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!

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’

Training Updates and Periodisation

 

Here we are 6 weeks into training and 12 weeks out from my first A race – The Outlaw. I thought a brief update would be good to provide for the regular readers, so here it is. Below is a snapshot of my current fitness numbers.

Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 21.32.56

Current Fitness Levels

They are generated through my premium Training Peaks account. If you not aware of Training Peaks and the numbers above, they’re quite simple to understand. The main number (middle number) is my current fitness. How can you put a number on fitness you may think? Well Training Peaks does, and they do it very well through its calculations based around your training and stress scores placed on the body. I’m not going to go into that. If you keen to know more, then head over to their website as it explains it all.

My Fitness 6 Weeks Ago

Screen Shot 2019-01-06 at 21.56.31

This was my fitness 6 weeks ago, which shows a remarkable improvement in a short space of time. The other numbers are useful as well.  The fatigue number tells us how much you are currently carrying, which changes constantly and allows to spot for injury, but also ensure we have recovery built into the programme. The longer the training goes on, and that number will increase over time. This is why recovery days and recovery weeks are so important when training, as we want to reduce this number and back off a little each week. This means we can usually go into the next week feeling a little more refreshed than we ended it. It affects the form number also which is a measure for how race ready you are. Most athletes will want to be somewhere between -5 and 10. This number also increases negatively the more tired you become. Reduce fatigue, and form improves. I’m not too concerned with this number at the moment and it will become more important as we get closer to racing as we look at a taper.

Currently I am scheduling a recovery week every fourth week into my plan. My fatigue levels at the end of a block are somewhere between 110-120 by the time I get to a recovery week. When the recovery week is complete they are back down to 20-40ish.   My aim is to get the fitness number somewhere around 100-110 for the Outlaw and then push it up a little further for Ironman Vichy. This will be difficult and a challenge over the summer holidays!

IMG_0068

Training so far has been going fairly well. I passed a major test two weeks ago when taking on the Olympic Park half marathon. I haven’t run that sort of distance in ages and I have only managed to get up to 8 miles in the first base block. The foot was absolutely fine only biting a little in the last mile. I must admit I felt ok throughout that race and took it easy for 7 miles or so running at 8 min miles.  I haven’t run 8 min miles for ages either! All base training has been Z2 which currently equates to about 9:10-20 min miles.

This race was my only long workout of the week as it was at the end of my recovery week. I put in a little dig mid way through the race and upped my pace to 7:30 min miles and sustained it for around 3 or 4 miles.  Towards the end of the race I did feel like I was blowing a little and the lack of mileage showed at that point. I came home in 1:45, so at this point in the season I cannot be more pleased.

I did have a little stiffness in the knee and foot next day so thought better to take the running down a notch and allow time for some rest. It has been fine though and I’m now back at it!

Why periodisation? Why is base building so important?

People underestimate the need to periodise their training. What do we mean by this you may ask? Well it is simply breaking the training into chunks that have specific goals to each. I’m currently still in the base building aspect which mainly focuses on developing the endurance engine. It’s an incredibly important stage and so often many people neglect it.

Once there is a solid base to work from, we can really start to develop other parts of the cardiovascular system. This means we now start to enter a build phase in the training where we may be focusing on building strength or increasing our threshold in each discipline. The intro blog video above details a current focus of mine in building bike strength in the legs. Although still in my base phase, we can still add some specifics to workouts and focus on things that need developing.

A recent Instagram Post

I certainly feel more dedicated this year. That’s not to say I wasn’t last year, although I was certainly less structured and racing far too much what with 10ks, half marathon, marathon all before even any triathlons. My build up this year to my first triathlon will consist of just two half marathon races and that is it. I’m really looking forward to the my  first sprint race and it still seems so far away!

Ok, I said this would be brief and I’m going to wrap things up there. I’ve recently been posting daily updates on Instagram so do head over there and give me a follow – Tri.To.Be.Iron. I’m always interested to hear people’s thoughts and comments so please like, share or get in touch.

Next update will probably be after the 8 week testing and where I will take on the Big Half in London. I will report on my 400m and 1000m swim time trail and my FTP result along with some detail into the training focus for the next few blocks. I’ll also be posting an update to the coaching project with Miia as she will close out her first 8 weeks and take on the testing again. All in all, a busy few weeks ahead and all this to juggle with a busy term at work!

