Chris Worfolk's Blog


Early morning run

September 17th, 2018 | Sport

When did it start getting light so late and dark so early? It’s only September.

Getting back into the swing of things now my MSc is over has been a challenge. University was flexible; clients are less so. So, the only time I could fit one of my training runs in last week was at 6 am in the morning before Elina gets up.

I assumed it would be getting light at that time. But I was wrong. So, my planned route had to be changed to a jaunt around the city instead.

Nidderdale sprint triathlon

September 16th, 2018 | Sport

Nestled in the far side of the small town of Pateley Bridge is a school and leisure centre. Which, every September, play host to the Nidderdale sprint triathlon. As it is such a beautiful area, I decided it was worth making the effort to race there.

It’s been a long season: this would be my ninth triathlon, making a total of four sprints, four standards and one middle distance, plus a bunch of Go Tris are duathlons. And, if I had known I was doing my first middle distance race the week before, I would have thought twice. But, as I signed up for this one long before, I decided it would make a nice cooldown event to finish to the year.

We decided to make it a family day out. It’s been baking-hot sun for pretty much every race I have done so far. But the first race that Elina and Venla joined me for looked like this…

Still, if we thought we had it bad, the leisure centre staff had to clean all of the grass and mud up after we had gone.

The swim

The swim was 400 metres. This would normally be 16 lengths but the Nidderdale pool is only 20 metres long, making it 20. We were set off at regular intervals and I was just starting a length when the guy behind me set off at pace. He tagged me to get past on his return length.

The only problem was that he couldn’t keep the pace up. Within a few lengths he was struggling and I had caught him. As I only had two lengths left I couldn’t be bothered to tag him back, but the woman behind me did. Let this be a lesson to us all: pace yourself at the start or you’ll find it rather embarrassing when everyone catches you up again.

The bike

Given where Pateley Bridge is, the bike course was surprisingly flat. A few rolling hills and a little climb at the end, but mostly it followed the road along the side of the reservoir, making for beautiful viewing.

It has been raining all day, it was still raining and the roads were covered in surface water. In my mind, that was a good excuse to descent the hills at a sensible pace. Other athletes felt differently though and came screaming down the hills. So, I lost about four places there, despite being a much stronger climber. Towards the end, I took a few places of my own.

Unfortunately, just before the end, my chain dropped and I had to unclip, climb off and put it back on. I got back on the bike and rounded the corner to see I was at the end of the bike leg: almost close enough to just run it in.

My shoes were soaked by the end from all the surface spray. Maybe I should have worn my tri shoes with the holes in the bottom to drain water.

The run

I felt good on the run. Nobody passed me and I overtook plenty. One marshall even commented about how fast I had come back, which is not unusual for me because my swim and bike times mean I am started with the slower athletes, but once I hit the run I am in my element.

The results

I was 74th overall, out of a field of 167. My total time was:

1:26:23

The winner was 1:02:15. My splits were 12:42 for the swim, 2:02 for T1, 46:23 for the bike, 2:08 for T2 and 23:07 for the run. All of that is pretty good, especially for a race where I was taking it easy.

12:42 for the swim doesn’t really represent my actual time as you come out of the pool and into the sports hall, where you can put your shoes on, before crossing the timing matt and going into transition. So my swim time was really sub-10.

The bike time would have been a bit faster if I hadn’t dropped my chain and my 5km PB race time is 22:39, so to be only 30 seconds behind that feels like a great result.

The aftermath

The season is over and I never have to ride my bike again.

I probably will, of course. But I’m looking forward to taking a break from training and being a bit more flexible in what I do and when I do it. And, of course, having done nine races, a bunch of Go Tris and half a dozen sportives, too, if I do continue it would now be entirely justifiable to do so on a new, fancier bike.

But for now I’m looking forward to sitting on the sofa all winter and getting fat.

Dissertation

September 15th, 2018 | Life

It’s in. After a year of hard work on the MSc programme, including nine months working on the research project, my dissertation has been submitted. Now begins a two month wait for the results.

Sundowner Triathlon: My first middle distance race

September 5th, 2018 | Sport

A middle distance triathlon is a 1,900 metre swim, 90 km bike and 21 km run (half marathon). In old money, that’s 1.2 miles in the water, 56 miles on the bike and a 13-mile jog. It’s the thing that Alister Brownlee is moving up to. And, in a moment of madness over the summer, what I signed up to, too.

Preparation

Even though it is my first year doing triathlon, I feel pretty well versed. I had already done three sprint distance and four standard distance races, so I knew what to expect. My August was full of big sessions: 100 km bike rides, 30 km runs and one never-ending day when I cycled to Bolton Abbey and back before doing a 10 km run.

