Guest Blog – Miia Amara

As promised to you all a few weeks ago, here is the guest blog from Miia Amara. For those who follow the blog, you may remember that Miia is the lady I have been coaching this season. She had agreed to write a final piece to this 3 part series and here it is!

If you didn’t catch the first two blogs, you can find Coaching Project Part 1 by clicking here. Part 2 is also available here. I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching Miia this season and it has been pleasing for me to trial my own coaching practices and adapt these to someone else. I’ve been asked by people in the past to help and have always been hesitant due to the time it takes. Coaching to this level requires time – time to analyse, time to plan, time to schedule, time to spend with your athlete. I was only going to do this with someone who was committed and wanting to achieve. Miia was certainly that, and I couldn’t have asked for a better student! Anyway, enough of me…enjoy her blog! It’s been one great first season and I’m looking forward to seeing what she achieves next year.

Hello all! I’m Miia and I want to share my experience and story of my debut season competing in triathlon this year. I do hope you enjoy reading my blog as much as I have enjoyed my first year racing and training.

I got into triathlon racing last summer, when my triathlete friend from Finland entered me into an Olympic distance relay.  As I have been running for a couple of years, I contributed to the running section of the race.  During the race and after observing the other competitors, I wondered how they managed do all three disciplines together, when I was struggling with just the running stage.

When I got back home, I supported my running friends in one of London’s Triathlon events and I was hooked!! The atmosphere alone got me. I decided there and then – next year I WILL BE HERE!

Soon after, I started to look for races for the following year.  After signing up to a few, I started to learn how to swim freestyle, which was new for me.  I actually looked at a few tutoring videos from YouTube, and bit-by-bit I learnt to swim freestyle. How well I was doing this was another question!

I knew Danny from our running club and his heavy involvement participating in triathlon.  He approached me and asked if I wanted to train for a triathlon.  Everything about triathlon was completely new to me. How would I ever swim in a wetsuit in open water?

We first met at the local swimming pool.  I showed him what I had learned and he worked with me teaching me the right technique with freestyle swimming.  This made a massive difference to what I thought was the correct form.  Over the months, I worked on my swimming and slowly improved. Not only did my technique improve, but also my speed. Soon after, I bought my very first road bike and I was ready to go.

Danny tested my swim, bike and run times first in December, and soon after that I was on a full training program that he had designed for me.  I had my first race in my sights for early May – a sprint distance over in Dorney.  Luckily, Danny had signed up himself for this one so he would be there to support me at the race.

When I started the training, it was completely different to what I had done before. It was pretty much two work outs daily four to five times a week around my work timetable. That sounds quite a lot, but actually it was very manageable.  It worked for me very well. After six weeks of training, he tested me again and I could already see how much I had improved. I very much liked the training program part.  My social life was getting shortened certainly, but I didn’t mind because the only thing in my mind was on those finish lines and medals from those races that I had signed up to. Triathlon can be a scary sport, with much to master, so being prepared and training well helps with any fears.

I had so many questions for Danny, especially in the beginning, but he always had an answer ready for me.  I learned how my body worked when it was fatigued and also how much rest was needed.  Plus – eating crap food made you feel crap!  Nutrition was so important. One thing I quickly realised was that there is a big difference between what training and exercise is. Training = structure and doing the correct workouts at the correct time. This is where the coaching part was so important and having someone to guide me through this process made life easy.

Learning about my heart rate zones and running in your prescribed zones was challenging.  It took me around two months to get use to it. You learn a lot about your body and what running feels like at an easy or racing pace.  This is important as looking at a watch all the time is not the most enjoyable thing! Patience is key though! Things do not happen over night.  Most Sundays when I was off from work, we started to ride outside. I was lucky because this seemed to be my strongest discipline. I could keep up with his pace and it pushed me to make improvements. We had many good rides up to 60 miles. Rainy Sundays we knocked on the head though and the stationary turbo that I bought on Danny’s recommendation came into its own. You can’t train effectively without one of these!

The first time going into open water was a bit scary for me.  I took open water training sessions as recommended by Danny.  I seemed to have a problem with dark water.  I don’t know where it came from.  I’m Finnish and I grew up next to lakes, but after a couple of times going into open water, the fear disappeared and I could swim normally.

When the first race in May came around I was nervous and excited at the same time.  Danny told me not to worry and that I was going to love it because I had put the work in through my training.  The swim went well and my overall time was quicker than I expected.   When I was on the bike, I truly enjoyed it and I knew that this was what I wanted to do.  The cycle part was faster than expected and my run was also very good, even managing to sprint in the end. I was happy for my achievement.  Now I could say that I am triathlete!

After the race and a couple of days rest I was back to training.  Training went smoothly until the Easter break until a small disaster struck! I went for a ride on my own, and had an ‘off’ from my bike. The accident was something so stupid which could have been avoided. I flew over my handlebars and landed on my shoulder and left side of my face. All because I was fiddling with my phone in its holder and grabbing my brake too hard!

I was lucky it was only bruising in my shoulder and a little crack on my cheekbone. I had to take a week off from training because my shoulder was so painful. Swimming and biking (especially outdoors) was extremely painfil. After a week, I started slowly again and it took for a while before I managed to train without pain. And eventually I was soon back to track workouts. I didn’t loose much fitness thankfully as I was following the plan fully from beginning and it gave a little enforced rest.

At the end off June I took on my first Olympic distance triathlon that I had been training for all spring.  I had a tapering week that Danny set for me and I felt so ready to race that I couldn’t wait for race day.  We went there together.  Danny’s wave was first.  It was the hottest day of the year +35c at midday when I started.  Even though it was hot and humid, I was sure I could manage.  My swim went well and I had a good bike leg. I was flying! But in the run the heat got me – I was knackered. Did I overcook the bike? I managed to the finish line and it was obvious that my run was slow. One thing I learnt though – heat affects performance so don’t be too hard on yourself.

I had another race at the end of July – The London Triathlon. I thought that this would be the one I will do a PB in.  My Training program finished at the end of June and I was on my own from then to this race.  I had the tools and workouts to do though to keep a good level of fitness.  I managed to organise my training off of those programs that Danny had planned for me.  