Please like, share or comment….Check back soon!

IMG_0072

A Daddy and Daughter Training Day!

 

 

 

 

Coaching Project – Part 1

You may have read from my previous posts about how much I enjoy the coaching side of  triathlon. Whether that is coaching myself or other people. My teaching and leadership background probably helps with this as I feel I do (or I should) have a good understanding of what makes a good coach.

This year, I decided to take a further step and dedicate a little more time to helping others in their Tri exploits. It’s always difficult with this as I have my other roles – my work, family life, training and racing myself. There’s a lot to fit in! In a previous blog I introduced the athlete I was working with this year – Miia Amara. She is completely new to triathlon and one that approached me to help her.

I always think with newbies that the easiest thing to do is to basically to get them to train a little more consistently ensuring they swim, bike and run regularly, building up to a distance in which they will complete their event in. This isn’t difficult and there are guaranteed improvements until a plateau is usually reached. The real gains however, come from being a little more scientific and structured in the approach. Now what newbie is going to know this? Not many that’s for sure.

I agreed that I would help Miia on a more formative, in depth level. The only thing I asked from her was that she followed the structure and worked to the programme. I have been asked by others to do this before, although I have always been wary of it. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because it takes a lot of time planning, adjusting and spending time with athletes in testing and analysing data to track improvement. I suppose that is why seeking a coach is fairly expensive, and it takes a committed athlete to want to take that step. I needed an athlete that was willing to give commitment back in order for me to do it and not waste my time. At no point was any money exchanged! I don’t claim to be some amazing coach or possess badges. What I do have though is experience in doing it myself and a lot of knowledge on it. I read a lot on this subject and have applied many of the concepts on myself. It’s great to be able to transfer some of that knowledge to someone else.

How come Miia you may ask? Well I could see she was eager to really get involved and I had her base training for 8 weeks prior to really starting a proper tailored plan. I could see she was dedicated and agreed to help her. Let’s meet our athlete:

Miia Amara

Age: 44 (and she did allow me to display this 🙂

Nationality: Finnish

Work: Airline Attendant

Athletic Experience: New to triathlon although is a keen runner and is part of East End Road Runners.

The Baseline…How we Started…

As with all training plans, a clear bench mark of current fitness and form were needed as a starting point. I spent some time in the pool with Miia looking at her swim stroke and what we needed to do to improve it. We also completed a run test and a bike test a little later on. Miia also committed to purchasing a Turbo for home training and any necessary equipment for the pool. You see, I told you she was keen!

We started in November 2018 together and looked at spending around two months working on swim technique and building up some base miles to build her endurance engine for the bike and run. We also rode together most Sundays on our long rides.

I would be supporting her until her first Olympic Distance Triathlon in June and she would be taking on two events which I would also be participating in. These were the All Nations Sprint and Bananaman Olympic. Miia would be also going for the London Triathlon at the end of July. In terms of what were her ‘A’ or ‘B’ races were, we weren’t overly too stressed about identifying these. I knew if she followed the plan until June, she would be in fantastic shape to take on her first Olympic distance. I’ll say that again – her first Olympic distance race! She will learn a lot about herself in that race and use it to prep for the second Olympic distance in July. I would hope also that by then, Miia would know the workouts to continue in her lead up to that final event. We also had the bonus of the sprint race beforehand in May to get her used to some race conditions.

She is also aware that to keep peak fitness for that amount of time is very difficult. Rest and Recovery are key aspects of training and these have been built into the plan designed for her, but also after her second event in June before she builds up again for her final race.

Run Training

What was interesting was Miia had expressed and showed me a few of her runs she had completed recently. Here is one:

img_1955-1

Miia was surprised to hear that although she thought she was aerobically fit, and had the endurance in her legs, I thought differently. Yes, she can run long, although, if we look at the pace of the run for each mile segment, it slows down considerably as we go on and the heart rate is all over the place. There were no hills on this route. Generally the more miles she ran, the slower you got. Yes this will happen to all athletes eventually, but what I was trying to explain to her was that we want to try and reduce the amount by which each mile slows down and ensure we hold onto the pace a little longer. The aim was to make her run a lot more balanced both in pace and effort.