The preparation was more than just physical training. I upgraded my bike to clipless pedals, something which I had been meaning to do anything but this gave me the push. Wiggle delivered palettes of nutrition to my house so that I had enough gels to get me through the training sessions and the race itself. I revised my own sport psychology course.

A week before the race, it looked like disaster had struck. In my final training run, a 36 km slog, my calf muscle began playing up and eventually left me limping. I should have stopped, but I didn’t because it had gradually come on. If something goes pop, you know you’ve done real damage. But if something just hurts more and more, it’s often fine. As it happens, it wasn’t fine and kept hurting all weekend.

So, I had a decision to make. Did I try to race on it or not? If it had been the start of the season, then probably not. But, as it was the end, I decided I would try and get back to training and see how it felt. I got back in the pool on Tuesday, back on the bike on Wednesday and went for a short run on Thursday. It held up fine. Between rest, strength exercises and a physio session, I had got lucky. The big day arrived…

The day itself

Sundowner starts at noon. You have eight hours to beat the cut-off time, so it’s designed to coincide with the sun going down, hence the name. This is a much more civilized time to start a triathlon. Not only did it mean I could get up at 7am, rather than 5am, but it also meant that instead of starting the run in the noonday sun, we started it at 4-5pm when the heat of the day was starting to pass.

I arrived in Allerthorpe just after 10am, where I met up with the Hyde Park Harriers who had just completed the Sundowner Sprint Triathlon. Registration and racking my bike were uneventful.

The swim

Things were eventful from the start. About 100 metres into the swim one of my fellow competitors had a panic attack, so I had to stop and summon help for him. This meant I had lost of the feet of the large swim in front of me and it was a hard chase to get back on.

Things were quiet after that until the last few hundred metres of the swim when the pack of faster swimmers from the wave behind me caught up. There was nowhere to hide: there were dozens and dozens of them everywhere you swam. You couldn’t help but accidentally kick people as they groped me from behind.

Despite stopping at the start, I clocked in at 50:20, which was right on target.

The bike

90 km is a long way to cycle. The nice thing about York is that it is pan flat. Even compared to the Flat n Fast 100 it is super-flat. No wonder the entire place floods.

The downside is that there are no hills to break up the wind. So, while it was an easier bike than the Tour de Yorkshire, there were some tough stretches when you were battling a headwind and the tailwind that I assume we got at some point did not compensate.

Most of all, though, it was the sheer length of the bike that made it hard. I counted down in 10 km increments, which is when I took my feeds. But, to reduce the monotony, I also counted down in 10%s (81 km, 72 km, 63 km, etc) as well as quarters, thirds and halves. That way, I was never more than 9 km away from my next milestone and usually a lot less.

By the end of the bike, I was uncomfortable. My back was aching, my bottom was sore and I was fed up with being on a bike. Unfortunately, I had budgeted for a bike fit, but only at the end of the year, so my position is not yet ideal.

I finished the bike in 3:34:01. Not a great time but safely within the cut-off.

I’m not sure why I look like a giant in this photograph.

The run

Finally came the half marathon to finish things off. This is what I was most nervous about because I thought if my leg was going to give up anywhere, it would probably be the run. And that would have been a lot of suffering for nothing.

I was pretty tired by this point, so I decided that I would walk past the aid stations as I took on food and drink, and then run all of the rest. This tactic worked well although the definition of where an aid station started and finished gradually got longer as the race went on.

I wasn’t sure whether I should keep running or not. Part of me wanted to be able to say I had run the whole thing. But another part of me wanted to say that I had been strong enough to recognise when there is a time for compassion and allow myself to walk.

In the end, my pace calculations settled the debate. As each kilometre ticked by, I worked out how fast I had to run to be within my target time of below seven hours. By 19.5 kilometres I had still had over 20 minutes to do the last mile. So, I allowed myself to walk the next 500 metres before running the final kilometre.

I finished the run in 2:08:54, which felt good given my half marathon PB is 1:52:24.

The finish

Official time:

6:48:13

I want to tell you that the finish was amazing and worth the endless hours of training and seven hours of hell that I had put myself through. And, for a split second, it did feel amazing.

But the truth is that triathlons, like marathons, don’t feel amazing at the end. Parkruns feel amazing. You’ve been working your cardio system hard for half an hour, and then you stop and the pain instantly goes away. Endurance events aren’t like that. Your muscles don’t stop aching when you stop moving. That’s not to say it isn’t worth doing. But the real reward comes when you wake up the next day, and every day, and get to think “wow, I actually did that.”

