I’m going to Tri

So after a three year break, the time has come to make my long awaited (even if only by me) return to the world of expensive bikes and running visors – otherwise known as triathlon.  I’m not entirely sure why I stopped racing triathlon; it hadn’t been a conscious decision.  I think I just drifted into running as it’s logistically easier training for one race – rather than three races in one. And if I am honest with myself, as much as I enjoyed it, I don’t think I would have come back if I hadn’t got injured and felt like I needed to spread the training burden.  My season’s plan has been based on reacquainting myself in a sprint before deciding what distance I want to race later in the season.  After crossing off a few potential races due to clashing dates I entered the South Hams Sprint in Devon – about an hour away from home.

During the build-up, the training had been going uneventfully well.  I feel stronger every time I get out the pool – even if I haven’t managed to get any open water training in.  My cycling has been fairly consistent – if not ground-breaking – but the green shoots of good form were beginning to show. I still haven’t found the running form of last year, but if I am honest with myself I know I haven’t put in the same sort of mileage that I was before the injury – which was the point of returning to racing triathlon. However, 2 km into a 50-minute run I felt something go in my left calf.  I did similar when training for a marathon with no lasting damage, it just required a couple of weeks rest – which is all well and good but it was only two weeks out from the race.  The purchase of calf guards and a tense two weeks followed.

The time had come to set an alarm for an evil time on a Sunday morning again, in this case 4:40am.  In my youth I would be shocked to discover there are two 4 0’clocks in a Sunday – I always thought there was either a drunken AM one or a lazy PM one but never both, not in the same day. How times have changed.  Blurry eyed I make a vat of industrial strength coffee – my very supportive family are coming with me and lots of coffee is the safest way to wake my wife at any time, never mind this time in the morning .  I force down a large bowl of cereal that I really don’t want to eat and I busily round up the last few bits and load the car.  It’s easy to forget how much more stuff is required to race a triathlon, I’ve gotten used to just grabbing my running kit or bike and cycling stuff with maybe an extra layer for changeable conditions.  This is something else, the next level of kit organisation – extra swim cap form if it’s cold, safety pins, race belt for if you only get one race number, and the list can go one.  In its simplest form there isn’t necessarily a lot more kit, but as you get into it you seem to pick up more paraphernalia.

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Once we arrive at the race start and park, the time honoured pre-race procedure begins; queue, register, drop stuff at car, queue again, go to the toilet, return to car and riffle through the stuff in the registration pack – most of which is rubbish.   After that it’s time to get my spot in transition sorted before kitting up ready for the start.

I make my way down the shingle beach for a pre-race acclimatisation dip, and as I’m about to dive in I realise I’ve forgotten my bloody goggles, slightly panicked and already a little stressed (the sea isn’t looking all that accommodating) I send my wife scampering back up the beach to get them for me.  Thankfully she’s back with plenty of time for me to get myself into the sea, which is cold (fucking freezing in fact) and I really struggle to control my breathing.  I spend a moment just bobbing in the waves trying to slow it down, and then swim back to the beach ready for the start.  On the beach I swing my arms about in an attempt to keep warm.  I had had doubts about being in the first wave for a week or two (the waves where based on your predicted swim time) and these doubts had really began to manifest themselves.  Before I have too much time to stew in my own self-doubts the race starts.  I wait a fraction of a second then take the 10 or so steps into the sea and I’m off and racing.

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I get about thigh deep into the water and throw myself in.  It’s still cold.  It takes what feels like an eternity of fighting for space, breath and forward propulsion to get to the first buoy.  This leg of the swim was really tough and I honestly doubted that I was going to get around, but once around the buoy (and after a quick stop to empty my goggles) things got a little easier.  It continued to feel as though I was swimming against a current, but with the waves coming from my right, rather than head on, I got control of my breathing and began to get some composure back.  I seemed have moved up the pack a little as we swam parallel to the beach, reaching the last buoy, turning left again and making our way back to the flags where it all started.  During the swim I had convinced myself that the way back in would be considerably easier than the way out, and although it was easier it was in no way as easy as I had hoped for.

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As I clamber out the drink and begin to make my way up the beach – wrestling the top half of my wetsuit off – I see my kids and  I make a ‘B’ line to them, stopping for a kiss – much to my wife’s dismay as she has spent most the time I was swimming telling them not to distract me.  At this point however I really don’t have my race head on and I’m just pleased to have gotten out the water without the assistance of the water safety team.  I made my way up the shingle beach, and into transition.  Wetsuit off, goggles and swim hat the same.  Bike shoes, then helmet and sun glasses on.  Out of transition.

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The bike leg pretty much starts with a climb. It’s by no means alpine in stature, but anything that touches 16% is going to feel a test that early on.  I make the decision not to try and be a big ring hero and drop into the granny ring and spin up the steeper banks – which sees me passed by a rider on a TT bike – before back into the big dog and driving along the false flat at the top.  The decent on the other side was a series of sweeping turns and one very tight hairpin that just seems to keep going.  Once down the other side the road flattens out along the sea front, where I manage to re-pass the TT rider.  Visually this stretch is beautiful as you ride along a spur – with the rolling sea on one side and a fresh water lake on the other.  This flat stretch lasts for about 5 kilometres, and as I approach the far side the first rider comes back the other way, and knowing that this is effectively the head of the race I begin to count back – trying to gauge my position on the road. 1, 2, 3…22, 23.  I lose count, and interest as I drift back in the virtual field.  After the long flat, it’s a short grippy, but not steep, climb to the turnaround roundabout.  The decent back down is great fun, sprinting out the corners trying to eke out as much speed as I can and onto the drag slip straight.  With the wind now at my back I try to find the balance between keeping up a decent speed, to catch the group in front, but also keep a bit back to get over the climb back to transition.

