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!

Season End and Planning for Next Year…

Firstly – apologies on the short break and lack of posts over the last two months. I’ve been incredibly busy with work and then enjoying some family time. This is the post that for me closes my season. In September I hear you say! It’s the post in which I will review my year and look to 2018-19.  It’s been a great year, and one that I look back on and know I achieved and improved in a number of ways in each discipline. There was a lot of racing and so many achievements. So here goes…

 

Where do I begin with looking back? Many ask why I look at August/September as my season end. Well to me, it’s simple. My season calendar works with my lifestyle and work life. August is the time for family and holiday, and I usually ease down at that point of the year. I lose fitness and eat and drink lots! What are holidays for? It’s been a great summer with two family holidays and a new house purchase in France. More on this in another post, but here’s a sneak peak:

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 14.55.00

One thing I that I make sure I do when not in training and racing mode, is to not completely stop. By this, I mean I usually still swim, bike and run, but in a much less structured way. No tracking of miles, no looking at pace but just doing it to enjoy it and not lose too much fitness. I feel it’s important to keep the body moving which is why I do it. Cyprus involved some very hot short runs and rides on a road bike rental. Also a little swimming, but nothing too strenuous. I still actually have one more more event to do in a few weeks – Swim Serpentine. I will be tackling the 2 mile distance in order to secure the London Classics medal so I’m not completely done!

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 14.57.10

So what are the achievements this year?

Well it is probably much simpler to look at the three individual disciplines.

Swimming:

My times continue to fall and PBs were set at various distances – not by much but small improvements. . I haven’t focused on the swim at all this year but continued to maintain where I was. I have swam a lot less than normal and feel it isn’t a limiter for me so have put less work into it. I’ve certainly enjoyed helping others in this area this year. It makes me appreciate how far I’ve come in this discipline. I certainly realise that I would probably need to swim at least three times a week if I am going to get any more performance out. For a 3/4% rise, the time invested isn’t worth it.

Running:

Seven 10K races, 2 half marathons and my debut full marathon. My times on all distances have come down particularly over the half marathon distance where an 18min PB happened earlier in the year. My London Marathon run was hampered by injury and I was so pleased to manage a 3:53 even missing 6 weeks of running and only managing to run again two weeks out from it. I had an initial goal of sub 4 and somehow managed to do it. This has certainly left some unanswered questions for me at this distance. What time could I really run when fit and fully healthy? I think my next marathon will likely be Berlin (if I get in) in 2019. That’s the plan anyway…unless London rears its head with some unexpected place.

I do have one goal outstanding which is probably what I will work to over the winter, and that is going sub 20min for 5k. I know I can do this, although you can’t train for everything right? The two 5Ks I have completed have been in the 20 to 21min range. What is pleasing is I can pretty much hold this pace even in a triathlon which shows my improvement and strength over the shorter distance and when transitioning from biking to running. I don’t think the same can be said for the half iron distance. The half marathon times are no-where near the PB time. They don’t need to be and are not likely to be either. What is clear though, is that I need to bring them closer together and it is certainly an area to focus on.

Triathlon:

Every race I did this year involved me posting a new personal course or distance best. There were 4 triathlons and two of these were new courses, one being a half ironman – the Grafman. You can read about that event here. I didn’t quite get my 5 triathlons in this year and it’s always a tough decision to do one in September after holidays. It really is a bit of a slog when unfit!

So What Now?

Reflection is important as it allows you to analyse things that have gone well and aspects of training that have worked. Running has certainly been the highlight this year, although I’ve come to realise that my bike performance has stunted a little. This for me is the one area where I know lots of time gains can be made in future events if I put the work in over the winter. Cycling is going to be a huge focus for me over the next 6 months.

I intend to keep running at the same level and repeating the process I took this year. I believe I have more to come, meaning faster times. One thing the marathon training gave me was a superb base run fitness and I intend to build that again, although without the injury this time round. And on the injury…use them all as a process of learning. Not warming up properly for a race and then trying to run it as fast as possible is not good practice. A school boy error really, but one where the weather was so awful prior to it that it completely put me off. Lessons are learnt. Faced with that again I certainly would change my race plan or incorporate a warm up – somehow!

