Posts Tagged ‘triathlon’

Getting started with clip-on aero bars

Sunday, August 18th, 2019 | Video

If you are an age-group triathlete or amateur time-trialist, nothing will give you free speed like aero bars. In this video, I will discuss the pros and cons, show you how to get some onto your bike and give you some tips on how to get started with them.

Aero bars, also known as tri bars, allow you to get into a much lower, aerodynamic position. The downside is that your hands are miles away from my brakes, and closer together, so it can be a little intimidating to lose some control. They also take up a lot of space on your handlebars.

Comfort is a mixed bag. Most people struggle to cycle in the aero position. However, I found it about as comfortable as sitting up. If anything, it was slightly easier on my back.

Performance gains

The speed gain is substantial. Between Alltherorpe Classic standard distance triathlon in 2018 and 2019, I improved my bike split by 11:28. Of course, it could be that I was fitter. But comparing Allerthorpe sprint triathlon a month earlier, my power was 20 Watts lower, and yet my average speed was up 5%. So, more speed for less power.

Getting them on your road bike

You can buy clip-on aero bars for around £30. These bolt onto your handlebars so you can turn a standard road bike into a time trial bike. It is best to use a torque wrench if you can, as clamping them on to the recommended 8-10 Nm can be scary without one. It also helps to wrap some electrical tape around your handlebars to protect them.

Depending on your bars, they will be adjustable in different ways. Typically, you can adjust them by changing the angle and gap between them on the handlebars, by moving the bars themselves backwards and forwards and by changing the rotation of the armrests.

When you are getting started, you want to keep them fairly flat, as having them diagonally upwards in the praying mantis position will make you slightly more aero but will also make it more difficult to control the bike.

Riding on aero bars for the first time

When riding, there are several things you can do to get comfortable cycling with them. One option is to keep one hand on the hoods and put the other on the bars, then gradually lift the hand off the hoods. I am not a big fan of this because it is harder to control with only one point of contact than it is when you have both hands on the bars.

Another option is to find a small hill, say a 1-2% gradient, and go up it. This will allow you to put a lot of power through the bike while still going at a relatively slow speed.

You can also spend some time moving your hands between the hoods and the bars to get used to getting in and out of the aero position. As you get used to them, you will get used to having a little less control: this means sacrificing some of the small adjustments you would normally make in favour of a wider berth and leaning the bike a little more.

Ultimately, though, once I got comfortable, it just clicked. Like learning to ride a bike in the first place, once you “get it”, you should be away. Good luck!

Allerthorpe Classic 2019

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019 | Sport

Allerthorpe Classic is a standard distance triathlon that takes place in York on the first Sunday of August. I I raced it last year and perfectly paced myself for a sub-3 time before discovering the run was 10.5km and I ended up with 3:00:15. I had unfinished business.

Pre-race

This year looked equally hot and sunny. I had some cereal for breakfast and half a Clif bar at the venue. I ran into Dan and Alison before the race. Alison was with the elite swimmers 20 minutes ahead of us, while Dan had a two-minute head start over me.

The swim

I used a mixture of front crawl and breaststroke. I would have been happy slowly paddling around, but I am having some knee pain which messes up my breaststroke. Half the swimmers in my wave hung back, but I didn’t really want to swim an extra twenty metres, so I went to the front. This inevitably meant I was in the middle of the pack jostling for position, but no serious blows were landed.

By the second lap, things had calmed down and I had clear water. At the far side of the lake, I could feel my swim cap coming off. Normally, I would stop to put it back on. But I decided I didn’t want to lose time and that it was not my fault that the organisers failed to provide a swim cap for my head shape. So, I let it go and did the rest of the swim without it. Some lose hair, but nothing that got in the way.

As we headed to the swim exit, I just managed to pass someone from the wave in front of ours, mostly thanks to their complete inability to sight. It is incredible how much further people swim because their sighting is terrible.

Best of all, I finally remembered not to fiddle with my watch until I was passed the swim exit photography point.