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I catch the group of riders ahead of me at the foot of the climb.  I keep it in the big ring up to the tight hairpin before dropping into the granny ring (and move up a few on the cassette) and keep the cadence up to the top, before pushing hard again on the flattened top before the technical decent back down to transition.

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Into transition for the second time, rack my bike and remove my shoes.  I then have a wobble as I try to get the shingle of my foot before getting my runners on, and then put my foot in the shingle again.  Then repeat the process, finally getting it right I head out of transition for the run.

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the run route was a four-lapped affair.  With each lap consisting of a lap around a field, including what would begin to feel like quite a climb, passed the transition before looping passed the car park before retracing you’re steps back to transition to finish the lap.  The run route felt a bit like a cyclocross course, great for the spectators but I really struggled to find any rhythm.  I wasn’t helped by the calf niggle I picked up two weeks earlier meaning that I wasn’t able, or willing, to push the pace.  I just concentrated on keeping my cadence as high as I comfortably could, while trying not to over work the calf.  I needn’t have been worried, however.  The calf strain didn’t give me a single twinge – whether that was the pace, the calf guards or the two weeks rest only time will tell, but I’m chuffed I got around.

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When I got the results, I was initially disappointed with the times (and still am to a degree), but I’m pleased with the placings.  I really struggled with the swim, and in hindsight I didn’t need to hold so much back for the final climb on the bike and I was always going to be tentative on the run.  Despite all this I still managed a new PB by a few minutes (although the previous best time was set on a much flatter, but slightly longer course).  My final position however is comfortably my highest, and I have never been anywhere near the top 20 for my age group – albeit in a reduced field.

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What I have learnt from this race is what I need to do if I want to get both quicker and further up in the results.  The first one is rather obvious – and in the true spirit of the sport – buy faster equipment. In reality, the two easiest things are, firstly work on my transitions.  I don’t really practice them – and I need to – they are both slow and clumsy. Secondly, lose some weight (my wife will tut when she reads this) but the truth of the matter is that the fast are the lean and I’m not overly lean.  Other than these two I do feel like I’m going in the right direction, I just think I need to find a distance and work on that.

Changing lanes

The alarm buzzes annoyingly. Its 6am, it’s a Sunday, and its race day. Like any other race day, I get up feeling a bit nervy; wake up the rest of the family. Then flap about, eat porridge, drink coffee and leave the house about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to. Except this isn’t like any other race day, I’m not racing, my 8-year-old daughter is. It’s her first race without me, and the nerves are just as strong if not worse than if it was me racing. But as I tell her ‘if you’re nervous it means you care about it’. And, I certainly care about it.

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We arrive at The Hoe with a few minutes to spare, and find her classmates. I think this is the point it 20170423_074258sinks in that she is running without me and begins to get some doubts. Luckily this doesn’t last long, and the excitement takes over. Photos are taken and she is taken with her group into a massive holding pen. Part of me remains relieved that I wasn’t asked to help with the schools’ challenge; the noise coming out of the pen – containing something like 300 excitable 6-10 year olds – was unbelievable. Must have been like trying to herd cats on amphetamine at a rock concert – but less fun.

Once they are in the pen we scamper over to past the start finish line for a good view as she comes past. All the runners have been given the same red top, so picking out individual children is nigh on impossible – in fact I know people who didn’t see their kids at all. I resort to trying to spot her teachers, then who is running with them. It works; I see her teacher from last year and there she was running next to her chatting away. We cheer, take lots of photos and then try to get across to the other side of the route for a second shot. This time we are less successful as we can’t get very close and don’t want to miss her crossing the finish line. Missing the second photo opportunity we dash back across the finishing straight. As she comes into view she is still with the same teacher – beaming from ear to ear even if she is chatting a little less.IMG_0915

 She crosses the line and disappears into the hoards past the finish line. After a few minutes, we find her school’s spot in the pen, sat with her mates – medals around their necks rummaging through the goody bags. I can confirm that goody bags at kids’ races are also full of crap that no one wants.  After what feels like an age, the schools begin to file out.  We head around to the drop off point to scoop up my running champion.  Once the crowds disperse we find a patch of grass with a few of the other parents.  The kids run around for a while enjoying the late morning sun. 

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As our parking runs low, we head off and go for a celebratory brunch.  It feels right to make a big deal of her accomplishment and she is overjoyed when the waitress takes an interest in her medal and how she got it.   

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My grasp of the English language fails me when I try to describe how proud of her I am.  It’s not that she ran the mile.  Its far more than that.  Running isn’t something she finds easy or that comes natural, but she persists at it and works hard.  She has a stubborn streak in her – not always in a good way – and a stoic determination that even if she has to walk she will get to the top of the hill.

 

Racing Firsts

I have wanted to ride Battle on the Beach for a few years, but unsuitable dates and inappropriate bikes have meant that this is the first year I have managed to enter.  The race is Britain’s only beach race, and the course is designed to be rideable on Fat, Mountain and Cross bikes with sections being unsuitable for each bike, it’s a real melting pot of cycling cultures.

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Battle in the Dark:

There were a whole host of firsts ticked off in 10km on a bike: first time trial, first race on the beach and first ride off-road in the dark – what could possibly go wrong?

