A Reflection Piece…

After a very successful season comes the time to reflect. Reflection on everything that has happened; things we have achieved; what we could have done differently or better; and what the future holds and the goals will be for next year. Reflection is an important tool in life in general and something many people do not do often enough. It’s something I bark on about in my professional duties, but also one that I like to think I do myself. Hence this blog. This is one huge reflection documenting a journey into a sport I love and that gives me so much.

I know triathlon, training and racing is not the be-all and end-all. I get that. It can be a selfish sport at times – and hard to manage with everything else that goes on in life. If I had to give it up tomorrow – for whatever reason that may be, it would sadden me and I would miss it. Could I give it up? Well if my family depended on it then hell yes. I love my family dearly and how they support me in what I do, even though sometimes it means an early start for them at some race in the country! They can be as dedicated me! So to reflect just on the training and racing would be wrong. I’m looking at everything that surrounds that. My family are a big part of me being able to carry out this crazy adventure! I’m grateful to them for that.

I look back on this year as a great achievement. By concentrating purely on triathlon this season and being more focused around the goals, it has made for a successful season.

I’ve been really pleased with how my body has held up. I hate to say it, or to tempt fate, but there were no major injuries throughout the season. Why? Well you may remember me speaking about adapting some of my training methods (training slower more often), which I think has had a major impact into me staying healthy. Yes I’ve had a few niggles, mainly older injuries just playing up, but these are managed and we move on. It meant a tweak to training or easing up a little. Nothing that couldn’t be dealt with, meaning I have had the healthiest season so far. Training slower has worked for me…and do you know what? It has made me a faster athlete. My times and performance prove that this year.

Proof I hear you say? Well check the previous blog posts! I often compare my race performances against my previous efforts. My A race this year was the Outlaw half. The middle distance is my preferred event and the one I believe I hold most potential at. I’ve hit personal records/bests at all my events this year. For those I didn’t, it was because of a change of distance or a new event making it difficult to compare. The one result that stands out for me is the Outlaw Half. Previously 6hr 10mins to 5hr 34mins this year. I’m certainly hitting consistent numbers in the olympic distance as well, although I haven’t had a race where the conditions helped this year. The longer the distance though, the stronger I am. I’m no longer scared of the distance, the pain you endure or mental side of it. I’ve also made real strides in managing my nutrition during these longer events. I still think I probably need to tweak a little more on this but everything is moving in the right direction.

So even though I have made leaps and bounds in my performance, the question that always hangs over my head…’How much more can I do?’ I’m not getting any younger.

So I’m going to make a statement now…a big statement. One that takes me out of my comfort zone and one that will challenge me. So here goes:

I AM GOING TO TRY AND QUALIFY FOR THE GB AGE GROUP TEAM FOR THE MIDDLE DISTANCE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS.

There we are…off the chest! That is the goal for next year. Life is too short to not take risks. I’ve made my commitment and shared it. If I don’t succeed, it’s not the end of the world. It will give me a good indication of how close I can get and whether it is a goal I can achieve. Maybe it is out of reach, but if I don’t try, I will never know. I’ve been completing in triathlon a fair few years now and it’s time to lay down my most challenging goal to date.

What will I need to do?

Well apart from going faster, there are a few things I need to consider. Making sure I train effectively and staying injury free will be a challenge in itself, I mean it always is. There are going to be a few tweaks to my training again and I will make an effort to up my run volume this year considerably. I’ll also have the help of this:

The treadmill (or dreadmill for some) is the new weapon in my training arsenal and one to take a little bit of the impact out of my running. I’ve already had a few sessions on Zwift run, which I must say I have enjoyed. It’s going to be great for the winter runs and my brick workouts.

The training plan is already being devised. It’s not knowing what to do in my training, that bit I believe I have covered. Extensive reading, use of Training Peaks and trialling approaches have meant me being my own guinea pig and learning lots over the last few years. I have a few milestones set that I will need to hit throughout. The length of training time will be increased and I have already started after my three week break. I’m taking a much longer preparation and base period this time out and getting my body ready to train will be key. There will be an element of being a little stricter with my diet also.

What are the qualifying rules?

Hopefully I can explain this a bit clearer than British Triathlon. The idea is that you need to be within a qualifying time of the winner of your age group. This is 115% or in other words within 15% of the winners time. On calculations from the Outlaw this year, the winners time for the 40-44 age group was 4hr 22mins. To get within that qualifying time I would need to be somewhere close to 5hrs. That’s 34mins quicker than I raced this year. You see, it’s tough. 34mins is a lot, although I do believe I can get at least 20mins off just by training consistently as I have done this year. I certainly held back on the bike during the event this year.