When the London Tri came around, the weather was not ideal. It was raining in the morning.  This was not what I wanted for race day, but the weather was a lot cooler.  By the start of my race, the rain had stopped and I was ready to go. My swim was a bit slower than in my last race, my bike was pretty much the same. The one thing I learned and took into this race was pacing better.  I managed to save energy for running and I ran faster than last time out. The cooler weather certainly helped. Overall I had PB’d by a couple minutes over 3 hours. My goal next year – sub 3 for sure!

I actually had two more races left for the season – one in Finland (Olympic distance) and The London Duathlon in Richmond.  I even changed that one from half to full distance.  Training wise, I trained less and was not as fit as earlier in the season. I have two children and they were off from school for their summer holidays. I couldn’t do my daily routines plus I started to feel mentally tired.  I finished both races, and I was happy with the timing.  Not the fastest ones but not far away.  Now I will take couple weeks rest then a couple months gym training – possibly Cross Fit for toning by body.

Before Christmas I can start to get ready for next year. I am in the ballot for the London marathon.  If I get in, that will be my first marathon – something to consider! I want to complete more endurance events and go longer, so it will be half iron man distance for me…. plus I will be in new age category turning 45 in march so hopefully I will manage to stay above 50% of the age category field. This I have managed to achieve in pretty much all my races that I completed in.  I will also take on a few shorter races but not as many as I had this year.  I didn’t mention that I did the amazing Dunamo Dunwitch (112 miles) night ride and 1500m dock to dock swim.  This on top of running PBs for half marathon and 10km in spring time. You see – a busy season! Danny says I raced too much…I have to agree!

I hope you have enjoyed my blog entry…what next season holds…let’s wait and see!

IRONMAN VICHY 70.3

Did I seriously complete a triathlon in that ridiculous heat?

Well yes…somehow I did. It was certainly the toughest triathlon I have completed, although it was by far the most beautiful.

I entered Vichy last year on the condition that it was fast and FLAT! Upon entering, a few weeks later I received an email to say that the bike and run course had been updated. What did that mean? One thing – hills! Hills to contend with on the bike course and a lumpy profile meaning a not so flat triathlon anymore. Nothing I could do about that, but to prepare and enjoy it.

Pre-Race

I arrived in Vichy on Thursday with my wife and daughter and stayed just on the outside of the city. To say we had a choice of where to stay would be a lie. If you enter this event, book your hotel at the same time. I wasn’t quite as organised for this one as normal and left it a few months after booking the race meaning I was stuck with our ‘Premiere Class’ hotel. Actually it was ok just a little compact. It was clean, had air-con, a nice restaurant across the road, but nothing you wanted to stay in more than two nights. Showering was an experience in a tiny bathroom!

Vichy is a lovely place. The river running through the city (where the swim took place) is stunning. The city is sport mad and you can see why IRONMAN have brought a half and full distance event here. How many small cities can boast white water rafting, horse racing and rowing as well as all the common sports in one place? Everywhere you look, you will see some sort of facility for sport. I would certainly recommend Vichy as a place to visit. We didn’t quite get to the main Centre-Ville in our time (apart from when I ran through it), but there are many things this place has to offer for the general tourist. We were also joined by my aunt and uncle, (Rosie and Tony) who were out supporting me but also enjoying a week away celebrating a birthday.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing, taking in the views and enjoying a meal in the evening.

On Friday morning, I visited the IRONMAN site to pick up my registration documents. A quick visit to the expo to buy a visor and I was back at the hotel before 10 o’clock. I wasn’t able to rack my bike until 2pm, but that gave me enough time to sort all my gear into the various bags IRONMAN give you. The beauty of this race is that it is one transition area, meaning there is no need to take your run and bike gear to different places – something I’m not very keen on! The bike was racked, bags given in and all I had to do now was prepare the head for my race. I don’t bother with the pasta party that IRONMAN lay on. I prefer to spend this time with my family, in which we went for a lovely meal.

Race Day

My day started at 3:30am! Yes that’s right! It was going to be a long day. My usual breakfast of porridge was not to be on this event. We forgot to take the instant oats I use, although as our hotel didn’t have a kettle, I wouldn’t have been able to use them anyway. It meant a visit to a supermarket the previous day to pick up some Weetabix, nut milk and bananas which were consumed about 4:00am. I had booked myself the shuttle bus that IRONMAN provide from various parts of the city to ferry athletes in. Luckily my pick up was just across the road at 4:30am. You do wonder why you do these events and the things you have got yourself into when you’re sitting there at some stupid time in the morning.

I arrived at the event site just before 5am and set up the last few bits and pieces to my bike. Transition looks totally different at that time and it is so important to run through where your bike is. There are thousands of the things and finding it in the height of the race would be difficult. So I mentally made my mind map and noted the row and how many racks deep from both ends. I walked it a few times also to be sure.

Swim

There isn’t an awful lot to say about this. A very consistent swim as usual which resulted in 35mins for the 1.9km (1.2 miles). The course was easy to navigate as it was a straight out and back down the river. I thought I may notice the current on the way back, but I think it is so small that it didn’t feel any different. I suppose the only real thing to say here is that the Vichy swim is usually non wetsuit. The water is always too warm, however on race morning that temperature was just below the legal limit at 21.4c, meaning wetsuits were allowed. I chose to swim in it especially for this distance and the one thing I like about IRONMAN swims are the staggered swim starts. It isn’t a mass free-for-all meaning they set you off every 8 secs in groups of 8 or so. This means a lot more room to swim freely. It really was an uneventful swim. The sighting was easy and at the turn point heading back you swam with a little mist over the water. This made sighting the buoys a little more difficult but you just had to follow everyone else.

Once I exited the water, it was straight into transition to collect my bike gear bag and get everything I needed for the bike leg. All the swim equipment goes into this bag and it is given to a marshall to put back for you. You then run back into the the bike area to collect your bike and head for the bike exit.

Bike

My road bike with added race wheels!

So my trusted steed was my road bike for this leg. I opted for this over the tri-bike for a little more comfort and to climb a little better. The gearing is slightly bigger on the tri-bike as well, but there were so many other fast looking bikes around, I started to doubt myself and wondered whether I had made the right choice. All would be revealed!