Riders are set off at 10 second intervals; I start middle to back of the 100 plus riders.  I set off, but I’m off again after 200m to run the 150m of soft dry sand at the top of the beach.  I IMG_0661lose a big chunk of time to riders on fat bikes and fattish mountain bikes, but once on the wet sand I’m back on the bike and off.  I put down the power in an attempt to get some time back.  I settle into what feels like a sustainable effort, looking down I am pleased to notice I’m sitting at over 32kph.  I pass the people that had me while I was running, two of whom are treating it as a two-up TT, and also my 10 second man.  I keep the power on until I notice a rock groin across my path.  I slam on my brakes, dismount and shoulder the bike – in my mind this is one fluid elegant motion but in reality I expect to looked like a drunk giraffe ice skating.  I pick my way past the first line of rocks over the soft sand centre and back out the other side of rocks.  Back on the bike and back on the rivet – again.

The end of the beach leg is marked by a series of stakes with red lights on the top, off again to run up a steep, deep ‘v’ section cut between the dunes and back onto the bike about 55m later.  Here the more technical section of the route begins, and where the night aspect of IMG_0668the race begins to change the dynamic.  On one level being in the dark is a hindrance, not having an idea of what to expect much more than 50m away – making gear selection and speed into corners a bit of creative guesswork.  On a more positive note, not being able to see too far ahead meant that I was less likely to bottle it on the more technical sections (I’m not an awful off road rider – but by no means great – but I tend to run out of bravery before ability).  The first half of the technical section is quite close to the beach, so there are a number of areas where the path gives way to sand pits, being on a cross bike I try to skirt around the edges of these keeping on the grassy peripherals where at all possible.  Where I can’t do this I keep pedalling and try not to fight the handlebars and let the bike find a route.  One section in this area is particularly tricky, for a man of my abilities, it involves a short but sharp decent on soft sand into a tight right hander.  I don’t notice it until the last moment – as I overtake another rider – but manage to use the side of the sand pit as a berm missing most of the sand on the descent.  Rather lucky, but duly noted for tomorrow’s race.  Then it’s into the forest, with a series of diggy little climbs and steep rutted descents. Not long into this section I am either caught by or catch another rider on a mountain bike, and I try to keep up with him using him as a route finder for the best lines in this unfamiliar territory.  Before I know it, I have come out of the pine forest and out onto the grassy lawns of the country park.  I decide it would be bad form to dive past my pilot now, and follow him around the final corner and roll over the line.  It’s at this point I realise there is a third rider behind me.

I finish in one piece; pleased that I have put in a reasonable effort without ruining my legs for the main event the following day.  I finish 66th out of 124 riders – I’ll take that.

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Battle on the Beach

IMG_0659Having registered the night before, it’s a rather relaxed morning for a race.  No early alarm, no mad dash to get everyone in the car to get to register hours before it closes, only to faff with a last minute ‘something’ and get to the start line moments before the race is due to begin – or even after its begun on one occasion.

 

Lap 1:

I make my way to the start line about 20 minutes before the race is due to start, which is IMG_0657probably 20 minutes too late, as I am so far back I can’t even see the beach – never mind the start line.  We start to walk forward; I assume we have been called forward to the start line.  As the beach comes into view I can see people cycling and running across the beach.  I then realise the race has started, but there is nothing I can do until the 100 or so ahead of me can get going so we just shuffle forward until we can really start to race.

Like the previous night’s time trial I had to run the bike across the soft sand before I could start racing.  Once on the bike all I could see in front of me was a mass of cyclist snaking its way all the way to the horizon.  I make my way to the left hand side of the mass of cyclist (the sea-side – that may even be a deliberate pun) and try to give myself a bit of room to react/avoid other people.  I see the aftermath of a collision, I didn’t think it looked too serious but I hope all involved are OK.  As I get a bit more confident, I move closer to the pack to get a bit of shelter.  As I come towards the end of the 6km beach straight, I move to the right hand side of the mass of fellow racers so I can assess the route off the beach without being squeezed.

Off the bike, to cross the soft sand, and back on again.  The next section of the route starts with a stretch of sandy, grassy dual track.  It’s not especially technical, good surface with the odd smallish sand pit.  It is reminiscent of a BMX or pump track with lots of little rollers – which will burn the thighs if you have gone too hard on the beach.  Along this section I notice how quiet everyone is, usually you get a bit of banter between riders, but for whatever reason whether it was back of pack nerves or just concentrating on the shifting sands of the racing surface chatter is a miss.  This long straight continues for a while before a few gravel fire tracks before we hit the first single track.  The group I’m in file down and we tick over in single file until someone ahead either falls off or stalls as we grind to a holt and have to resort to walking for a bit until we get past a steep sandy bank.  We are now on the bit of the route that is covered by the shorter night route.  The pattern for the rest of the lap follows this template, single file and flowy but likely to find a bottle neck at the more technical sections or steep climbs.

 

Lap 2:

Back onto the beach, and back on the throttle.  By now I have realised that I can get a bit of recovery over some of the single track so I can continue to give it some on the beach – also making the most of where the CX bike is at its best.  As on the first lap I continue to pass riders along the beach section, trying to pick up a bit of a draft as I approach groups before swinging out to pass them.  This is one of those rare occasions where you feel like you are in fast forward when everyone else is playing at normal speed – probably a bonus effect of starting too far back. Again I drift to the right as we approach the exit from the beach.

Off, run and remount.  By now the riders have thinned right out, so I pick off and chase down solo and small groups of riders across the rollers and the gravel roads and join a IMG_0646small group as we hit the single track.  I’m at the back of the group and we rattle along, as we approach the sandy climb that I had to walk in the first lap I hear the clanking of gears – we are going to have a go at getting up this and I change gear accordingly.  We get two thirds of the way up and a rider in front has an issue and stops.  I brake, but seeing a gap I go again.