Transition 1

I managed a fairly speedy T1 (for me), although struggled to get my wetsuit off and had to sit down. I slapped some more sun cream on. Unfortunately, despite putting sun cream on both before the race and here, I still came home sunburnt. There is no way to escape it!

Foolishly, I had not turned my bike computer on before the race, so as I hurried out of T1 I was trying to turn it on and load up the route.

The bike

I knew where the photo point was on the route: just as you start the bike. Before the race, I had visions of getting straight down onto my aero bars and getting an awesome photo of me powering away. Unfortunately, I was still trying to sort my computer out at the time, and so all I got was a photo of my meddling with my head unit.

Worse, in the confusion of trying to sort my bike computer out, I forgot to hit the lap button on my watch. I was 12 minutes into the cycle before I noticed!

Once I had stopped fiddling, I got down to business. And by business, I mean onto the aero bars. This was my first real test on them and I had a little wobble early on that knocked my confidence. But I knew if I didn’t get straight back down on them the fear would grow, so I wasted no time in tucking back in.

I used them for most of the course, occasionally going back to my handlebars to overtake and when I spotted oncoming cars, and occasionally to give my legs a break as it is slightly harder to put out power in the aero position. I wondered how my back would hold up as I usually get quite a lot of lower back pain while racing but, surprisingly, I think I got less than usual.

The results of the aero bars were great. Comparing it to Allerthorpe Sprint last month, I only averaged 197 Watts, compared to the 217 Watts I did last month, and yet my average speed increased from 31.5 kph to 32.9 kph. That means I went 5% faster while using 10% less energy.

Fueling on the bike was difficult as my tri suit does not have any pockets. Instead, I put my gel flask in my top tube bag. It was a bit difficult to get it in and out compared to a back pocket, but it worked.

As we were coming down the final road through Allerthorpe I overtook Dan who was powering away the final few kilometres.

Transition 2

I felt a little light-headed in T2 and was concerned that I had not taken enough carbs so I ripped open my spare energy gel and took a mouthful. Then it was on to the run.

My bike split had been so good that I now had 67 minutes to complete the 10.5km run in order to achieve a sub-3 hour time. Something I think I would struggle to miss if I had tried.

The run

By this point it was midday and the sun was blazing. After about a kilometre I ran into Dan again: apparently, my T2 had been slower than I thought! We had a chat before I picked up the pace. I started out at 5:00 per kilometre before dropping it down to 5:15 per kilometre to make sure I could finish in the heat.

At the second drinks station, I took my caffeine gel and washed it down with some water, the remaining of which went over my head. I walked the final drinks station to get some more water, too.

Unusually, a couple of runners overtook me. The first was a woman who then blew up. I found her walking at 7km. After I had overtaken her she took off again and overtook me, before walking and being overtaken again. She made one final assault and managed to catch me before dropping off permanently. The other two were a man who also blew up, got caught by me, and then took off again into the distance, and another guy who was running at roughly my pace the whole way around.

I cannot blame them for walking. The final three kilometres were so difficult; all I wanted to do was walk. But I told myself that walking was for longer distances: there was no reason to walk for these piddly little ones. I told myself I could walk when I got to 9km if I really needed to. By then I wanted to finish so held it all the way to the end.

The result

My official time was:

2:47:16

And my splits were:

Stage 2019 2018 Diff
Swim 39:34 40:49 -1:15
T1 09:09 03:40 -1:31
Bike 1:09:07 1:20:35 -11:28
T2 02:15 01:49 +0:26
Run 54:09 53:19 +0:50
Total 2:46:16 3:00:15 -12:59

It is by far the fastest standard distance race I have done. The bike is only 38km, and it is a flat and fast course, but the run is slightly longer. My increase in T2 is to be expected as I now cycle without socks and then put my socks on in T2, hence a much faster T1 but slightly slower T2.

Similarly, I’m not too worried about the increase in my run time. In last year’s race, I was sprinting my heart out to get under three hours. There was no need to try and kill myself this year as I knew I would be comfortably under.