The bike course was tough to say the least. I knew it would be. The profile and feet climbed showed that – over 3,400ft!

Just shy of 3,500ft of climbing!

Was the road bike a good choice? Well yes and no is the answer to that. I decided to sacrifice speed on the flats and descents for comfort. I also knew I wasn’t in the same shape I was 7 weeks ago and therefore pushing that tri-bike up a climb would be a slog! If I attempted this again, AND I was in good shape, I think I would give the tri-bike an outing. It would mean a little more training on hills with it, but there were lots of areas on the course where time was lost. Before the bike leg I had set myself a rough target of about 3hr 30mins. I wasn’t that far off!

The descents were lovely although quite technical in places. Out of 10, the road surface was a 8 for me. I think when you ride at home and compare to the roads in France, there is no comparison. The French look after their roads a lot better than us. It is really nice to do a triathlon and not have to worry about the condition of the roads. You can be confident that the descents are not going to throw up some horrible surface and possibly send you hurtling into a bush or off the side of a cliff! I did see a few accidents however. These were from the crazy few wanting to eek out a few more miles and then overcooking the corners. It’s just not worth the risk in my opinion and then ruining your whole race. I was also really surprised to see the judges marshalling the drafting on course. There were lots of whistles going off and people being warned. I saw one given a penalty.

The crowds were the best I have seen on a triathlon bike leg. The French supported us well! Lots of shouts of ‘Allez Allez!!’ The feed stations were well stocked and organised. I followed my nutrition plan mainly although I certainly undercooked it. Halfway through the leg I felt hungry. Not usual for me, but I think the climbing was certainly burning more calories so I decided to take on a full banana and rather than eat one piece of my food, take on two and quash the hunger. I also had 4 gels throughout. Overall I think this worked and I was pleased how I managed my nutrition on the bike. I also took an extra salt tablet (3 in total) as well as nearly two litres of fluid – also with salt hydration mix. The heat didn’t affect me on the bike; you get the breeze and the cycling is mostly shaded especially in the pine forests in the hills.

When I got back to Vichy I really started to notice the heat. Again, we headed into transition to rack the bike and then collect the run gear bag. Overall I felt ok, although only time would tell to see how that bike leg affected my legs.

Run

So off I went into the crazy 34c heat. The crowds were great along the run course, particularly at the start and Ironman finish areas. It was also great to finally see some familiar faces and get the shouts from my family. As soon as I started running I knew this was going to be tough.

I set off at 5:40km pace and thought that was quite achievable throughout. I managed to get into a rhythm and the first 6km flew by. I got to the 8k mark and then felt my first ‘oh this is getting hard’ feeling. IRONMAN runs at the end are tough physically. I mean you are running on an already fatigued body, but mentally they are something else. They are meant to be tough. IRONMAN isn’t named IRONMAN for nothing! It was at the 11km part that things got really tough and I hit the wall. ‘One foot in front of the other, keep tapping it out’ I told myself. One thing I know about myself is that I can suffer and I’m strong mentally when it comes to these situations.

I managed to get to the feed station and for the first time I did something I have never done before. I took on coke. Yes coke. And do you know what? It was a life saver! Water and coke and I don’t know what it did but it revived me. My strategy was simple. Run to every feed station, walk through it and take on water and coke. There were people with hoses at every station and getting drenched was part of my tactic of staying cool.

The KMs ticked by (slowly) and that finish line was becoming closer. The fishing chute is always an experience and there is no other like it when it comes to Ironman. The razzmatazz is just great.

I had made it! I was pleased it was over at the end. By far the hardest race (triathlon) I have completed. I saved the best to last this season and it truly was a great experience. IRONMAN Vichy is a great event and I would certainly recommend it to anyone. You can see why this is one of the best races in the world.

After finishing I went into the meal area. If there is one criticism of this race, it is the food that IRONMAN lay on afterwards. It is horrible. Cold spongy pizza, defrosted quiche that is soggy in the middle, doughnuts and all sorts of strange foods. You can appreciate the quality of food at events like the Outlaw when you experience IRONMAN food. I quickly got my gear bags and bike and made my way to meet my family. We spent some time taking some photos after and then making our way back to our car.

A finish time of 6hrs 22mins and 34secs. No way near a best time for me, but on that course I will take that. There were some seriously good athletes here and I would hope to return one day and try this course again. The problem is that it is just the wrong time of year what with my summer holidays, training and eating consistently.

And that concludes my season! 6 races in total including two half irons. I will write a concluding season post looking back over it, but I know I can confidently say it has been a success.

I want to say a big thank you to my wife and daughter for their support and also Rosie and Tony for supporting also. For them, they get to spend the rest of the week in Vichy and we head back for our last week in France in our property.

IRONMAN Vichy – You’ve been a blast!

IRONMAN Vichy 70.3 – Part 1

Welcome to part 1 of the Ironman Vichy 70.3 two part series I promised. I write this as I sit here in my kitchen in France looking out over my garden waiting in anticipation for the deer to make an appearance. I find this a great place to sit, enjoy a coffee and write as everyone else is sleeping. It’s one of my favourite times of the day. I also have the camera by my side eager to capture a few pictures of the two deer that seem to be living in our garden. What with red squirrels, umpteen types of birds and bats, it’s like our own Springwatch. Anyway enough of the wildlife!

I go into this race knowing that it isn’t a race. For one, I am not as fit as I have been this year. I’ve succumbed to the fact that it really is one race two many for me and completely the wrong time of the season. My summer holidays are not conducive to me racing at this point of the year. It was a struggle in Jamaica keeping the fitness (blog here) and it has continued to be a struggle in France. That doesn’t mean to say I couldn’t be fit and willing to do it in the future; it just makes it extremely difficult being away and training and eating consistently. It’s just too damn hard in your holidays! There’s a constant battle in your head on enjoying yourself and not worrying about what you eat or do VS ‘oh if I eat this’ or ‘ if don’t do that’ it’s going to affect me in my race.