I don’t go again.  After a nasty noise, no more drive.  I look down – expecting to have dropped my chain. No such luck.   I’ve only gone and broke my bloody chain.  At this point I don’t feel angry, or upset, or anything for that matter. Just empty.  And here’s the rub – as I had forgotten my pump I decided not to take my saddlebag as ‘I would just be carrying an inner tube for the sake of it’ with not a second thought to the multi tool which is the inner tube’s bed fellow. Fuck!

So I embark on the long walk back.  I have no idea how long the walk took, but it felt like a while.  As I walked and began to get bored I had two songs, or lines from songs, going around in my head: Inspiral Carpets (This is how it feels to be lonely, this is how it feels to be small…) and upon seeing a photographer or GoPro Newton Faulkner (Don’t take my photograph, cos I don’t want to know how it looks to feel like this).  This was occasionally broken when passing riders offered their condolences.  This makes me feel better for a moment, but only a moment.  As I approach the start/finish line I cut through a gap in the hedge and cut across the camping field to get to my car before the lap is over – I can’t face crossing the finish line.

 

Lap 3:

There was no lap 3.

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After I put the bike on the car, it’s off to find the family. Once I find them I go to give my timing chip back with the kids.  The chip box is right next to the IMG_0630marshal giving out the finisher’s medals.  That stung a little.  After chatting to him for a minute, I go to leave and as I do he very generously gives my kids a medal each.  They both put them on as we head over to some space to have our picnic.  It is at this point that my son (who is 6) misinterprets my disappointment about the afternoon’s proceedings as being disappointed about not getting a medal and after giving me a hug tries to put his medal on me.  Then comes the awkward moment trying to tell him that his wonderfully thoughtful gesture just makes me feel worse.

I did however find one of the 25 missing rubber ducks, meaning I got a spot prize of a Lezyne rear light, a pair of Surly socks and a Surly hanky.

Despite its premature end, I really enjoyed my day out at the Battle on the Beach.  The mixture of packed wet sand, dry sandy tracks and forest single track offers something to challenge whatever you’re riding.  I found the wet beach sand the perfect environment for the CX bike, just get low and get pedalling.  The sandy single and double track was great too, trying to pick a route so that you don’t lose too much momentum in the sand pits and the BMX style rollers.  But where I struggled was the rutty sections within the forest.  I wasn’t brave enough to really attack it, and struggled with some of the descents where I wanted to be on the drops for the extra braking power but on the hoods too to get my weight over the back of the bike. It wasn’t so hideous to make it feel unbearable, but certainly a challenge.

I will be back. Hopefully better. Hopefully finishing.

Doing her dad proud

My 8 year old daughter has recently signed up to run a half marathon – of sorts. She will be running the schools’ half marathon challenge in Plymouth and will be running a mile a week with the final mile taking place on the half marathon weekend on the Hoe (where the main event starts and finished).  This has really caught her imagination, and has reignited her desire to come running with me – which I am obviously overjoyed about.

Despite the looming threat of ‘Storm Doris’, an after school family run was all but img_0537demanded. So after school, we pop home to get our running kit on and head over to Saltram House (a local National Trust property), however not all of us are quite so keen to go for a run in the Plymouth mizzle.  So the two of us head to Saltram for a run around the grounds and down to the river. Despite the threat from meteorologists it’s a lovely night for a run, a bit cool but not too cold or windy and the trees protect us from the worst of the rain.

She is noticably excited as we set off – she skips, bounces and grins like a cheshire cat.  I try to calm her down a bit – without wanting to piss on her parade – and we jog around the grounds while we chat and generally just be silly.  Running as it should be, fun.

We make it as far as the river, before having to turn back for failing light.  It’s been a whileimg_0544 since we last ran together, and I honestly can’t believe how much more resiliant she has become, she is able to run much further and was able to push herself much harder, wanting to get to pointmarkers despite obviously working hard.

Famous Danish beers don’t make running buddies, but if they did she would be it.

Mud, sweat and gears.

Picture the scene, if you will.  It’s a cold November evening, the fire is on and I have a cup of tea in one hand and the British Cycling website on the laptop.  The enter button is clicked, and I will be racing ‘cross this season.  Fast forward a number of weeks and I’m stood in a cold, damp field in Gloucestershire about the give cyclocross racing a go at Lovecrossed, set in the grounds of Chavenage House near Tetbury.

The course

As I am about to set off for a test run around the course I over hear – actually I am down right eves dropping- a marshal and an elite looking racer talking and the phase “definitely not a course for novices”, which is great as novice is exactly where I am at.

So off I go, up the main straight over the finishing line and is followed by a drop and climb into the woods.  This section is tight, twisty and technical. It’s also narrow and occasionally rooty. To get out of the wooded section there is a steep drop – with a rut at the bottom – followed by an equally steep climb and a tight left hander before the first un-rideable section – a steep, muddy off camber drop – right hander – steep muddy climb combo.

Once back on the bike and into the open grassland, a couple of left handers a hairpinimg_0363 around a tree and then on to the hurdles.  After that, a spaghetti bowl of lefts and rights leading to the second steep down and out before a long off camber out and back with a huge, steep – and quite frankly horrible –  terraced decent with a few off-camber corners and a bloody steep run back up the get back to the off-camber return.  After that the long drag of a climb back to the start line.

By the time I finish my practice lap the Women’s’ and Veterans’ race is about to start, so I grab a coffee and enjoy the action.