What I mostly felt after the race was thirsty. Within the first hour, I had downed four drinks: two J2Os, a can of Red Bull and a Lucozade Energy. A did a 500ml bottle o Coke on the drive back and two litre-sizes bottles of juice when I got home.

Not much else was going on. As a competitor, I got a hog roast sandwich and a dessert as part of my registration fee, at the afterparty. I made it halfway through the sandwich before I had to give up. It was heartbreaking to see good pork to go to waste but what else could I do?

The future

So, what’s next? I genuinely have no idea.

A full distance Ironman? Not yet. I am sick of training, sick of being on a bike, and sick of triathlon. I mean, not sick enough to not race Nidderdale next week. But sick enough to be glad that the season is coming to an end. And while I might be willing to do it all again next year, doing a full distance race would have to involve me doubling my training load. Middle distance is easy: I swim 2,000 metres in the pool, I might bike 100 km at a sportive and I like the half marathon distance. But I haven’t done any of the full distance even individually.

Another middle distance? Maybe. For the first 24 hours, I genuinely felt like I didn’t want to ever do that again. But like a mother who had slowly forgotten the pain of childbirth, I’m starting to think it might be okay to do another.

But right now we’re heading into the off-season. I’m going to do some running, but mostly I’m going to sit on my sofa eating Ben & Jerry’s and getting fat. And dream of the good old glory days when I beat the sun going down.

Panini at Roundhay Park Cafe

August 31st, 2018 | Life

Here is the latest update in my series on people pluralising the already-pluralised word panini. This one from Roundhay Park cafe. No wonder Facebook stopped syndicating my blog posts.

Facebook ad fails #5

August 30th, 2018 | Business & Marketing

Here is someone selling a “Default Description” chain.

This one is an interesting one. You can see what they are getting out trying to pique your curiosity. But they don’t even hint at what it is. And it’s for both runners and people who go outdoors, so how specific or interesting can it be? I didn’t request their free download.

This company did include a description. But it’s mostly HTML tags.

This one isn’t an ad, but while we’re on the topic of including code, here is an Instant Article from The Independent.

This advert for Bar Soba looks fine. However, as soon as you click it you get a “page not found” error on their website.

Join the #ThisIsNormalLife campaign

August 29th, 2018 | News

Social media paints an unrealistic portrait of life. It’s full of pictures of people with perfect make-up who spend the whole lives drinking champagne and flossing in front of the Effiel Tower. Many of us do get the chance to do these things, of course, but most of the time we’re going to work, cleaning the kitchen or just passed out exhausted on the sofa.

The problem is that being bombarded with these images is bad for our mental health.

So, this September, Worfolk Anxiety is launching a campaign called 30 Days of Normal Life. We’re encouraging everyone to post boring pictures of their life with the hashtag #ThisIsNormalLife.

Won’t you join us in a month of making the internet a lot more dull and a little less depressing?

Is alcohol bad for you after all?

August 28th, 2018 | Science

The Lancet has published a global study looking at alcohol consumption and the news for drinkers is not good.

Previous research indicated that alcohol consumption came with protective benefits and led to moderate drinkers living longer than non-drinkers.

However, this new paper that takes data from 195 countries over a 16 year period finds the opposite: all-cause mortality is correlated with increased alcohol consumption and in order to gain the most years of disability-free life, you should abstain from drinking.

Many people have reacted with a sarcastic “wow, putting poison into your body is a bad thing? Who knew?”

I think it is important to tackle such views because they are potentially dangerous. What someone suggesting when they say that is that they believe that the intuitive explanation should take precedence over what the evidence says.

Consider a parallel between vaccinations. An attenuated vaccine is a vaccine that uses a live strain of the disease. For example, when you have the MMR vaccine, you’re literally having a little bit of measles, mumps and rubella pumped into you. If you didn’t understand the science behind it you would say “it’s obviously a terrible idea to inject a disease into myself.” But, of course, every intelligent person now agrees that it is a good idea.

In this case, though, it would seem that the balance of harm from alcohol may outweigh the benefits. Good news for people like me who struggle to hit their alcohol consumption quota.

Why can’t Coca-Cola avoid the sugar tax?

August 27th, 2018 | Distractions

Soft drink brands across the board have been reducing the amount of sugar in their drinks in order to avoid the sugar tax. But one brand remains unchanged. To understand why we need to do a short history lesson.

Earlier this year the UK introduced a new tax on sugary drinks. Any drink with more than 5g of added sugar per 100ml is now subject to a levy. Hence why the prices of many soft drinks have gone up, including having to pay more than the set-meal price at McDonald’s and meal-deal sandwich outlets.