Coaching

I did contemplate the option of receiving some professional coaching although decided against it. I believe I understand enough of this process, read enough manuals by some of the top coaches, and follow a lot of what the they prescribe. I don’t claim to be a coach or as good as a top professional, although I can certainly put together a training programme based on the understanding of my body, performance and limiters. I love learning about the sport all the time and feel that coaching myself is part of the enjoyment I get. It is probably why I enjoyed helping others this year also. I continue to read and learn and during the summer reading involved me ploughing through this:

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Why? 

Well the theory behind improving my bike performance has been completed. I have taken the step in purchasing a power meter so that I can train more effectively and pace my efforts accordingly. Slightly cheaper than hiring a coach and now just to put the theory into practice. I will write a future post on my understanding of this and how I intend to train with it next month.

Strength and Training Specifically for Triathlon

This part of the season also allows me to deal with an underlying injury niggle – one of which I been suffering with for the last 7 months and that is with my shoulder. Not a major issue or one that has stopped me competing as it is manageable, although it does need some consideration as it hurts after every swim and sometimes during. There’s definitely limitations in what I can lift also.

I usually strength train every autumn, however this year I intend to increase the length of weeks I do this as well as ensuring I keep some maintenance during the specific triathlon training. It tends to drop off a little when structured triathlon training begins as getting all the major sessions in can become hectic with real life!

One other thing I noticed when looking back at my training last year was the lack of specific triathlon sessions. Certainly brick running was difficult as coming back from the groin injury meant me reducing the load and running only when I really needed to. The double load of a brick is dicey. Running on tired legs is risky and I definetly do not bounce back like I used to.

What are the plans for next year?

I want to race a lot more next season and return to doing two half ironmans. When I say race a lot more – I mean triathlon only. I’m going to do less of the smaller events such as the runs. I’m looking at potentially 6 races and this will include my first overseas triathlon in France whereby I will go to Ironman Vichy 70.3. This does open up a big question for me as this will be taking place at the end of August – yes…the time when I wind down and become unfit. I have somehow got to maintain that fitness over the summer holidays which will not be easy. It will probably mean starting my specific triathlon training a little later in the new year, having a mid season shorter break and then ramping up the training again. So here is my provisional race calendar:

Fix events sprint – Season opener at Dorney lake. (May)

Outlaw half – (May)

Windsor Triathlon Olympic – June

Bananaman Triathlon Olympic – June

London Triathlon Olympic – July

Ironman Vichy – August

I will certainly race a lot less with the running and don’t intend to do a marathon again unless there is some miracle of me getting into London. And even if I do, the goal will be to train as normal for triathlon. The pure focus next year is triathlon and making a massive improvement over the half distance. It’s about pushing myself next year and training has already started now. I’m into week 3 of my base schedule (mainly focusing on strength) and it’s nice to be back, even though it has been a bit of a slog. Do follow me on Strava @ https://www.strava.com/athletes/mansfield_danny

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So there you have it…it’s only taken me two weeks to write this! Next update – Using a power meter! Stay tuned and happy training, racing and enjoying life!

Virgin London Marathon 2018

On the 22nd of April 2108 I took part in the VLM. This was my first big event of the year and a debut for me at this distance. What an event to do it at!

They say it is the best supported marathon in the world, and you can appreciate why when running it. I don’t remember one part of the course being without supporters. A truly fantastic crowd that do their uttermost to help push you through the pain and find a few more miles for every runner.

I had been building to this event all winter with official training beginning in January. Many of you know of the trials and tribulations I went through with injury to get to the start line. Was it worth it – Hell yeh!

So it all started like this…Once upon a time…lol

It was an early start for me and I had my usual porridge breakfast with an added banana before heading out and making my way to Greenwich. I arrived earlier to meet some of the other fundraisers and then on to the starting area. My current fundraising total stands at over £2400 so very pleased with that.

The VLM is a well oiled machine and everything is superbly organised. Bag drop, toilets, starting pens – I couldn’t fault any of it. Upon arrival there was an air of excitement but also nerves. To be honest I had been thinking about this event for the last couple of days leading up to it. I think at the expo everything became very real.

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Edginess had certainly set in on Saturday. I slept surprisingly well the night before which is not normal for me. Being able to sleep in your own bed makes a big difference here I believe. Usually I am in some hotel the night before a race.

What were my honest thoughts prior to the event? Well I contemplated many things. What pace to run at? Should I go harder to put some time in the bank? Is Sub 4 still possible? What about the weather? What kit shall I race in? What would my hydration and fuelling plan be? Many many questions and I could add more! I’ll try to answer these as I go through the post.