Almost all of the improvement came on the bike. Given I only improved slightly at the sprint race last month, I can only attribute that to the aero bars, possibly including some placebo effect from having them on my bike.

I was 146th out of 306 finishers, so just in the top half, which is great! My position splits were 276 (swim), 150 (T1), 94 (bike), 264 (T2) and 110 (run). I have never placed higher in the bike than the run before: normally my run is far ahead of everything else, so this was a new experience for me.

After the race, we cooled off in the lake before I stuffed my face with recovery carbs and protein, and had a massage.

Conclusion

I have done so many races at Allerthorpe now that it feels like a second home. I am very pleased with my bike time and now feel completely justified in buying a triathlon bike. Hopefully, it will be a little cooler next year!

Redcar Sprint Triathlon

Monday, August 5th, 2019 | Sport

A sea swim? Closed roads? Draft legal? Who could say no?!? Cat, Greg, myself and nearly 200 other athletes could not.

Pre-race

Thanks to Greg to booking ahead, we had an HPH table in the club zone. This was super useful for having somewhere to dump all of my stuff and go rooting through my bags. Luckily, there was no rain, but it was nice to have some indoor space anyway.

The swim

We walked down to the beach and had five minutes to wade into the sea and have a swim to warm up. After that, we waded back to the shore and lined up on the start line. When the whistle went, the fastest swimmers charged into the water while the rest of us waded in a little more slowly.

The water was choppy. As the waves came and went we bobbed up and down. I swallowed a lot of seawater. It was fun to be back in the sea at first, but the more I swam, the saltier my mouth became until it started to burn my throat.

Once we are out past the first buoy, we turned to swim parallel with the shore. This made it easier than swimming directly into the waves. In some ways, the waves made it easier to do front crawl than breaststroke, although you did get a sensation of falling when your hand came down into the water in front of you.

After the final buoy, I turned towards the shore. The waves pushed me forward but then seemed to drag me back. It felt frustrating and I had to use markers to test that I was still moving forward, which I was.

My total swim time was 22 minutes including getting off the beach. This is pretty typical for me; slightly slower because of the beach run and challenge of swimming in the sea.

Transition 1

The water became shallow a fair distance out and it made for a slow wade to the beach. We then ran up in it and into T1. I had brought a bottle of water to wash the sand off my feet before giving them a quick dry and throwing my bike shoes on.

The bike

The bike course was on closed roads, mostly along the seafront. It was also draft legal, although you could only draft with people of the same gender. The closest roads made for fun racing as you could go around a corner without worrying about oncoming traffic: although you did have to watch out for parked cars on some roads!

The first lap was lonely. As I am a slow swimmer, I was mostly on my own. At the second lap, I began to find people to draft. I assumed I had caught people up as we were quite well matched on the bike. I followed a couple of people’s wheels, although nobody ever seemed to follow mine.

At the end of the third lap, most of the athletes I was cycling with peeled off into T2. It turns out they were a lap ahead of me, which I was surprised at as they clearly could not out-bike me. This made for a lonely final lap. Drafting made it a lot easier and I was regularly doing 35 kph without too much effort.

There were supporters all around transition, and, at the far end of the course, a church group outside of their building. I decided to give them a wave on my final lap and got an extra loud cheer.

Transition 2

Nothing much to report here. I pulled my shoes and socks on and set off on the run.

The run

The run route took us along the promenade and back again, followed by a quick loop around the boating lake to complete the lap. There were three in total. I almost followed someone going the wrong way at the turnaround point but managed to correct just in time.

I saw Cat coming the other way, and Greg up ahead, almost I suspected (quite correctly) that he was a lap ahead of me.

As I came towards the last half of the final lap I could see that I wasn’t quite going to be able to squeeze it under 90 minutes, so I decided not to push too hard and enjoy it instead, walking across the line in celebration.

As I crossed the line, my sister and brother-in-law had turned up to cheer me on (I completely missed them) and Elina and Venla were also there (I completely missed them, too), but did see the rest of the Harriers cheering me on. What we can learn from this is that if you want to be seen, at a minimum, you need to be wearing a Harriers jersey.