The Race

After the Women’s and Vets are done there is just enough time to attempt a warm up in
the in field.  Once onto the course,20170129_130902 the gridded riders are called forward, then the rest are called forward.  I hang back and take up a position right at the back – much at the annoyance of my two kids.

The klaxon goes – I think it was a klaxon, but it may have been a whistle, or even just some fella yelling “go” – and we are off to the soundtrack of shoes clipping in and crunching fullsizerendergears.  As the back of the field finally moves on, a gap opens in front of me, and instinctively I go through it.  Within the first 200 metres I had already noticed how much the surface had deteriorated. It feels like I continue to pick up places as we drop down and then climb up into the woods.  It’s all going well until a moment of inexperience.  The rider in front of me has a wobble and I instinctively grab a handful of front brake, as I do it washes out the front wheel and I just about manage unclip and catch it before I fully spill it.  Having chatted to another racer on my recon mission earlier in the day, I had been advised to consider running down the technical hills if its crowded.  That wasn’t img_5652necessary for the down and out at the end of the wooded section, but it was a very definite case of holding my line and hoping for the best. Once out of the trench it was a case of following wheels and trying to keep out of trouble.  Once past the traction free, gravity multiplying off camber slime bowl, it is a hard push to the hurdles and then on to the first technical decent, which is now stupendously muddy.  I’m still in a crowd, but again I try to ride it having got past it on the practice lap.  Once again my inexperience is plain to see and after seeing 20170129_132236-1riders in front slide about I hanker onto the brakes and away I slide. Again I don’t completely fall, but I do feel the warm embrace of the nettles at the edge of the course.  I run back up again, remounting without losing too much time.  Once out past the off camber out section I have finally given up hope of effortlessly descending so dismount for the final decent of the lap.  Once I’m down the hill that grip forgot, it’s a run back up before the steady climb all the way to the finish line.  This section of the course seems to suit me as I drop the rider on my wheel.

And on to another lap.  As the field spreads out it gets easier to pick lines and find areas where there is more traction.  It would seem the couple of weeks’ panic watching YouTube
screenshot_20170131-181325videos has given me at least some idea of what to do.  One thing remained a constant for the remainder of the race is that I ran the two steep technical descents.  If truth be told I may have run them even if it was backed dry and had a modicum of traction, but with it quickly becoming the land that friction forgot there is no way I was going to ride them.  I was, however, lucky enough to be lapped at the point I reached the last of these descents.  Watching this guy just glide down a hill I could barely walk down was unbelievably impressive.  I can’t believe I just wrote that I am lucky to have been lapped. That really stings the ego I like to pretend I don’t have.  The point being these guys have a grace on a bike that I can only dream of.

screenshot_20170131-181417As the laps tick by a pattern emerges where I pick up places or close gaps while I’m on my bike, particularly the long drag up to the finish line.  But I am losing them on the technical descents, which tells a story of where some work is needed.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day out at lovecrossed, and I am totally hooked on the sport.  When the results came out I was a little disappointed – 39th out of 49.  On reflection it gives me something to work with, and having started flat last that’s a gain of 10 places.  I just need to work on my bike handling, running with the bike and do more intervals work and I could be a contender – well maybe not a contender but certainly quicker.

 

 

Mojo? Mojo? Where for art thou Mojo?

I dare say it happens to all amateur athletes at some point, probably around this time of year. Possibly even every year.

This year however, it feels far more acute. This, I think, is mostly down to having a plan laid out to follow. I’ve been working with Laura at Fryfit for 12 weeks, and I am, genuinely enjoying the increase in focus and img_0038structure. That is once I get myself out the door and actually doing it.
I get my weeks plan on a Thursday or Friday, and I will quickly make a mental plan of how it will fit it – usually swimming on Tuesday and Thursday, run at lunchtime and evening turbo on a Wednesday and weekend run and ride. I feel that this gives me a good blend of family time and training time. The problem is come Tuesday evening – usually quite late after getting the kids to bed after my daughter gets home from Brownies – I just can’t be arsed. I will just sit on the sofa having an internal battle and then re-jig the week in an attempt to justify having the evening ‘off’. I just seem unable to get myself going until I really have no option other than to either do it or drop sessions.

Typically, this coincides with another loss of discipline – eating. It goes something like “Im too tired/it’s too late/I can’t be arsed to go swimming tonight… I may as well have some biscuits with that cup of tea” or “Ooh, fish and chips for dinner?” (Laura, if you are reading this, I am NOT eating biscuits – or fish and chips – while writing this). I definitely find that this is a secondary issue, and once I sort out my training mojo the eating habits always come into line fairly quickly. But that doesn’t help now.

But, and this is the crux of it, how do I rediscover that mojo – that spark. img_0140Initially I have given myself a break – if I’m not feeling it I’m just not feeling it. I just need to deal with the training guilt in a way that doesn’t include custard creams. There is little to be gained from forcing myself out in December if I’m still resenting training come April. But I can’t live in this training hiatus for too long – see previous custard cream statement.

Fear not, for I have a plan – he tells himself. Usually I would just enter one – or a few – cross country races. It isn’t quite that easy at the moment, I’m having a few issues with a knee niggle which has been hampering the time and millage I can committee to running at the moment. This leaves one option, the bike. And one bike in particular.