I introduced Miia to MAF run training. I like and use this for building base miles and training our cardiovascular system to become more efficient, thus putting out a greater output, and in this case we mean pace. In essence, training at this particular HR (for her 145bpm) allows her to become more efficient and so she ends up faster without too much stress. It takes time and Miia has found this one challenging, particularly keeping to the desired beats per minute. It’s also difficult to run with others on this so makes this training a little lonely. If you can stick with it though, it does pay dividends.

We also took some base PBs for different distances and set some goals around these. Here you can see her performance indicator chart with current PBs and Maffetone results:

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 13.33.56

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 13.34.14

We agreed to make these PB times something as a goal in bringing them down over the course of the year. In-fact she has already done this for both 5K and half marathon and I will update further on these in a future post.

Swimming

By her own admission, Miia had expressed that she needed lots of work around swimming. Initial pool tests and swim analysis did show me that she was correct in her own assessment. Like most triathletes, swim is an area of weakness and we had work to do here.  The results of her first 400m time trial are shown here:

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 13.34.22

After spending time in the pool with her, highlighting some flaws in the stroke and showing the drills to correct these, I developed a swim plan for her to follow for 8 weeks or so with the drills built in to develop the areas of weakness. You can’t break too much apart in your swim. Little and often is best for improvement as it is one of those technical sports that has lots to think about. Trying to work on two or three things to improve on is usually too much for our brains to cope with! This swim plan mainly focused on the leg end and getting that kick going from the hip and not her knee. She took to the drills really well and got practising them and we took another test before her official triathlon training started at the beginning of February. This was her plan:

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 14.13.40

On the 12th January we retested again and here are the results:

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 14.10.54

So what do we already notice? Yes a massive improvement already just through improving technique! There is very little in this plan that develops swim fitness and so it is pleasing to see with a little bit of work on technique, we have already seen a big improvement. I expect her to continue on the technique side of things and also work on building some specific swim fitness now. We will retest again at the end of the base period in the plan.

Biking

Miia also undertook the FTP test for the bike to mainly give me the base line of what her current output is, and what she produces both in power and heart rate. I wanted to give her the personal heart rate zones and ensure she was aware of training correctly within these zones and necessary workouts to follow. I must say I was impressed with her on the bike. I worried at first in terms of pace on our endurance rides and whether she would keep up, although she is very comfortable on a bike and took to this like a duck to water! She is STRONG! It was clear that her bike leg is the strongest and strength out of the three disciplines. This is good considering the majority of the race is spent on the bike! I wouldn’t hesitate going on any long ride with Miia.

First FTP Test

Other Considerations:

Miia’s working pattern had to be accommodated here and this usually results in her working either two or three days each week. The working days are pure rest days. There is absolute no way any workouts can be fitted in due to the nature of her job. The plan has been designed to make the most of her time and it averages at around 6 or so hours a week for the base period. Potential athletes are always looking for plans to follow for something in the lead up to an event. I myself have done this in the past. The problem is that they are so generic and do not take into account prior fitness, baseline and are usually not fit for purpose for that particular athlete. No plan should be the same for everyone! Here is a snapshot of Miia’s first week:

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 14.35.22

The key to all this though is enjoyment! Hopefully I have taken away all the thinking, scientific aspects and her worrying whether she is doing the right thing. I want her to enjoy her journey into triathlon and continue it long after this. Enjoyment is the number one goal! Performance will come along for the ride also.

I’ve split this blog into three posts, although it may end up being four by the end depending on the reporting and my time management. This of course being the introductory piece and setting the story or scene – whatever you want to call it. I will then write a second to give the updates and tracking of performance (probably after our initial 8 week base period), and either a final piece on the outcomes, although this may be in two parts in which I hope Miia will add a few comments herself about her experience.

It’s a slightly different take on my usual blogs and I do look for content that is both interesting and different. I hope you enjoy this mini-series as much as Miia enjoys her journey into triathlon! I will of course update on my performance and blog the race reports as usual.

Until next time…tail winds to you all!

I leave you with our route for the last easy endurance ride we did. it was blooming freezing although Miia took a 3rd and 4th on two Strava segments! Do give us a follow on Strava!

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 12.39.39

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 12.37.18