I had managed three weeks of running post injury prior to the event. I believed I could complete the distance, although I wasn’t sure about the sub 4 bit. I knew 4:10 / 4:15 would be achievable even not fully fit. I didn’t give in to it though. Once I arrived and saw the 3:45 pacers, I instantly knew I would go with them and stay with them for as long as I could. My idea of putting time in the bank goes against a lot of what people tell you to do…and I agree to an extent. Negative splitting is the way to race any event particularly endurance events. This however depends on your fitness. I knew full well I could not run the last half of 26 miles quicker than the first!

I knew I could complete 12/13 miles at the pace the 3:45 pacers were going at and possibly a few more. I also knew that if I could keep with the 3:45 pacers for a fair distance then it would leave me enough time to run 9/9:30 miles and get under 4 hours towards the end. I didn’t expect to stay with them the whole way. My plan worked. My splits were pretty even for the first 17 miles. I felt great for the first 13 and I could tell things were starting to get a little tougher after this point. In fact it was just about the 16 mile mark that the 3:45 pacers were starting to forge a gap between myself and my close friend who was also running it.

I think the splits show you where I hit the wall – somewhere around mile 19. Those last miles were tough to say the least. At the 20 mile point I was at 2:55 and knew I had over an hour to run the last 10k. My race plan had worked, and certainly running with my close friend helped those last few miles. We went through some world of pain I can tell you.

Back to those crowds – amazing…simply amazing. I give a big shout out also to my purple running family the East End Road Runners. What a club! Based on the highway at the 13 and 22 mile point. A massive cheer going out and boy was I so looking forward to seeing them on the return part. They certainly give you something to look forward to and if you want a lesson in cheering (and running) this is the club. They’re also a friendly bunch! My family and friends were also based at this point.

I can’t thank all those people on course shouting words of encouragement and singing football songs with your name in. A wonderful experience. Remarkable.

Those last few miles were really tough and the onset of cramp didn’t make things easier. This happened around mile 16. My nutrition plan was great, my hydration plan however, a different story. This went well out the window at mile 6. Why? Well I stupidly took my salt pills out of their blister pack and left them in my back pocket thinking they’d be easier to get out and take. Because of all the water and sweat, they dissolved! I managed to take one at mile 6 and then my other 4 were gone within the next two miles. This I knew from experience is not good for me particularly when it is warm. I have a high sodium loss rate which you read about here. Cramps were due and so they began from mile 16. I battled with them right until the end.

It was great running with Chris; a close friend who I have known since we were 2 years old. I have no idea how he managed to find me as we were in different coloured waves but met just as the waves came together at the 5K point. It certainly helps running with someone. You hit peaks and troughs at different times and help to get each other through. We have run a few races together now – I certainly enjoy it.

Along the embankment is great. You know you are on the home straight but those last few miles are some of the toughest you will run. The crowd push you home though.

Coming through the mall and past the palace is truly iconic. The London Marathon was epic and one event I will not forget. My finish time – 3:53 – Get in! Somehow with 4 weeks of missed run training at the most critical point (only getting up to 17 miles) I managed the original goal. Just think – What could have been achieved with those extra few weeks training eh?

It was great to finish. I received my medal and collected my bags. I spoke to one guy who had run the course twice and had been up since 11pm the previous night. He did it in reverse first of all and then with everyone else for charity. Simply amazing and crazy! I also spoke to a lady who had completed the marathon majors. What a medal that is!

It was also great seeing my family and totally unexpected seeing a few of them. I felt a little emotional at the end and have to say I have a wonderful wife who puts up with the moaning when I’m injured and supports me through it all. To the friends that came out…thank you also. All the support means so much.

So what now? Will I do another? Was this the hardest thing I have ever done?

Well the triathlon season is upon me now and that will be my primary focus over the next few months. I consider myself a triathlete firstly, but running has certainly made me a better triathlete. If I do another marathon, ok when I do another marathon, it would need to be a big one. Funnily enough I looked at Berlin this morning, and my wife will be pleased to know that I have missed the boat on that one this year. So keep posted on this one. No plans yet and my body is so broken I need some time to rest.