At this time of year, for road cyclists, it’s all about cyclo-cross. My plan is to enter one pure out and out ‘cross race, the Lovecrossed in img_0048Gloucestershire. What awaits is an hour of mud based threshold suffering (in the best possible way) in the grounds of the country house in Poldark, with the added bonus – and potential argument fodder – of a couple’s race. The second race I’m eying up to kick start my training hunger is the Battle on the Beach held in Pembrey Country Park. It differs from a standard cyclo-cross format in a few ways, primarily the time spent racing. This is far more of an endurance event, comprising of around 45km of racing over sand, single and double track. The idea of the event is that whichever bike you choose (mountain, cross or fat) there will be sections where your bike is perfect, others where it is img_0243less appropriate. I have read a race report from a previous year where a guy on a fat bike barrelled into a puddle in the single track section of the course. The puddle however was far deeper than he anticipated – about a foot deep. The extra air in his tyres caused the bike to stop abruptly ejecting the poor rider into near orbit.

So, with a couple of races I mind, I really hope that I reignite my fire. Before the custard creams and fish and chips have irreversible negative effects on not only my fitness, but also before my clothes shrink too much more. And if my knee sorts its shit out I may be able to race a bit of cross country too. What? A man can dream.

Happy Christmas all, I hope you get all you hoped for, be that presents, family time, lots of food or your mojo back.img_0292

Catching the coach

It occurred to me recently that I have been racing for around 7 years now.  Starting off in triathlon while also entering a few running races, and then gradually drifting to racing predominantly running races.  One thing that has remained fairly consistent has been my performance – fairly average to upper middling.

This year has seen me concentrate on running, and the early season IMG_4547looked good.  Two spring half marathons with a personal best in the second of those – along with 5km and half marathon PBs in the run up.  I felt as though I was flying, and was finally beginning to see some improvements in my performances.  I wasn’t in danger of winning any races, but I began to get into the top 10-15% (inside the top 8% at the Plymouth Half).  This new found optimism was then brutally snubbed out by Plantar Fasciitis (I may have mentioned this injury before).

I am on the mend now, but it has made me conscious of running volume.  I don’t want to give up running, far from it.  I just don’t feel confident running the volumes required to see those performances come back, not for the moment.  This has been one of the reasons that led to a change of tack.

The other reason has been seeing a mate of mine, Amy, tear up triathlons left, right and centre – cumulating in her qualifying for the age group world championships in Mexico.  Where she finished the top UK female athlete in her age group (11th in the world).  She is pretty bloody good.   To be perfectly clear, I am under no illusions that I will ever be as quick as Amy, but it has got me wondering how good I could be.  Even with my half arsed, hotchpotch attempts at structuring my training I have had some okay results and my running this year has suggested it might not be as weak as I had previously thought.

So, if I am even remotely serious about seeing what my best is I have to sort out some proper structured training with a clear goal.  To do this I have bitten the bullet and got myself a coach – this really is getting serious.  Once this decision had been made, the choice of coach was easy.  Actually I think I decided on the coach I wanted, and then decided I “needed” a coach.

fb_img_1475266756866The coach in question is my best mate Laura, who has recently set up her own coaching/personal trainer company (www.fryfit.co.uk).  Having Laura as my coach seems like a really natural decision.  I’ve known her for the best part of 15 years, and she has seen me go from a right fatty to a wannabe athlete.  Having raced with her – we ran Man V Horse as a relay and in the same wave at the London Triathlon –  she has an idea of what I might be capable of, and knows me well enough to tell me to “suck it up and get on with it” when needed.

So next season I will be concentrating on triathlons again.  I’ve missed racing fb_img_1475266641532them, and I’m really looking forward to the  variety in training that multisport racing brings. initially I’m aiming to race over sprint and standard distance, but that could change if all is going well.  I am trying to stay away from setting any performance goals, I just want to get as fit and fast as I can and see where that takes me.

To give you an idea of what Laura is up against, while writing this I had a Snaccident involving an entire packet of custard creams.

A fondo day out

In the depths of post plantar fasciitis diagnosis self-pity I made a decision, a conscious decision to enter the Plymouth Gran Fondo.  Then I did nothing.  Well next to nothing.  I did some training, went on holiday over the summer, and then did no training other than the half an hour each way to work.  To say I was under cooked was a bit of an understatement, relying on muscle memory – if that even exists.

In the final few weeks my riding companion changed from a mate who lives nearby to the old faithful, my go to partner in crime, yep my dad.  A bit of last minute admin work getting the number transferred and we are all set.

Up at the unholy hour of 5:30 on a Sunday we operate in stealth mode, getting screenshot_2016-09-26-18-08-56_kindlephoto-37972011caffeinated, dressed and breakfasted without waking anyone, only to wake my daughter as we are about to leave – no major drama and the added bonus of a quick hug before she goes back to bed and we depart into the early morning gloom.  We roll across a post-apocalyptic feeling Plymouth, with the odd battle hardened reveller still at it, to the plush development at Royal William Yard.  As advised we arrive just before 7 and promptly freeze while waiting for the pre ride brief.

