very empty inside my Bike Bag, as I had attached the shoes to the bike and all my nutrition. Wetsuit in and away we went. Transition was based in an underground area for both T1 & T2 and I was familiar with where I needed to head in and out from. I had walked through this area the day before and memorised my bike rack position. I did a full race mount and got straight into my pedalling.
Bike 5hr 32mins:
The course was flat and windy, much like the non-alcoholic pint & subsequent side affects thereof that was being handed out at the finish.
99% of the course was on the aero bars. The coast road being the main punishing factor, I’d almost of preferred a hill. The wind was relentless and nowhere to hide. We had to do this road twice and watch my speed drop to 17mph for the duration of the road. The second lap was actually a bit easier as I knew what to expect and how to cope with it. Just head down and once this is out of the way, you’ve broken the back of the bike course. There were a few cattle grids that can’t help but make you a touch nervous, but I managed to avoid any punctures or serious mishaps, trying to pick the speed back up to 24mph for the return to Almere.
It was a lonely ride, not littered with support, but the turning point made for a brief encounter with some spectators before heading back out – alone.
There was plenty of drafting going on, which will always be there I guess. Once they were busted and had to break up, I picked them off and went by. I passed nearly 100 people on the bike leg, putting in the 79th best ride time of the day, averaging 20.3mph so in relative terms, I had a great ride.
I also took the decision to pee on the move! This was almost forced upon because of the GB Age Grouper full Tri suit and going to the toilet wasn’t going to be easy all day. I prefer the two piece. I remembered to whip off the nutrition from my seat post and put this in the tri suit so I didn’t piss all over my lunch. Something Paul had wrote about in his IM Austria race report!
Although as soon as I stood up to pee and roll, I was coming to a stand still on the flat roads. So I had to pedal again and try and pee again. I was consuming 1 bottle of water between each aid station, but began to take on 2 bottles for a little shower. I had not taken two bottles to avoid the extra weight. I pee’d once more on the bike, this time when I had the wind behind me to try and maintain some rolling speed. This only meant my pee overtook me in some kind of Urine Whackey Races.
I was talking to myself a lot on the bike, especially on that coast road. Just telling myself we’ve done this once and it’s all good from this corner, all the way home. I never really went into the red zone and felt happy to maintain the effortt for the distance, with still some running left in the legs.
Nutrition wise, I took on half a SiS Go Bar every half an hour after the first hour. I had 1 bottle of Lucozade Sport at the beginning of the ride and then sipped water throughout. I chewed on a pack of Jelly Babies as and when I fancied. This was all rehearsed several times in training so I knew it worked for me. I was accidentally handed a bottle of energy drink at an aid station, and when I had sip, I threw it away immediately. I wasn’t willing to try anything new today.
The dismount line into T2 wasn’t very well thought out, immediately after a sharp bend with no signage, which caught a few people out. Again, I had the feet on top of the shoes and right leg leading for my race style dismount. I was on with the socks and run shoes and straight out in what was now turning into the hottest part of the day.
I had very gratefully borrowed Paul’s Garmin for the bike, keeping my Forerunner 110 full and ready to rock for the run. I turned the watch on and searched for satellites with 5 minutes to go on the bike.
Run 3hr 47mins:
It was getting warm and I was conscious I hadn’t ran in this heat for a while in training. My longest run had been 17 miles at 8min/mile. I felt great. It took 3 miles to get my back stretched out and loosened up after being aero for so long on the bike. It was 6 laps of a 7k course around the Weerwater we had swam in that morning. 6 laps had its pro’s and con’s. I was able to see my family and have that to look forward to, but on lap 4 when I realised there was still 2 more to go it began to play mentally. I do have a little mantra to turn to at times which always works. I took a gel every 6 miles, as per training, and cola every 3rd aid station (aid station were 1.5k apart) and water at every one, just little sips as the aid stations were so frequent. I began to to walk through the aid stations in the second half the run, which took my average pace down, but I was more concerned with making sure I had fuelled correctly in this heat. The wind had disappeared by now!
I ended strongly with my fasted mile coming at mile 25. It’s an odd feeling to know you had something potentially left in the tank, but if I had have pushed it earlier I may have blown up. I was perhaps too conservative with my pacing or at least my effort and over compensated for the unknown. My hamstrings were feeling tight but manageable at my pace, so to have gone even a touch fast may have flared these up.
A massive thank you to my coach Paul Savage, for all the sessions, plans and massages and encouragement. My girlfriend Lynsey for putting up with my sobriety, early nights and long rides. Mum and Dad for following me and supporting me at anything I decide to take on. Rob, Rachel & Nige from the Capital Breakfast Show for their well wishing and patience. And also Dawn and Emma at British Triathlon for making me Team GB Captain, which I enjoyed being part of.
I can’t be too disappointed and I’m not! I made up over 100 positions from getting out the water, put in another strong bike split and claimed a marathon PB. I finished 12th in my Age Group, 9th in the European Long Distance Champs, and qualified for the 2015 ETU Long Distance Champs at Challenge Weymouth – but what if…