Ironman Vichy is going to be about the experience and enjoyment. I mentioned I hate shuffling around courses in a previous blog, and although I’m not as fit as I was earlier in the season, I’m fit enough to complete the race without it being too much of a physical battle. My training peaks numbers show a good level of fitness, but not the level where I could race the way I would like. Sometimes that is a good thing. Pressure is off and when I look back I can confidently say that I have had a great season. You never know, I may pull off some great race, although I doubt it! Yes I’m still watching (a little) what I eat and drink but I’ve totally given into the fact that I can’t be super strict with myself. Jamaica saw me put on 4kgs of weight which I managed to quickly strip 3kgs of that. God knows what effect France has had on me. I’m not bothering to check although I know I’m no where near race weight!

Being in France has allowed me to ride my bike and run. I haven’t ventured into the lake to swim. I probably could have been out a little more although to be honest, I’ve been just too darn tired what with the DIY work I have been doing – some may say a different type of training maybe? Not quite sure how I equate TSS numbers to that although it’s been pretty physical.

I’m really enjoying the riding so far. It isn’t flat by any means! Undulating to say the least but I have enjoyed getting to know all the local lanes and roads close to our house. I’m certainly developing a good local mind map of the area, and being in a national park it is great riding through forests startling deer (and me) as I whizz past.

RACE PLAN

There is one major difference to all my races so far this season. I will be riding my road bike instead of the Tri-bike. Why? Well the Vichy course will be hilly. I’ve put on my race wheels and elected to be a little more comfortable (and climb a little quicker) with the road bike. It will be the first time I’ve completed a triathlon of this distance using it as my weapon of choice. I’m actually looking forward to the bike section. Who knows what that will do to my legs though for the run. That question…to be answered…

My nutrition and hydration plan will be the same as I have followed earlier in the season, which you can read about on my Outlaw blog. I intend to drink a little more what with the heat as race day plans to be around 30c so hydration and salts will be important. We are travelling down on Thursday and this race poses to be a lot less stressful in terms of registration and racking compared to when I did Staffordshire. The logistics there were a nightmare (blog here), but Vichy has one transition zone meaning it should be a lot simpler. This is certainly one of the things I look at now when I book a race!

My goals and ambitions for next season are already starting to become clear. I’ll speak of these in a future blog, but I find that these are now stepping up a level considering that each year the improvement is continuing. Some keep asking me – When the full Ironman? My answer…still not yet. Mastering distances and racing to my best is what triathlon is about for me and when I feel I have achieved this, then the time will be right to step up and that I feel is still 1 or 2 seasons off.

I head to Vichy this Thursday (about 3 hours from our house) with my wife and daughter and will meet some additional family (aunt and uncle) who are coming out also. We are there until Saturday and will leave to head back to spend the last week in France straight after the race. I’ll probably spend two days being unable to walk but that will be the conclusion of my triathlon season. Look out for the race report in the next blog!

Isabel loves our drone…although flying the thing is bleeding stressful!

Keeping the Fitness for Ironman Vichy 70.3…a short update

Well I said it would be a struggle…and it was! Temptation around every corner! Huge breakfast choice; cocktails on tap all day; three course lunches and dinners, all followed by more drinks in the evenings. All inclusive holidays are either hell or heaven eh depending on how you look at them! Well certainly not great for the waistline or the fitness!

Now I am not saying I had to consume this all, and there were days (ok 1 or 2) when I didn’t 🙂 On a more serious note, I was more concerned about having the motivation to train (if you can call it that). Trained I did – or exercise I would call it. You see training requires a certain structure to it with particular workouts at certain times. This was the bit my training, actually exercise (which I will call it) lacked. My exercise really consisted of me swimming a little each day (only around a 1000m) and using the gym to spin on the bike and run on the running machine. Everything for the maintenance of fitness and to not lose too much of it.

The only benefit I really got was through running. I was able to run quite well and work to heart rate and pace quite sufficiently. I had purchased a footpod before I left for holidays in order for me to use the treadmills accurately. Gym treadmills are usually so beat up and well out on recording distance and pace. To my surprise, these in my hotel were not too bad actually. The longer you run the less accurate they would become though. Over 5k they were probably about 0.5km out.

This has made me realise that treadmill running, although slightly boring, (but hey if you can cycle on a turbo, then mentally running on these isn’t too bad), shows that you can build up volume quite easily and complete intervals also. It has certainly allowed me to run more as it was easier on my joints, and considering I have suffered from run injuries all too often it was a real benefit to me. It has got me thinking though – how can I add one of these to my training arsenal? Not enough space in my training room so a bit of head scratching to do!

Training (sorry exercise) also involved me adding back in strength and conditioning work as the gym equipment was good in this respect. So here is a small video compilation I made of some of the ‘exercise’ I did.

This all meant that no fitness could really be built. My goal was simply to hang on to as much of it as I could and keep updating Training Peaks to keep a check on my numbers. I knew my bike numbers would diminish slightly but I also have two weeks of easy riding in France that I would do to help with that prior to Vichy to get the legs back into it.

So that’s it for this blog. As mentioned, only a short one to provide an update for the regular readers! My Jamaican holiday is about to come to an end unfortunately. It is a lovely place with great people. Do visit it if you ever get a chance. I do have some really good blog content coming over the next few posts. Look out for a two part special on Ironman Vichy 70.3 and also one on the potential for training camps in France. We will also be hearing from the coaching project Miia in regards to her season and her achievements and success this year. SO STAY TUNED!

Ya Man…No problem…Respect!

My daughter Isabel and her new friend ‘Phoenix’

The Season Continues…

Winning doesn’t always mean being first place; it means getting the best out of yourself.

What a season so far!!!

I write this as I have just finished my 5th race of the season – Box End Triathlon in Bedford. This was unplanned and added into my schedule only three weeks ago. I also recently completed the Banana Triathlon at Dorney lake on a scorching hot day a few weeks back.

So why the extra race? Well I am just about to go on my summer holidays – that’s about 6 weeks off from the day job and a visit for two weeks to Jamaica, before we spend the rest of it France. I’m certainly not complaining about that! However, it does throw up the problem of how I keep my fitness over summer, especially considering I have Ironman Vichy 70.3 in the last week of August! What with all the delicious food and drink on offer – how will I cope?

I decided on the ‘extra’ race in order to keep the training momentum going and also so I could head to Jamaica feeling fairly fit and knowing a few days off with a lighter schedule for a week or so out there would do no harm.