We set off a little after the 7.30 start time, and ride across the city in a neutralised peloton to the grounds of Saltram House where the Gran Fondo starts for real. I had been a bit pensive about riding in an early hour’s amateur peloton, but after a gran-fondofew red lights split it up a bit there was far more room than I had envisaged.  As we exit the grounds of Saltram House we wind out way through the suburbs and make our way towards Dartmoor – without actually entering the national park.  These are roads that I know well, which comes with a pit fall.  Knowing the early roads means we ride them like I normally would – essentially a bollocks to the wall, I’m only out for a few hours type effort.  Thankfully we manage to curb this before too much damage is done.  The early climbs are mostly longer more sustained efforts with the odd little dig.  The first brute of a climb comes at Denham Bridge, about 45 km in.  It’s a beauty, even if only in the eyes of its mother.  You know what’s coming from the tight, steep decent just before it and as you cross the bridge you have to try to negotiate the tight left hander while carrying as much momentum and dropping into your screenshot_2016-09-26-18-09-35_kindlephoto-37908850winching gear.  At this point it’s every man, woman and child for themselves.  I have a little glance back and my dad is chugging away quite happily – as I hear him tell the rider on his wheel “it’s OK for you, you have a compact.”  So, I just need to concentrate on myself, get up the hill and them we can regroup.  The steeper section lasts for about 500m followed by about 1.5km of false flats and banks over 10%.  It’s along this section that I become conscious that as I catch the rider in front I am essential chasing her up a hill while panting heavily.  In an attempt to make it feel less weird, I ease off a touch and have a little chat while Dad catches up.  That just leaves the long sweeping decent into Gunnislake before the rolling climb and final decent to Cotehele for the first rest stop.

Bidons topped up, bladders emptied, biscuits scoffed and bananas pocketed we head back out onto the road.  This part of the route is largely new to me, but it continues in the same vain as the earlier part of the route, if you’re not going up you’re coming back down again.  After the initial climb out from the feed stop, just what is needed to kick start the legs again, it’s rolling country roads for quite a while – well 15km to be a little more precise. After that the biggest climb of the screenshot_2016-09-26-18-08-31_kindlephoto-38026925day, in the form of Pensilva Down.  It’s not an alpine monster by any means – 4km long at a 5% average – but it is a test.  It is a beautiful climb and the views from the summit are wonderful, not that I had the presence of mind to take any photos.  Once back down the other side we cross the A38 and head for the seaside.  This is where the wheel began to come undone.  On the last climb before the final feed stop it goes wrong for me, get dropped unceremoniously by my dad, and begin to feel very sick.  At this point I have to do the unthinkable and stop before the top of the climb.  I got about three quarters of the way up just as it starts to level off, and I just have to sit in the grass for a minute.  I’ve never felt so thirsty, finishing what I have left and the remainder of my dad’s too.   This seems to do the trick and after a couple of minutes I feel better again.  Luckily there are no real climbs between here and the rest stop to test how much better I actually am.

We arrive at the rest stop at Seaton and carry out the usual tasks of filling up water bottles, and grabbing a few biscuits, but we also pop in to the beach front café and get a cuppa tea and a cake.  This had always been pencilled into the days plan, but with the weather this nice it was too much to resist.  We sit, chat, and drink tea fondo-seatonwhile adsorbing far more vitamin D than you could hope to expect on a Septembers afternoon in England – even down in sunny Cornwall.  As we chat I happen to glance over at the bikes and notice we are the only ones left, I then check the time and its coming up to 2 – we have been sat there for over an hour!  A quick chat to the guy at the feed stop and the cut off is about 30 minutes away.  Hastily we get our stuff together, make a quick toilet trip then head off up the hill.  Thankfully I do feel better as we attempt to hold a decent pace over the rolling coastal roads of East Cornwall.  We reach the cut off with 10 minutes to spare and continue on the full route before the marshal has a chance to divert us. After a short stint on the main road we are back on the coastal road with all the associated views.  This final section of coast road is quite tight and windy, which with the constant ups and downs makes riding two abreast rather difficult.  As a result conversation a bit thin on the ground as we climb at our own pace and regroup where we can.

I’m rather pleased to report that normal service had been resumed and I feel better bikeson the climbs, not great but much better.  That was until cramp bites into my left thigh half way up a climb.  I dive into a turning and stretch it out and take on some fluids.  I quickly jump back on – before walking has a chance to enter my mind – and climb to the top, or what I thought was the top but was just a levelling out as we re-join the main road.  I stop again to give it another, longer stretch.  I decide to try and stretch out my other quad and as a result give myself crippling hamstring cramps. Note to self: if it’s not broke…

img_20160926_201816After finishing the climb we drop down to the waterfront and there is a whole 2.5 km of flat, but not to make things too easy it’s into a block headwind.  After a bit of up and down, we finally climb away from the Hamoaze and into Torpoint and over the timing mats at the ferry terminal.  After a few minutes chatting we are ushered onto a ferry, and cross over the Cornwall-Devon border, back into Plymouth.  We disembark and make our way back to Royal Willian Yard, where it all began.

On reflection, the route for the Plymouth Gran Fondo is tough, but also beautiful and most definitely worth the effort to get to Plymouth for – and if you live further screenshot_2016-09-26-18-08-44_kindlephoto-38002398away than Bristol it really can be an effort of ball-aching proportions.  I’m lucky enough to live down here and have all this beautiful countryside on my doorstep, but doing an organised event so close to home has been wonderful.  All these climbs that I have ridden for the first time can all be revisited with only minor preparation and planning.  At the time I said this was the toughest day I had had on a bike, and it may well be, but it was certainly worth it and I would ride it again without hesitation.. I just might train properly beforehand.

We could be (super) heroes, just for one day

Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them; and finally there are those who dress up as the great (super) heroes of our time.

Last weekend I had the unparalleled privilege of doing a charity ride in aid of Dreams and Wishes with my wife (and I got to dress up as Deadpool as a little bonus).  Dreams and wishes started in 2011 with the aim of fulfilling the dreams of seriously ill children, from games consoles and iPads to help while away the many hours spent in hospital, to family trips and meeting their sporting heroes to help make lifelong positive memories.  Alongside this they also aim to provide support to for both children and their families.