The next big event is a half ironman in June with a warm up sprint in four weeks time. When I compare the marathon to anything else I have done, I would say this:

Mentally it is a tough thing to do. Completing one discipline for that length of time is draining especially in tough conditions. My half ironman last summer I would say was on a par with the marathon, although the ability to break disciplines up through swim, bike and run helps with the metal aspect. It doesn’t feel like you are out there longer although you are. My body today is broken from the waist down. My legs in pieces and feet battered! You tend to ache all over a little more from an ironman – certainly the back and arms. The weather did not bother me too much yesterday. It was hot, and too hot to run, but nothing like the 32c Ironman last year. I take my hat off to anyone who attempts a marathon. Completing it and not even considering time is an amazing feat. All finishers should be hugely proud of themselves.

I do hope you enjoy the write up. The blog is becoming more and more popular so I am pleased. Do feel free to comment, like and follow. Until next time! Let those aching legs and feet heal.

 

Ironman Staffordshire 70.3 2017

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Finally it had arrived – my A race. The first ever Ironman branded event I would complete, and the one I had planned so much around and trained for this year. Before I begin, I warn you now, it is a long blog post. I thought I’d better do it justice. My condition for swim and bike is something I certainly can’t argue with, however as you all probably know, my run fitness has taken a nose dive due to injury. I approached this race with a slightly different mindset to the previous few, where I had hoped going into each one something miraculous would happen and my knee would be magically healed. With this race, I didn’t go in thinking this. I knew I’d struggle on the run with pain, and shuffle my way through, so Danny, control the things you can and don’t worry about those you can’t! That was the new mindset and do you know what? Low and behold, I was in for a nice surprise (more of this later).

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I spent the Friday evening packing and carrying out a few bike adjustments. The front brake need adjustment as the cable wasn’t sitting quite right through the bars. I wanted it sorted before flying down some of those descents! I’m glad I did it now. I also corrected the hydration unit tubing by cutting it and adjusting the hose length. Both issues I noticed and encountered during the Outlaw event.

We travelled up to Staffordshire on Saturday morning, and went straight to the city centre to pick up parking tickets. The next stop involved a jaunt onto Shugborough estate where the run would take place and the race finished. It is a beautiful setting for a race, but bloody hell Ironman, the logistics and organisation with split transitions, which are miles apart, are something new to me that I can’t say I enjoy.

I spent an evening mid-week trying to work it all out. It was planned and went something like this:

  1. Travel to Shugborough to race registration. Oh – before I can do that, I need to get parking tickets (yep you are charged for this – £12 for whole weekend). Damn! I’m too late booking for them to post (no email telling me that!) so I book them anyway and have to travel into Stafford to pick up at a theatre!
  2. Finally arrive at race registration and get all my numbers and stick them on the variety of bags. There are 3 you know!
  3. Put all you running gear into the red bag and rack this in T2 (the bike finishes here for the start of the run)
  4. Attend a race briefing – supposedly mandatory.
  5. Now make my way to T1 at Chasewater – 25 mins in car and again with no parking!
  6. Find a place to park and walk to the sight with the bike and this time with the blue bag (all the cycling gear needed for after the swim).
  7. Finally done and make our way to the hotel.

It felt like I’d done an ironman before the ironman! In all honesty, the logistics were a nightmare and the organisation of it is slightly ridiculous if you ask me. I don’t mind about the split transition, which is common in Ironman events, but the lack of parking at the venues is no help whatsoever. It just makes everything a pain. Anyway, everything was mainly completed to the plan above except I didn’t attend the mandatory race briefing. I was too late and no doubt that they just regurgitate what is in the guide. The problem with these split transitions is that you are always wondering if you left everything you need at each place. I mean, I rack my run bag with my trainers and visor, so what has the guy with the bag next to me got in his that is so bloody huge! We made our way to T2 and racked the bike as planned. Isabel (my daughter) had fallen asleep so I went off to do this whilst Kate (my wife) waited with her.

Our hotel was around 15 mins away in the car and I had the idea to book a cab/taxi for the morning to get me to the event without the wife and daughter having to be dragged out with me. My race was starting at 7:30am and wanted to get into T1 at the swim start to get finally organised and add some last minute gels, food and drinks to the bike. This meant a 4:30am wake up and 5:15am out the door. A nice relaxing evening meal in the hotel trying to get as much fluid down my neck as possible so I was fully hydrated. I also got my white bag ready with my swim gear in that i would leave my clothes I was wearing in for Ironman to transport to Shugborough.

