Archive for September, 2018

Looooooong training run

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 | Sport

Technically, I’ve now run a marathon. I’ve been gradually pushing up the distance on my training runs over August and September, and gone as far as 36 km. But, last weekend, I went for the granddaddy of distances: 42.2 km (26.2 miles).

I took the photo about 13 km into the run. My face didn’t look that happy by the end. And no, I have no idea what was going on with my hair.

I started by going down the towpath of the Aire & Calder navigation. There were rowers practising all along the waterway, right up to whether I turned around somewhere near Rothwell. I then headed home, with a quick stop to pick up a new bidon and more gels, before heading up the Leeds Liverpool Canal towpath in the opposite direction to complete the second half. In the end, I completed 42.4 km.

I did the whole thing in 4:06:25, but I paused for Garmin for the few minutes I was re-supplying in the middle, so my actual time is longer than that. I feel okay having done it. Recently, I’ve been feeling pretty ill at the end of these long runs but I felt good after this one, perhaps because I had drunk a little more than usual. The day after I had a little soreness in my toes and my calves were aching but otherwise, I felt good.

Having reached this milestone, I’m now looking forward to moving my training runs back down to sensible distances.

Parkrun 100 t-shirt

Friday, September 28th, 2018 | Sport

It’s been three years since I earnt my Parkrun 50 t-shirt, and, at the very start of 2017, I completed my 100th Parkrun. Since then I’ve been waiting for my t-shirt. Well, that days has finally come.

I’m pretty annoyed at Parkrun, as an organisation, over the whole affair. 21 months I’ve been waiting for my t-shirt to turn up. I feel a little lied to and let down. Arguably, they are a charity and the t-shirt only costs £4 (which is a delivery charge). But if anything, their charitable status only means they should hold themselves to a higher level of integrity and if they promise a t-shirt, they should deliver on that.

Of course, now they have. And it’s a pretty nice t-shirt, too. It is more of a mesh than the previous ones: if you hold it up to your eye you can see through it. I took it for a spin at Parkrun #169 it it felt good (inspired me to a PB no less!).

I’m really pleased to finally have it. The next stop is 250, which I will hopefully hit sometime in 2020.

Parkrun #169

Thursday, September 27th, 2018 | Sport

Surprise Parkrun PBs (personal bests) are the worst PBs. It’s like drafting Tom Brady in the sixth round. Sure, you’ve accidentally drafted the greatest quarterback in the history of American football, and you’ve done it for an almost-worthless draft pick. But it shouldn’t be an accident. An accident suggests you got your planning wrong.

So it is with Parkrun PBs. My existing PB of 22:39, which I set in May, felt like my best effort. I had gone out to set a PB and I had achieved that, and now I could die happy knowing that the time reflected my best performance.

When I started Parkrun #169, I had no intention of beating it. I didn’t think I could. But I did know that my training schedule said I had to go hard. So, I did. And my time was:

22:06

A good 33 seconds faster than my previous time and giving me a 58.67% on the age grading.

Having said all of that, I’m pleased with the result. I spent the summer doing a lot of training and in the past few weeks I have been focussing on my running, so maybe that is paying off.

Here’s an updated graph because everyone loves a graph:

World Triathlon grand final 2018

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018 | Sport

ITU World Triathlon series is the top tier of triathlon racing. There are eight races each year, of which the final one is the grand final. How you win is complicated: you get points depending on where you finish and you can take your top five races, plus the grand final, in which the points are worth more.

The end result was that the women’s title came down to two people: America’s Katie Zaferes and Britain’s Vicky Holland. Zaferes just had the lead, but it was so close (and everyone else was so far behind) that whoever finished first out of the two of them would become world champion.

Holland had an amazing swim, keeping up with the lead pack (normally she has to chase them down later in the race) and the two remained in the lead pack throughout the bike. Holland had an amazing transition and set off on the run in the lead. However, Zaferes gave it everything she had and caught and passed Holland within a kilometre.

Holland was not done, though. She held on at 10 seconds down from Zaferes and Gentle and as the kilometres slowly ticked away, Zaferes was unable to hold the pace and Holland got herself back into the race and passed her, ultimately beating Gentle in a sprint finish.

The men’s race was a little easier to predict. Mario Mola is unbeatable. Even with Kristian Blummenfelt rocketing off the front in the bike and giving himself a minute’s advantage, Mola comfortably ran him down to yet again deny Blummenfelt his first World Triathlon victory.

An impressive Vincent Louis went with Mola and ultimately out-ran him to the line. It’s not often you see someone outrun Mario Mola. But I’m sure becoming a three-time world champion will have been consolation price enough.

The weather was a little chilly on the Gold Coast. As a result, World Triathlon Leeds was officially crowned as the hottest race of the year. It certainly didn’t feel like that when we jumped into the lake at 7am!

La Vuelta 2018

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 | Sport

Vuelta a España is one of the four “grand tours” of cycling (three if you don’t count Tour de Yorkshire). It takes place each year in August/September and winds its way primarily through the mountainous regions of Spain.

It’s already been an amazing year for British cycling: in May, Chris Froome made an amazing comeback to win the Giro d’Italia and become only the third person ever to hold all three grand tours at the same time. Then, in July, Geraint Thomas won the Tour de France. The Giro was also notable because Simon Yates was leading the race for much of it, but then dramatically feel off a cliff towards the end of the race.

He had clearly learnt his lesson, though. Yates rode a much more reserved race and ultimately rode to victory. Meaning that three different British riders had taken three different grand tours. No other country has ever managed this.

More importantly, I had Yates in my fantasy team. I had no time trialists, so I got off to a very slow start. However, once we go into the mountains I was away. On the penultimate weekend, my team of Yates, Pinot and Lopez managed 1st, 2nd and 4th on Saturday and 1st, 2nd and 3rd on Sunday.

The take-home lesson? Never take Richie Porte on a three-week stage race.

Thanks to Mattpopovich for the photo.

Berlin marathon 2018

Monday, September 24th, 2018 | Sport

Last week the Berlin marathon took place and at the event, Eliud Kipchoge smashed the world record. The event got little media courage, which is a shame because it was so no small achievement.

Berlin has been a favourite place to break world records. Since Khalid Khannouchi set a new record in London in 2002, the subsequent seven improvements have all be done in the streets of Berlin. It’s flat and takes place in September so the temperature is usually mild.

Kipchoge set a time of 2:01:39. That’s 1:18 faster than Dennis Kimetto’s 2014 time. To put that in perspective, the last time someone made such a large dent in the existing record was Derek Clayton in 1967.

Kipchoge is the same guy that ran the 2:00:26 in Nike’s #breaking2 event. However, that isn’t considered a world record because of the amount of cheating going on in the race design. This time, however, there is no doubt about the result.

Thanks to C.Suthorn for the photo.

Early morning run

Monday, 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

Sunday, 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

Saturday, 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

Wednesday, 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.