“IF IT IS TO BE, IT’S UP TO ME.”

Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae, professional triathlete, former world champion

I certainly know from experience that completing a 70.3 when unfit is a slog. Ironman Staffordshire taught me that when it was 32c and I had no run fitness due to getting over an injury. I DO NOT ENJOY COMPETING WHEN UNFIT! So if I want to enjoy Vichy, it’s up to me to put the work in! The quote above is my mantra leading up to this final race and the challenges of staying fit over the summer. Shuffling around a course for me is no fun. It hurts way too much, especially over that sort of distance.

Banana Triathlon

Bleeding hell it was hot! 32c hot. I competed here last year where I raced with Jecks which you can read about here. I like racing at Dorney and it also meant I got to race with Miia again (Coaching Project) with her doing her first olympic distance event. It would be interesting to see how she faired – especially with the heat. Jecks and Nick were also racing here and I believe just made the start of the race after a mad dash and number of M25 crashes holding them up in the morning.

To be honest, heat like that day makes it impossible for fast times which was disappointing really. I somehow pulled out 2:45 and finished 13th in my age group. Nothing really to write home about, although the run and bike were slightly long. I swam the event again without a wetsuit like last year and it is so refreshing doing it. I didn’t feel like I had a great swim though, although after seeing the time, it wasn’t too bad at 28mins.

Miia on the other hand really enjoyed her race and finished in 3:12 I believe. She now has a time to shoot for as she heads into the London triathlon – her last race of the season.

I on the other hand, decided on one other race – the Bedford Box End. It’s not the closest to home, so I decided to get a hotel for the night before. This made race morning much more manageable.

I was hoping for a lot cooler weather – which I got, and it was fairly pleasant at around 23c. It was an opportunity to try and lay down a good time even though I would be going into this slightly cooked. I’d just had two weeks of quite intense training! Whether I could do that would be all down to how I felt on the day.

It’s also fair to say that I had been managing a slight niggle with my adductor in my leg so had a little less running volume leading up to this. Saying that though, I seemed to have caught it and managed to get in a 5 mile mid-week race at the Newman Hilly as part of the Elvis series. I actually ran fairly well there and felt great, even though I made the mistake of starting at the back, meaning it was a right slog trying to navigate through everyone on narrow paths. Hey ho…we live and learn!

A Vlog by Paul Suett of the race will be going live soon, which will give you a feel for that race. Paul does capture the essence of the race through his filming. In-fact Paul does a great job of capturing a lot of local races and is a GB Age Group Duathlete. His channel can be found here.

One thing I have been experimenting with though is my bike workouts. I decided to purchase a subscription to TrainerRoad. I deliberated for weeks on whether to go with this or Zwift, and came to the conclusion that the structure was much more important for me. I will probably write a post on this in the winter as this is when I plan on using it properly. I’m too far into my season to really start at the base and I’ve just been following the sweet spot workouts. First impressions are good – I am pleased with what I have experienced so far.

Bedford Triathlon – So how did it pan out?

I was looking forward to experiencing a new race. Another one I can say ‘ I have done’ and conquered. After traveling up on Saturday afternoon and catching some dinner in the hotel, I settled in for a early night wanting to wake the next morning feeling refreshed. This was the plan anyway, and as they say, plans don’t always pan out like you want them to. My room was far too hot! I had two fans blasting away and an aircon unit in the room that didn’t work! The teasing of this staring at me made me get my tool bag and fiddle with it! No luck though. I also managed to find some stream for the boxing and watched that in the evening so an early night went out the window once I was engrossed in that.

Dinner was great – a Thai residency in house which I couldn’t turn down. I ate so much though…and…wondered if this would come back to haunt me. Stay tuned.

The hotel was only 2 miles or so from the race start. I woke the next morning and consumed my usual porridge breakfast – well a few mouthfuls of it. I couldn’t eat it…hmmm heavens knows why I wondered? I proceeded to the race HQ around 5:45am

The Bedford Box End Triathlon is a fairly small race and it is really nice to do these smaller events from time to time. The competition is usually tougher though as many of the local clubs use it as their championship.

An empty transition – the calm before the storm.

It was a rather nice morning and an optional wetsuit swim with the water being 21c. I chose to swim with the wetsuit this time and watch the first sprint wave from the bank take on the lake.

Eventually it was my turn. One thing about the lake I found out – it was bloody weedy! A lovely swim and really clear though. You could see the bottom in places. My swim went well actually and I completed the 1500m in 24:57. This got me 21st place and 9th in my age group, so certainly a decent start!

The bike was the bit of the race I was actually looking forward to. I’ve enjoyed riding the tri-bike leg this year but today took a while to get going. My stomach was not playing ball – could it be from all that food last night? It’s hard to describe the feeling, but it was burning and it took me 6 to 7 miles or so to shake that feeling. Almost like I wanted to vomit at times. I then had stitch, yes a stitch on a bleeding bike! This was just the start of that. To be honest the rest of the ride went ok and was pretty much in line with my other rides this year so even with the discomfort I still managed to pull out a 1:17 split. I think the TrainerRoad workouts have made a big impact though as I had sustained my highest power output for 20mins and still managed that time with the stomach issues I had experienced.

The other weird thing on the bike…this:

Ok Ok…it doesn’t look like much, I get that. Somehow I cut my finger – really deeply! How? Well I have no idea but I tell you now…it bled…and bled….and bled….a lot. I noticed it as my hand was really sticky – yes there was blood all over my hand, and at first I though I was having a nose bleed. It’s fine now though and safely plastered up you’ll be pleased to know!

Once I got back to transition I managed to open the cut up again as I went out on my run. As I started my run, I felt ok and this is one area I have carried my strength across and have been running off the bike well this season. Not today though! Remember that stitch?…well it was back after about 5k – and this time with a vengeance! I have had stitch before and just run through to it be honest. It hasn’t really bothered me, bu this stitch I think was another symptom of my stomach issues. It was like a stabbing knife and I honestly slowed down to 6:30 per km at one point. No stopping though! It was exacerbated by drinking water on course which I worked out after the second go. Somehow I managed to get through it, which took nearly 3k, and I finished strong. The race was more or less over by then though.