You can probably see now why my training has started earlier than previous seasons. It will need to if I am going to reap that extra performance gain. I could do with a slice of luck on the day also. By this I mean it does depend on who turns up. If I get someone racing who is quicker than the winning time this year, then it obviously makes the qualifying time harder as I would need to go even quicker.

You see some of this is out of my hands. The only thing I can do is train hard and consistently and race the best I can on the day. If that happens and I hit my target, I can’t ask for anything more. I can be sure that a 5hr half Ironman is more than respectable and a qualification spot will be a bonus.

The funny thing is, if I do get it then I’m not even sure I will go. The cost of everything age group related isn’t cheap and I think logistically it might be a challenge. I have decided to not worry about this part though and just concentrate on getting in. If I do get in, then we worry about that. So there you have it. My reflection and my main goal next year laid out in full. I could have kept all of this under wraps, although I feel that by sharing it, it gives me added impetus and healthy added pressure.

Only time will tell if I’m aiming for something well out of my reach! There’s only one way to find out so let’s see what this rollercoaster holds in the coming year!

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!

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’

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

The Season Begins…

Finally it is here. The season has started and I already find myself nearly two races in. I write this after my season opener sprint distance event at Eton Dorney for the All Nations Triathlon. This I do every year to dust off a few cobwebs, test new gear and get back into racing mode. An update on this later. I’m just about to complete the Outlaw half this weekend coming – the second time I have completed this race. Both are a week apart and it has been a ?????? start to the season. Why the question marks? Well I think I will answer that one after the Outlaw. Remember that statement! Let’s revisit it after the Outlaw.

I’ll use the blog to update on a few other things also, such as the coaching project with Miia and her first race.

Fitness wise, I’m good. The numbers are good, especially in the pool. I think this is finally starting to show in my open water swimming and something I have struggled to transfer across in the past. I’ve managed a few niggles and things this season (as always) and believe I’m probably fitter than ever. So as I entered my first race of the season, it was going to be a good insight to where I was but also how hard/easy the effort felt.

It has certainly been a cold start to the season. I managed to get an open water swim the week before the Tri with Sarah and Miia over at Upminster. Water = 13.6c. At Eton there was no improvement. Water 12.6c! Colder still, and it felt it when we got in. So how did the race pan out? Well, I can sum it up in a few words… Great swim, terrible transitions, mediocre bike and great run.

Results:

I actually completed it in the exact same time as last year – 1:11. No improvement you may think? Well when you look between the lines there was actually. My swim was under 7 mins for 400m – the timing mat is situated way after the swim exit hence the time difference. That to me is a massive improvement. I think I believe in myself a little more in the open water. I finally believe I can sustain the paces I set and not blow out my arse half way through. I’ve always started cautiously and saved probably too much in the swim tank. I started right at the front of my wave and had the cleanest swim I’ve ever had in a triathlon. No bumping, people swimming next to me or touching me in any way at all. My wife watched from the sides and caught me exiting the water somewhere out in about 4th from the wave start.

The swim at Dorney was bloody freezing and my hands were so cold I couldn’t get the wetsuit off. This carried on throughout the bike and into my feet, as when I got off, they were like two blocks of ice and I could not feel anything until after the first lap of the run! Plus – add on trying out shoes attached to the bike for the first time which was interesting. It took me a lot longer getting into them on the bike then I thought, so more time lost. I still need practice at this. I ran really well off the bike considering the numb feet. The 4:23km average for the 5K was easy. It’s always good to try and find another athlete to run with which I did through a GB age grouper. I only wish now I went a little harder as felt I had more in the tank.

Anyway I’m not going to delve too deep into this triathlon, as like I said, it is more for me ironing out issues and enjoying it really. The real test for me is the Outlaw Half. More on that in the upcoming post.

The new gear I tried out above

As mentioned earlier, it was Miia’s (who I have been coaching since winter) first triathlon and one she was looking forward to, but obviously a little apprehensive about. She performed really well and overcame some open water fears and came in at 1:22. In-fact, her words were ‘I loved it.’ It must be noted that Miia had quite a bad bike accident a few weeks ago, fracturing her cheek and hurting her shoulder. Luckily she managed to get herself back together for this and had enough time to recover. Her training took a little backward step – quite obviously and with good excuse. She is more or less back on track now and with a few tweaks to her plan, she will be in good shape for her A race. We spent the following day getting in one last long ride for me – a nice 63 miler out to Hanningfield Reservoir.

Miia’s friend also did her first triathlon. All pics were captured by my wonderful wife and her super photography skills!

I have entered a taper week now as I prepare for war with my body on Sunday. I just hope the weather holds and the lake warms up a little! The next post from me will be on the Outlaw half. So check back for the read on that.