To prepare for this, many companies have reduced the sugar content in their drinks to avoid the tax. Fanta, Ribena, Iron Bru and Lucozade have all made changes to this effect. But one brand hasn’t changed: Coca-Cola Classic.

Why is this? Is it because the Coca-Cola Company doesn’t want to? Certainly not. Fanta is a Coca-Cola Company brand and they have changed the recipe for that. But Original Coke remains unchanged because simply put, they can’t change it.

The Pepsi Challenge

The story starts in 1975. Coca-Cola is the leading carbonated soft drink in the world. But a competitor, PepsiCo, is about to strike gold with a marketing campaign.

They presented consumers with two white cups filled with cola. One had Pepsi in and one had Coca-Cola in. Each person drank both cups and selected the one they preferred. It was a blind taste test. And, as it turned out, when you don’t know what you are drinking, most people prefer Pepsi.

PepsiCo realised they were onto a winner and began to shout to the high heavens about it. They ran TV commercials showing it happening. And their sales went through the roof. Within five years, they were within striking distance of becoming the number one soft drink.

Coca-Cola responds

The Coca-Cola Company’s own tests confirmed what the Pepsi Challenge suggested: that people preferred the taste of Pepsi. So, they began working on a new version of Coke that would cater to people’s tastes.

In April 1985, New Coke was launched.

This wasn’t some small viral campaign they hoped would later catch on. Coca-Cola went big. They stopped making their original formula entirely. They poured money into advertising: so much money that by the end of the campaign, more Americans knew about New Coke than knew who the US President was.

Backlash

Despite some initial success, many of Coca-Cola’s customers rebelled.

They didn’t just stop buying it. They sent letters. And made phone calls. And founded campaigning organisations like the Old Cola Drinkers of America. They tracked down companies that had stockpiles of original Coke and started making long-distance road trips to get their hands on some. They even filed a lawsuit against the company in an attempt to get them to change it back.

Eventually, Coca-Cola was forced to cave in. 78 days after launching New Coke, they announced that the original formula was going back into production under the name of Coca-Cola Classic. Sales skyrocketed while New Coke was re-named to Coke II and the finally killed off altogether.

It remains one of the most eminent cautionary tales in marketing.

And that’s why they can’t change it

The Coca-Cola Company will not change the sugar content of their Classic drink because they can’t risk it. After one of the biggest disasters in marketing history, it’s just too risky for them to alter it. So risky that they would rather risk losing market share because of a sugar levy that only hits their drink and not that of the competition than they would risk tweaking the formula and possibly another backlash.

Allerthorpe Classic triathlon

August 22nd, 2018 | Sport

In July, I travelled to Allerthorpe, near York, to compete in the Allerthorpe Sprint Triathlon. Despite trying my hardest, a mistake in T1 wasted some valuable time and I came in a mere 17 seconds over an hour and a half. This time, I was returning for the Classic, a standard distance race. Would my performance improve?

For comparison, I managed 3:02:18 at Wetherby and 2:57:40 at Evolve Quarter. However, every course has different distances and every day has different weather conditions, so it’s difficult to make direct comparisons. This is especially true of Evolve which completely messed with the distances.

The swim was a two-lap horse-shoe-shaped course around the lake. This was better than the sprint, which just went around the edge, which is often too shallow to swim in. T1 went well and I was soon on the bike and away. I couldn’t quite maintain the pace of the sprint triathlon (over 30 kph average) due to the distance, but also because it was windier.

Finally came the run. 10km in the blazing heat of midday. I got about 4km in before I decided I was never doing another triathlon again. I had finished the bike in around 1:20, so I knew if I could do a good run I would sneak under three hours.

I started out running a sub-5 minute kilometre pace. But, as with Evolve, the heat got me to and I was forced to drop back a little. Not too much, though. I was running around a 5:10 pace, which would bring me home just within the window, even accounting for grabbing some water at the water stations.

Then, disaster. The 10km marker came and went and I was still 500 metres from the finish line. Despite a sprint finish to try and bring it home, my final time was:

3:00:15

Gutted. At least we were allowed to cool off in the lake afterwards. Although we had to share the lake and grounds with the world’s largest collection of hoverflies, which were everywhere. For my trouble, I got a blister and some sunburn, despite applying suncream before the race and again during the first kilometre of the run.

My official splits and split positions were 40:49 (240), 03:40 (225), 1:20:35 (204), 01:49 (184), 53:19 (94). That put me 191 out of 250 finishers (261 total). The winner, Dan Harbridge finished in 2:01:23 and the last person home managed 4:20:32.

I’m heading back to Allerthorpe at the start of September for another race. I think I’m owed a dry but cloudy day by now.