My overall time was 2hr 40min and 54 secs which was a surprise really. I finished 46th overall and 12th in my age category (32 competitors). I was a little cooked going into this race and knew the fatigue and form numbers were not ideal, although I had just completed two large weeks of training. My aim was to use this race as part of that training and end the block with it which I have done. It’s strange though, as knowing what I know now, there was a result there for the taking today if it weren’t for my stomach issues. I blame it on the pigging out the night before but who really knows if that was the cause. Two gels ingested on the bike didn’t help and I think now I’m going to knock doing that on the head – especially for the Olympic distance. I’m not convinced I need them with the sort of length of time I’m racing.

Do stay tuned over the summer as there are three blogs I have planned and I’m going to experiment with a vlog type effort. I have a two part series for Ironman Vichy 70.3 and will show the French house and reveal some training camp plans. Enjoy the summer everyone, and please like, share and comment.

Windsor – My Race

After last week’s guest blog, I promised I would update you on my performance at Windsor and give some insights into my race. I do hope you enjoyed the guest spot last week and many thanks again go to Dean for writing and sharing it. I now have another recruit to the growing triathlon community! Triathletes are certainly harder to come by in East London, although saying that, Dean does not live in East London. He’s not that far though! I started alone, and now I can name a handful of people who are beginning to regularly do them. I certainly love that! Anyway, let’s get on…I’m waffling!

This won’t be a long post and I do have quite a few posts on Windsor triathlon as I have completed it twice previously. You all probably know how much I like the race and venue. Last year’s entry can be found here if you’re interested in reading that.

As always, my family and I spend the weekend at Windsor and this was no exception. A nice AirBnB booked around 10 mins from transition was just right, especially with the off street parking, which is a nightmare in Windsor!

A little bit of larking about in Windsor prior to racking
Race morning consisted of my usual porridge breakfast

I didn’t have any pre-race goals as such, what with the Outlaw a couple of weeks ago and that being my A-Race, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to race well – and on that, go faster than last year.

The thing is with Windsor, is that every time I have raced it, something about the course changes. Saying that though, I have still managed to go quicker each year, even with the bike course being longer due to road works last year out. I do not have a true comparison though year on year. What this means? All good reason to do it again! Previous results are:

2016 = 2:51 2018 = 2:49

2019: 2:40:25

What I was really interested in though, was how well I would fair after the Outlaw. This part of the year is always interesting – you cannot gain fitness now. There is far too much racing and recovering to do. This means I race, recover and start to build some training in before tapering and racing again. Eat, sleep, repeat – that sort of thing! If you don’t have the fitness now, then you are going to find it hard to come by at this point.

My Training Peaks numbers were good. In-fact they indicated that my fitness was more or less in-line with my Outlaw condition. One thing that was certain though was my taper into this was far shorter and I felt less rested. The week leading up to Outlaw, I slept well; completed some really easy training; there were no early morning sessions and I just felt great going into it. Windsor was not the case as I completed some harder sessions right up to a few days before. I took the bike out the morning before the race to do a small recce and stretch the legs out. We travelled up Friday and I didn’t want two days prior to racing of doing diddly-squat

Secretly, I wanted also to see how close I could get to the Sub 2:30 wave as realistically I think that it is achievable in the future.

THE RACE

Last wave out again! Same as last year. Yep a 7:50 start time and a fair few to swim through. I was pleased with my swim and felt really strong in the water. The current helps and when turning into it at the turn point, it didn’t bother me really. I also went back to attaching the shoes to the bike for a quicker transition which worked really well. I was much quicker and got my feet into the shoes no problem this time out. I think I have more or less mastered this now and will use this all the time from now on.

The bike started well and then came the rain! Yes it p****d down! I learnt that my aero helmet and visor is superb in conditions like this though. No problems with being able to see whatsoever. The bike leg felt ok, although one thing I can’t do is push too hard when cold. My muscles do not work as well when cold and seem to cramp a little. Power wise I was going to ride a little harder than in the Outlaw – purely down to it being a smaller distance. I wanted to push around 160-170W and actually averaged 168W so more or less bang on.

I certainly think I lost a little time on the bike due to the wet and being a little more careful. It was a little sketchy in places and it just wasn’t worth risking coming off. Coming into T2 I was a little disappointed to see my time, but I knew I felt ok and looked forward to the run

Windsor is not a flat run – especially up to the castle and on the way back in. It’s three laps for the 10k and it was great to see my cousin again as well as a few others I knew racing (Sarah Wixey, former guest blogger and her partner Terry).

The support on the run is always good and even so with the wet weather. Certainly easier to run in conditions like that – just not bike! I felt really good on the run and I seriously need to run a 5k and 10k time trail. I’m sure there is a PB waiting there for me! I’m most pleased at the strength I’m carrying across to the run and this really showed itself at the Outlaw last month and continues again.

It’s great having my family there to support me and get the high fives from Isabel my daughter. Even better that it was Father’s Day and we got to grab some lunch after and receive my gifts. I loved them, especially as I sit now in Peppa Pig pyjamas writing this (well part of it!).

All in all, I’m pleased at the performance at Windsor. I continue to enjoy racing there and will be back next year. I certainly know i can get that 2:30 wave especially after I put in a hard winter block this year.

I now head to the Bananaman Triathlon, Olympic distance again, at Dorney lake at the end of June. I’m adding an extra race this season also and planning to race on the weekend before I head to Jamaica on holiday. I’ll update again before my holidays. I am also going to do a two part blog post on Ironman Vichy 70.3.

Tailwinds everyone!

Windsor Triathlon 2019 and Guest Blog – Dean Saunders

‘I’m the King of the Castle’

Well not exactly, although a small conquering in my performance did happen and one I can be mostly pleased about. I will of course update you all on that in a different blog post planned for next week. However, for this blog entry I am delighted to present to you another guest blog. Although my blog documents my journey, I like to connect people through similar experiences and share the wonders that happen in triathlon. Everyone’s race is different and we all have a story to tell!