Coaching Project Part 2 and Training

Swim Bike Run

Well it’s been a busy few weeks my end and great to be able to publish this blog post finally. I don’t just think and write these up on the day you know! They do take time and I aim to put good content into them that are worthy of a read. 

So as promised, here’s the update on the coaching project I explained I was undertaking with Miia. I have also given details of performance updates my end as well. Therefore you get 2 for the price of 1 this time! How lucky you all are!

Let me cast your mind back. If you didn’t read the last blog post on the coaching project, you can read it here. I introduced you all to Miia, who is a keen beginner, and has shown great determination and dedication to her training so far. I wanted to provide you with the updates of how she is getting on, but also to show how the training is working. I’m going to break this down into the relevant parts of each discipline. It will be easier taking it one by one and I will also add in my training data along the way. This should put some things explained into some sort of context for you. 

Swim Training

As I mentioned before, without benchmarking and testing in training at different points through the training cycle, we have no idea whether something works or is having impact into our fitness or performance. For the swim, I like to use either a 400m or 1000m time trail. Miia being a novice, we use the 400m time trail until she is at a level where she is swimming the 1000m comfortably and it is worth taking a time from. 

In the last post we documented Miia’s initial 400m time trail. She had a time of 10min 45 secs. This was back in December and she then repeated it again in mid January after carrying out the technique sessions I planned for her. She had improved to 9min 48secs meaning her pace went from 2:32min per 100m to 2:27.  So this improvement only came from working on her technique. Since then we have not only been working on technique, however we also added in fitness sets to her swim. We wanted to build some specific swim fitness and develop that engine in the pool. 

We retested on 26th March. What is her time now you are wondering? Well it stands at…drum roll please…8min 42secs! Amazing! Truly great progress.

Test 1:    10:45          Test 2:    9:48          Test 3:    8:42

Her new time is obviously showing that she is getting faster. She’s knocked over 2 mins off in a short amount of time.

How much faster will she get? Who knows. One thing I can’t do with Miia is regularly get to the pool. Swimming improvements take time and require patience. Some would argue that she would improve naturally anyway just from swimming more – and this I agree with. But the question is how much would she have improved on her own? When would she have hit a plateau? In-fact, you could argue this with all three disciplines. Would she know which sets to do also to improve the swim fitness? This is the advantage with coaching – someone to do the thinking for you!

You see, there is still a lot of work to do with her stroke. There are many aspects that still need to be improved and areas that were highlighted before are better, but could be improved further. This is where the one on one pool coaching is really beneficial. Unfortunately, in this part of the season, we need to balance fitness and technique. Although Miia will continue to improve this year, the question is how much more? Personally, I feel these will be small improvements through the season, however if she puts some work in over the next winter, then I think there will be massive developments again. We need to now continue developing her swim fitness and begin some open water sessions. We are happy at the level of swim so far though.

My training has been going very well in the pool and my 1000m time trail has shown I’m faster now then I ever was. This is what I mean when I say we improve over time. You never make massive jumps, and if you do, they are usually early on. Below is a collation of my times over the last few years for this distance. Whenever I swim it, I swim it as flat out as I can go. A combination of fitness, improved technique and bloody determination has led to this.

1000m Time Trails:

2015:     21mins 33s

2016:     20mins 35s

2017:     18mins 29s

2018:     17mins 45s

2019:     16mins 35s

Fitness, technique is developed over time. The longer we do something, the better we become. I certainly feel Miia will improve further and this year is it about getting a first year baseline. It’s also about ensuring we are carrying out the technique sessions well with good form and not instilling bad habits. The better we become, the smaller the gains we make also.

I know that to improve my swimming times, I would have to swim an extra day a week. I’ve certainly swam more this year, including the extra day,  although probably every other week. Has this helped? Possibly. I’m probably averaging at around a minute less a year over that distance a year, but I also know I am more in tune with my technique than others and know when it feels right!

BIKE

This is a discipline I feel Miia is more naturally gifted in. She is a strong rider and this was noticed early on. We have been riding together when we can on a Sunday to get in our longer ride. Weather has hampered us a fair few times and I gave Miia a particular workout to do on the turbo if that happens. Again she has really followed the plan well and allowed her bike engine to be developed. So let’s explore her results…

Her initial bike test results were as follows:

Starting Bike FTP Power: 141w Starting Bike HR Threshold: 155bpm

Current Bike FTP Power: 171w Current Bike HR Threshold: 162bpm

And there we see it! Training to specific zones and following the plan has led to a massive increase. I think it’s fair to say also that on the second test Miia knew what to expect and pushed a lot harder than the first. I was meant to take a video of it but completely forgot! The more you do this test the better you become at judging the effort, and I was worried she went off a little too hard at first the second time round, although she surprised me and maintained it for the majority of the test.