I’ve had myself lined up to do this for a while, but my wife Sian (who, by her own admission, isn’t a cyclist) only gave in to increasing peer pressure 2 weeks before hand, giving her no time to prepare.  She had been keen to do it but was concerned about a few of the hills and also riding on the roads.  We go out cycling as a family, but we use designated traffic free routes, so contending with traffic isn’t something she has to do.

If we are all super heroes, the villain of the piece is potentially the weather.  I am woken up by the sound of rain – lots of rain – pounding against the window.  More of a concern is the tree bending, phone line troubling gusty wind.  By the time we have sorted ourselves out and made our way to the start at Pontardulais Rugby Club the rain had ceased and the wind had begun to lull.

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At 11 a band of 30 plus super heroes and the odd super villain set off on a journey for IMG_20160709_211231justice, otherwise known as a charity ride.  As a road cyclist I spend a bit of time riding a bike on the road, and I can honestly say that if you want cars to give you more room get your mates to tag along and dress up as something.  I can honestly only remember one bad pass, and they were towing a caravan – no more explanation required.

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FB_IMG_1468346319488The planed route was a circular affair with three main stop points for refreshments, to regroup for photos and most importantly for Jaffa cakes.  The three stops were the Parc y Scarlets (home of the Scarlets rugby union team) in Llanelli, The Wave radio station, and the Liberty Stadium (Home of Swansea City Football Club) in Swansea.  There was then one final regroup/pint stop at a pub on the edge of Pontardulais before we all returned to the Rugby club in one group.

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I’m not sure I can overstate how proud I am of Sian.  Despite the complete lack of preparation she did incredibly well.  I should probably admit to almost sabotaging her ride too.  I had done a little bit of last minute adjustments to her gears – in an attempt to get the gears shifting a little smoother.  Drive chain cleaned, adjusted and clean lube reapplied, but importantly I didn’t test it under load.  All worked fine on the work stand, but in the real world as soon as she tied to drop onto the little ring it threw the chain off.  Mechanic fired.  This meant that she was left with the choice of having to stop on or just before the hill or taking on the climbs in a bigger gear.  By the last two climbs this was really taking its toll, but with a little help she made it.

From despair to where?

So, if the silver lining is two personal bests in a few weeks (5km and half marathon) and a few seconds away from a 10km best. The cloud has been the heel injury I picked up just before, and exasperated by, the Plymouth half.

For a week after the race walking drew a wince, and sometimes an expletive muttering. This slowly improved, but hasn’t healed. The walking pain has gone, other than maybe the first few steps out of bed in the morning. Running however IMG_20160516_202229is still off the menu. Even trying to run across the road angers it. Initially I blamed my running shoes. I haven’t really gotten on with them, with blistering and numb toes being an issue – a bit of creative lacing sorted out the toes but not the blisters. A trip to my local running shop and I am the proud owner of some new running kicks, opting for the new incarnation of the trainers I ran the Eden Marathon in. I loved the Nike Zoom Elite 7s and I just hope that my relationship with the 8s is as happy.

The heel however has meant that I haven’t been able to test out the new runners. As my frustration grows, I began to research ‘running heel injuries’ and the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis comes up. I’ll admit now that up to this point I had no idea what it was, I’d just heard horror stories of long periods on the side-lines – to the point where it seemed to be the Voldemort of the running world. I have a look at the symptoms and feel my dread levels increase as I tick of the symptoms that I am showing. One article I see advices rest and some stretching and a visit to the GP if the symptoms continue for three weeks. This gives me a week to see a miraculous recovery.

That week passes with little-to-no noticeable improvement, walking is fine and no morning pain now but running is still a long way away. All too long. GP appointment made, and I manage to see a doctor the next day. Nervously I wait and I am slightly relieved when I am called in and I notice the doctor is wearing running shoes. I settle down, and explain the symptoms I am suffering. After a bit of pointing, poking and tip-toeing I get her prognosis. It’s confirmed, although I was already fairly sure, I have Plantar Fasciitis.

The confirmation doesn’t really sink in until later that evening. I don’t think it’s the being injured that really hit me. It’s frustrating yes, but it’s something that happens to anyone that partakes in sports. What I’m really struggling with is the lack of a time frame, that’s the darkest part of the cloud. A slight muscle pull – a few weeks; a broken bone – 6-8 weeks; Voldemort – who knows, potentially up to a couple of years. Man V Horse has been scrubbed from the calendar and other races later in the year that have been pencilled in will remain that way.

One thing the doctor said to me that has resonated however was ‘see this as an opportunity to try something new’. Initially I raced triathlons, but recently I have got my racing kicks from running because of its simplicity. No need for running clubs or race licences. Just enter, train, pin on number, race, and repeat. I like that. I like that because, basically, I am lazy.

If I have a free afternoon to train and given a choice of going for a run or a ride, I IMG_20160426_161800will invariably go for a ride (if I don’t have other race commitments to aim for). But I don’t race on my bike. This is mostly due to the need for a licence to enter road or circuit races, or membership of an affiliated club to enter local time trials. These aren’t huge obstacles, just a bit of bureaucracy and a bit of a financial outlay. They have however been enough to put me off bike racing. This is beginning to change.

I have entered the Plymouth Gran Fondo, which runs on the 18th of September, IMG_20160427_083153and I aim to enter a few of the local time trials over the summer months. Once the time trial season is over the Cyclocross will be about to start. Longer term I hope to use ‘cross racing to increase my confidence of cycling and racing in a group. By the start of the following road season all being well I should feel ready to give a road or circuit race a go.

Time to view this injury as a diversion, not a road block.