Dean is my cousin and a newbie to triathlon. Not a newbie to endurance sports, he is sub 3:30 marathon runner and he is a fit individual looking for new challenges. Windsor was only his second triathlon event. He also writes a regular blog called Mars and Peace. Do check it out and read about his new exploits into triathlon and other things in his world! Be prepared to chuckle and enjoy this one, and I think you’ll all agree with me, it’s a fantastic blog entry.

WINDSOR – RICKSHAW REDEMPTION

ONWARD AND UPWARDS

With my first triathlon (Thorpe Park sprint) under my belt, I wake up on Monday morning exhausted – but elated – even with that horrible bike leg! You can read all about that on my personal blog.

I keep telling myself, “you’ve done one now…what’s next?”

By Tuesday morning I’m back in the gym for an hour on the stationary bike (20.92 miles…once again…Sunday? WFT?!? 1 hr 8 mins to ride 13 miles!?!)

That same day I put my bike in the car and bring it to work for a colleague to have a look at. Before I put it in the boot, I give the front wheel a spin – and of course, it’s like a perpetual motion machine, defying the laws of physics! Will it ever stop? No rubbing, no noise. Like a trip to the GP where the ailment has vanished by the time the doctor sees you, I’m starting to doubt whether this is a reasonable explanation for my poor cycling performance at Thorpe Park.

Then I get the bike out of the car at work, and as I wheel it into my office…. fssss…fssss…fssss…the brakes are rubbing again. It’s hard to believe that such a small amount of friction had such a negative impact on my ride – but it was definitely a factor.

After speaking to Danny (tri-to-be-iron), I’m informed that completing my 750 m swim using primarily breaststroke probably didn’t do my legs any favours either! So maybe it was a combination of the two things?

When my colleague sees the bike, he systematically scans it and says, “well, THAT can go…and THOSE!” pointing at my seat cushion, frame bag and lights. I’m told I can also get rid of my bell and puncture repair kit as well, as I’ll just be putting on a new inner tube which I can store in the pockets of my tri suit.

To prevent any drama with taking off my front wheel and knocking everything out of alignment again, I order a bike rack for the car. I don’t feel guilty about this additional expense as I can put both of the kids’ bikes on it when we go camping later this year – two birds, one stone (or one score in this case – God bless Ebay)!

I take it easy this week training-wise as work is crazy and family commitments prevent me from getting to Hadleigh for an open water swim. I do prove my resolve to work on this discipline however by ordering the Great Swim Local wrist band – although without a triathlon to train for, let’s see what happens!

The end of the week is double-busy, with work, then band rehearsals on Friday evening. Packing on Saturday morning, driving 70 miles to Windsor to rack up the bike, meet some family and drop Laura and the kids off at the hotel in Slough. Then driving back to Hornchurch for the band’s “last” gig (more on this next week), and then once the final song was played, driving another 70 miles back to Windsor to get 4 hours sleep before the race. Yes, that could have been planned a bit better…but the universe was conspiring against me on this occasion (perhaps)?!

That said, parked next to us was a friendly gent who began speaking to me the moment he got out of the car. After chatting for a while, about this being his first triathlon and my second, and how he had already signed up for an Ironman in Wales (really hard due to the hilly bike ride), he reveals that he’s from Hornchurch in Essex! We’ve both travelled 70 miles to an event where we’re parked next to someone from down the road! (Lee, I hope Windsor went well for you!). A man after my own heart, he has set himself that long-term goal that will keep him training and achieving smaller goals along the way – knowing that right now, there’s no way he could complete an Ironman. Very inspiring – so maybe the universe knew what it was doing after all?!

I did this journey three times in one day…I asked Laura to drive home after the event.

RACE DAY

So despite going to bed around 1 am and setting my alarm for 5:45 am, I find myself wide awake at 5 am. I really could use the extra 45 minutes sleep, but I’m not risking going back to sleep and waking up groggy. Or worse – waking up LATE!!! I manage a banana and some coffee, but not the granola I brought with me for my pre-race meal. I’m still full from the last minute tuna and pasta I uncharacteristically ate 5 minutes before bed last night (which was 4 hours ago, and which didn’t keep me up because I was so cream crackered).

I had the common sense to pack my bags and lay out my suits the night before, so when the taxi arrives, I’m good to go – fairly confident that I’ve got everything. Laura and Robyn wish me well on my way out – Ralph is still in the fetal position, catching the ZZZZZs I’m craving.

I arrive at 6:30 am on the dot, and with my bike already racked up it all seems stress-free. I say my hellos to the two competitors I know, Danny and a work colleague (same one who fixed my bike). I lay out my towel, my flip flops, cycle shoes and trainers, my swimming hat, earplugs and goggles. I’ve arrived with my tri-suit on, so the wetsuit goes on next – still without lubricant. I need to get this for the next race – it goes on easily enough, but getting it off in transition 1 would be easier I imagine, with a bit of grease.

I notice several competitors with the exact same tri-suit and wet suit (Decathlon….you’re up there with Ebay)! There are also some pretty chunky bikes, which I start to think my basic road bike will fare better than during the race…but those thoughts are quickly hushed by the memories of last week’s cycling performance. The athletes themselves are all shapes and sizes, and just like the bikes, and I’ve already seen that this is no indicator of how they’ll perform. I mean, I look quite fit (more “Canvey Island” than “Love Island” than I’d like maybe), and yet…!

My wave isn’t until 7:45 am, but I’m zipped up in my wet suit and ready to go by 7 am. I decide to have a walk over to the coach station’s toilet block outside the transition area, and luckily everything has been timed just right. My body’s a little too keen if anything, thanks to the morning coffee…which increases the urgency for me to remove my wet suit and tri-suit. I make it. Just.

SWIM

The swim start is a fair walk away from the transition point, and as I make my way over with Danny, I notice his white hotel slippers! I’m trying to figure out the athletic advantage to such footwear but it’s later revealed that his choice comes down to them being disposable. I don’t know it yet, but this is the last time I’ll see my flip flops – they had a good innings. (Note to whoever picked these up: Please do not wear these. I am wracked with guilt about what your feet may be about to go through if you do so. My most athletic body part, my feet, have been fermenting in these flip flops for years. Dispose of carefully.)