Many wonder what this actually means, but basically the FTP is the level she could ride and and sustain for the duration of her event. Now, Miia isn’t necessarily going to use all this information, but as a coach, the data is important to allow me to analyse the fitness and performance gains. It tells me whether the workouts prescribed are having the desired affect.

Miia meeting Chrissie Wellington at the Triathlon Show – Excel London

Our longer rides have let her develop the endurance and distance and the shorter workouts at home have pushed the HR up and got her into zones where it is a little uncomfortable. She has taxed her cardiovascular system and will continue to improve in this discipline now that the next part of her training makes FTP workouts more specific.

My performance has also improved here as I’ve pushed my FTP up to 177W at the last test a few weeks back. You may note that this isn’t much more than Miia. The trouble with the test is you need to be able to pace it well, something I don’t think I did well in the last test. A consistent effort required throughout and resisting the urge to go to hard too early on and fading towards the end. The problem – I don’t think I went quite hard enough. You see cycling is based around power to weight ratio. You want to be light, but strong. I always keep a check on my weight throughout training and I’m currently hovering around 62kg. If you are lighter but can produce the same power as a heavy rider, you are stronger. It also means climbing hills you will be quicker. It’s why we see so many skinny Tour de France riders that are incredibly strong on climbs!

I asked Miia to keep an eye on her weight throughout training and before I mention this, I will say she gave me permission to publish this! Her starting weight was 73.5kg and now she is 70.5kg. Probably due from training, but certainly helpful in her bike performance.

Muscular endurance has been a focus for me to build the strength in my legs, and I have only just started to build my ftp with specific workouts. It just shows, bike fitness can come from a variety of ways. Miia also will continue doing this workout in her build phase.

Run Training

I think it will be fair to say that Miia has found Z2 HR run training hard. Not in the sense of actually doing it, but actually sticking to the zone when it feels actually quite slow – even slower than her normal run pace. Patience was key here and initially she was using her watch strap to take the heart rate that actually didn’t help. It was over-calculating it and it was only when she starting using a chest strap she found this out. I think her run has massively improved. We have done very little on speed work but just focused on consistency and trying to develop the engine. Look at these incredible results:

PB Half Marathon Times:

Initial PB: 2h 28mins

16th Dec Half marathon: 2:17:22 10th March Big Half: 2:07:37

Remarkable or what eh? She’s also brought her 5K time down now too. Initially her PB was 29mins which then went down to 27:21 and then 26:54. Miia can certainly see her improvement now and still wants to go closer to 2hrs for the half marathon distance. She will get there with this no doubt. She set out to run 2hr at the Big Half but just run out of steam towards the end. Why? Well I have no doubt she run a lot of that race anaerobically which is fairly taxing on the system and just run out of energy. The positive though is that the more she trains specifically and we look at adding some tempo running, this time will eventually come as her body becomes even more efficient. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this particular aspect goes.

And for me?

Well if there is one aspect of my training that hasn’t gone to plan, then running is it. The foot issue has been on-going and having to manage it means my running is slightly inconsistent. I’ve run two half marathons since and my aim is to try and get that consistent. I’m not too bothered with speed work as my body (foot) is not holding up to additional stress. The important thing, which I’m pleased to add though, is that things are finally starting to look up and the all important brick sessions are now happening. I managed over 20 miles this week without any issues…finger crossed now.

What was apparent recently in my half marathon was how strong I felt at the end of the Big Half. I certainly have the endurance and strength there, I just need to build a little durability in my body for the rigours of running!

Is data everything?

No certainly not! I know many pros and elite athletes who swear by riding on feel and if that works then great. Everyone can have a bad day at a race and not perform or just feel like crap. But what we are wanting to do is not only build fitness, but also confidence in our ability to complete and race events. Going into something knowing you have done the hard work is a much less stressful feeling than turning up and slogging your way around. I certainly hate racing like this. In-fact, for me it isn’t racing. I have no problem with anyone doing this and for many completing an event is an achievement. So it should be. When I started working with Miia, this was her goal. I think if you ask her now, she already knows she will complete it. The question will probably lead down the path of what time?

So I hope you enjoyed the read and the next round of blog posts will be race reports as the season is upon us. I can’t wait! It will be great to update on Miia’s races also. We both take on the sprint triathlon at Dorney lake in 6 weeks time.

Until next time – train hard and train well!

My daughter and I who just did her first 7 miles ride!

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.

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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

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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!

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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!

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A Daddy and Daughter Training Day!