Race Day

Up and ready as planned with he trusty porridge for breakfast. My cab picked me up at the time arranged meaning I arrived at Chasewater with plenty of time to spare. I hate rushing for these things and find a bit of extra time to relax and prepare is good for me. What I really like about these events is the opportunity to mingle with the pro athletes. They are there with you in transition and most are really friendly, especially Lucy Gossage, who went on to win it for the third year in a row. It’s great to be able to check out their gear and set up. I didn’t have my phone with me and unfortunately missed a few opportunities for photos.

Swim

The swim was pretty uneventful to be honest. I really like the idea of rolling starts, where they set you off in 3s and 4s roughly 10 or 20 seconds apart, meaning you are not all fighting each other for clear water. It wasn’t my fastest swim ever, but I kept a little back considering the boiling day ahead of me. In and out for 36:55.

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Bike

I did consider using the road bike for this event with just under 2600ft of climbing, but eventually decided with the new steed. Climbing is certainly harder and slower on the tri bike with bigger gearing! I flew around the first 15 miles averaging 18.5mph and didn’t feel too hot. I also knew that the course would become a little tougher. The hydration system was working beautifully as well since the adjustments. I realised I was going through an incredible amount of fluid and used every feed station to top up with water. I had loaded before the race with 1.5L in my bike unit containing 3000mg of sodium. I also had salt pills with me and an extra sachet. This I lost as it came out of the pouch on the bike, but the pills came into use then. Did they work? Well I didn’t suffer one cramp in the entire race and felt fully hydrated throughout. You may remember my visit to the sweat experts earlier in the year, which I believed has now paid off as I stuck to the hydration plan.

One thing I did notice on the bike was the heat. Eventually it got to me. I certainly slowed down finishing with an overall average of 17.2mph. It also became a little more lumpy, and at around 45 miles in, the worst of those hills was savoured. I arrived in transition after 3hours and 16mins on the bike.

Run

The bit I was least looking forward to. I think you all know why. It went like this – 1km, no pain, 2km – no pain, 3km – no pain and so on. No bloody knee issues whatsoever apart from a little stiffness. If anyone suffers from ITB, I have the routine to get you back from injury. I’ve suffered it twice and followed the same routine to great effect. Much quicker back from injury this time as I knew what I was dealing with and how to deal with it. The rehab has certainly paid off, but unfortunately I had lost so much run fitness. Along with this was the stifling heat (30c) and a few longish hills to run up.

The crowd support was fantastic throughout. They really got behind you. I wouldn’t say three loops whizzed by, although the crowd certainly helped me along. Some amazing residents had their hose pipe sprays going constantly. I cannot explain how difficult the heat was, but every opportunity for water was taken. I walked through every feed station chucking a cup down my neck and then one over my head. Each loop of the run was faced by the hill – I only ran up it once. I have never walked in the running part of a triathlon or when running a half marathon, however the heat and lack of run fitness broke me. Mentally it was the toughest race or anything physically I have done. I like to think that I can suffer pretty well and grind things out when they are hard, but not then. The end goal was to finish and I wasn’t going for a time so I did just that. My slowest ever half marathon – a whopping 2hrs and 23mins! A total time of 6 hr and 29mins. Do I care about the time? Hell no! Not in that heat. I honestly know I can go a lot faster (my Outlaw was 6:10 and the injury was at its strongest then), certainly sub 5 hrs, but this will be a goal for next year now as I do not have anymore half iron events planned for the remainder of the year.

This was the last time Ironman were holding this event at Shugborough, so it is not possible to do this exact same event again. It is too early to plan next season just yet. I know my wife wasn’t too pleased with the logistics as well as the spectating on the day. It took her ages to get into the grounds because of the road closures, and the fact no-one could tell her how to get in was so frustrating. Every marshall was clueless – and no fault of their own, but Ironman. What was a shame was that these poor people had not been informed and considering the amount of money Ironman charge and make, more effort into this side of things could have been made.

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Isabel enjoyed the medal…and a croissant!

As we had the day off from work to travel back on Monday, we had a good day at an adventure park on the way home as well. I was as stiff as a board but managed to clamber about with Isabel for a bit – although very slowly!

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Next up you wonder? Well the Eton swim next weekend, followed by the Great Newham swim and run the weekend after. Plus I will keep going with my injury rehab and start running again at the end of this week. The build up again begins to get some sort of run fitness back before the London Triathlon towards the end of July.

Happy reading guys and I’d appreciate if you hit the like buttons.