I don’t believe that it’s so cold and yet my teeth are chattering and I notice the uncontrollable shaking of limbs. Danny reckons it’s nerves…I’m sceptical, as I feel quite positive about what’s to come, excited even. But I guess physiologically speaking, anxiety and excitement are similar, it’s just the mental reframe that’s saving me from throwing up or pulling out!

After a quick briefing, which I try to look focused throughout, but I’m too excited now, I just want to get started. I don’t hear most of the instructions, or if I do my brain isn’t retaining them as they pass through one ear and out of the other. I ease myself off of the pontoon into the Thames and my first thoughts are, “F*** it’s cold…I need a thicker wetsuit…” followed by, “acclimatise…blow bubbles…” and lastly, “where am I? Holy s*** I’m at the front of the pack, I’m gonna get pummelled!!!”

At which point I hear, “15 SECONDS!!!”, have the presence of mind to start my watch, and we’re off!

I take a few shots to my sides and my legs, but it’s nothing malicious. I keep touching someone’s foot and think about Mark Allen doing this to Dave Scott to wind him up. My tickling this person in front may or may not have wound them up – I’ll never know, as they sped up and left me in their wake quite quickly.

I manage to do a lot more frontcrawl this time and the water stays out of my nose, but I swallow a fair amount of the Thames as my breaths seem to come when sudden waves hit my open mouth.

The smell of hotdogs and onions and ketchup as I am swimming and during my first breastroke break I jokingly ask the kayak volunteer if he can get me one. He’s not impressed, or he didn’t hear me. Either way, no hot dog – and I suddenly feel ready for that granola I missed out on this morning.

I manage some more front crawl, but at one point, having closed my eyes, I punch a kayak which has cut straight across me in its mission to help a struggling swimmer. Later on another kayaker is looking at me like I’m in trouble, which worries me as I feel fine. I give him the thumbs up and prove I’m fine by getting back on with some more front crawl.

I don’t stop swimming. Front crawl and breast stroke the whole time, and even so I suddenly see the next wave of coloured hats over-taking me. “I’m going to get pummelled for sure this time,” but again, apart from a few taps, no one’s dunking me and it even gives me a bit of a push to swim a bit harder. Not as much as seeing the exit does though!

I crawl out, the most ungraceful sea lion you’ll ever see, and run for the transition. I struggle a bit with my wetsuit but get there eventually and notice that Danny is already there in transition (meaning he overtook me on the swim despite starting later).

It’s a long run out of transition, especially in cycling shoes, but 400m and 7 minutes later I’m off on the bike ride and compared to last week, I’m loving it. I feel like greased lightning!

CYCLE

Suddenly I need to concern myself with overtaking and drafting! A clear sign that things are going well.

The rain starts soon after the start of the ride and I try not to think about how thin my tyres are or how I’d rather be on a mountain bike in this weather.

The one piece of advice I had gone against, was keeping my cycle frame bag on. I’ve got my spare inner tubes, CO2 and cliff blocks inside and until I get myself a seat bag, this will work fine.

I find riding a bit monotonous, unlike running, and I hate the feeling of my thighs burning, as the lactic acid builds up – this lasts for hours after a ride for me.

Danny had told me that the course was flat, so rather than suggest he is mistaken, I keep telling myself, “bloody hell, he doesn’t even consider these hills…I must be crap on the bike.” It turns out the course has changed since last year!

I get into a rhythm though, wolfing down Cliff blocks and water so that I don’t have to think about fuelling on the run.

Towards the end, a steward annoyingly turns his back on the riders giving me no indication of which way to turn off at the roundabout. So I go left, and have to turn back suddenly as a more awake steward catches me going the wrong way.

At the end of the ride I unclip my shoes and jump off the bike while it’s still going too fast. I skate the first 5 m of the transition, earning a small round of applause for staying on my feet and not dropping the bike.

RUN

As I put on my trainers I make a mental note to purchase some speedy laces – and to find out what “speedy laces” are actually called!

I throw my glasses down by a tree on the way out (some kind person puts these on a bike rack for me to find at the end).

The incline on the run is agony for me…I hate hills…like cycling with any sort of power, they make my thighs burn!!!

There is a lovely stretch on the run, through the grounds as you go away from the castle and then back again. I look forward to seeing the professional photos for this part.

I run straight past my family near the end of my first lap, so go back on myself, almost crashing into two other runners (sorry lads) to give high fives to Robyn and Ralph. I don’t want to disappoint them after waiting so long for me!

Stupidly, I start heading towards the finish line after just one lap and have to turn around – once again, against the current of runners – and get the other two laps done!!!

Three laps is almost too much – especially when you know what’s coming. I’m not a fan of laps. I want novelty. Anyway, I keep going…never stopping (except right at the start to redo my shoelace)…never walking.

I manage to cheer on other runners I know, although my face is numb from the bike ride, and when I go to cheer on the first person I recognise, I can’t say their name properly and I’m sure my face looks like Rocky Balboa’s. I raise both arms, smile and raise my eyebrows – just to check I haven’t had some kind of stroke.

During the last lap I really focus on my own race. I have my secret mantra while running, which helps me keep the rhythm of my breathing and cadence going.

As I approach the finish line, I have nothing left for a sprint finish which is just as well as I spot Laura and the kids. She is holding Ralph up and lifting him over the gate, so he can cross the finish line with me. So holding his hand, he whizzes ahead and beats me across the line before I hold him up for a cuddle. A very special moment for the Saunders boys!

I ask the steward to put my medal on him, and she not only does so, she also kindly gives me a second medal – which is fantastic as both Robyn and Ralph get one now!

RESULTS

I aimed for sub 3 and achieved that goal…but I’ve been put off by a half ironman for now!

I’m really happy with my time, but my form is sloppy as hell and the run up to race day was less than perfect. I’m sure I can do better and I’ve got no intention to quit now. I probably won’t race again until next season…probably…instead I have a lot of learning to be getting on with, and not just with triathlon.

Ralph, Danny and me

Massive THANK YOU to the family once again! It really was a Father’s Day to remember, and I’ve definitely redeemed myself on the bike!!!

Great cards and presents this year…but best of all was them being at the triathlon cheering me on.

Thank you also to Danny for inviting me to write a guest blog for Tri.To.Be. Iron