The result

My overall time was:

1:30:27

And my splits were:

Section Time
Swim 23:50
T1 01:41
Bike 37:47
T2 01:28
Run 25:39

I am satisfied with those times. The swim was more like 22 minutes plus extra time to wade up the beach. And the run was pretty speedy given it was 5.5km.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend Redcar sprint triathlon. The sea swim adds an extra challenge and the closed roads make the bike section a lot of fun.

Dad’s first triathlon

Thursday, July 25th, 2019 | Sport

My parents are pretty awesome cheerleaders. They brought their caravan up to The Yorkshireman, for example, so they could cheer me on for the entire 14 hours and 35 minutes. They came to World Triathlon Leeds, too, and at some point during the day, my dad was bitten by the triathlon bug.

As a result, he signed up to a Go Tri with his friend Tim. I want to say, for the record, I did nothing to encourage this. Not that I’m displeased, but I would hate for anyone to blame me for getting them into triathlon when they are halfway through the run and cursing the idea of triathlon. Something I do a lot :D.

Skipton Go Tri is a 200-metre pool swim, 10km bike ride and 2km run. They start it at 7am before the pool opens to the public and the roads get busy, which meant a 4:30am start for them. We decided to drive down and surprise them, giving us a more leisurely start of 5:30.

The swim start was pretty random, which made for mixed abilities. He was soon zooming past the person in front of him. Onto the bike and be clocked 50kph on the downhill sections: clearly a much better descender than me! And finally onto the run around the park.

The result: Tim and my dad came first and second in their age group! Granted it wasn’t a huge age group, but there were a couple of other people and a win is a win. Great effort, team.

Castle Howard Triathlon

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019 | Sport

I have been feeling pretty terrible recently. After my ironman, I did nothing for a week, then a week of light training. Then I smashed 10 minutes of my sprint distance time, while ill, and was ill for another whole week.

So, by the start of week four, I stepped on the turbo trainer and found I couldn’t hold my power. Not even close. I finished the workout at 70% intensity. I’ve never had recovery take this long, but I decided to listen to my body: eat more and take it easy.

All of this meant that I came to Castle Howard with the aim of setting a personal worst time over the standard distance and doing something that other people have called “enjoying myself”. It’s a foreign concept to me, but I decided to take it easy and give that a go.

Pre-race

We arrived on Saturday afternoon, just in time to cheer the HPH relay teams home. The club was well represented with three separate mixed relay teams, all of whom worked hard to put Hyde Park Harriers on the map.

We were originally going to camp, but the weather looked miserable, so we checked into the campsite for our event passes before heading off to a local hotel for the night.

This worked out really well because The Talbot, the hotel in Malton, had a music festival going on in their back yard. It turns out that Venla really likes reggae music, and had a good dance to Levi Roots who was headlining the festival. We had some Chinese takeaway from Tang’s Delight before heading to bed. It took me a bit of time to get to sleep due to the noise coming from the bar, but the large bed was big enough to accommodate all of us.

I got up at 6am, tried and failed to get some breakfast at the hotel, and then made the short drive back to Castle Howard to start the race.

The swim

After a long race briefing in which none of us really understood the swim course, we made our way into the water and started the race. The lake was murky and I ran into weeds with my hands, feet or face with almost every stroke.

The course was a little confusing at times. At World Triathlon Leeds, the colour of the buoy indicated which side you should swim around it. Not so with Castle Howard. They had two colours but some you passed on the left and others you passed on the right.

My left knee was hurting and I resorted to switching to front crawl repeatedly to get some respite. I’m still nervous about cramping up, so I took it pretty steady. It was a two-lap course with the next wave starting 30 minutes after us. I almost made it to the turnaround point on my second lap before I heard the whistle go and decided to speed up to stay ahead of them.

This, it turns out, was a mistake. The burst made me feel a bit dizzy and disorientated and I think I started to have a little panic attack. I slowed down and used some of my best self talk to bring my anxiety and my breathing under control and then managed to beat out a steady breaststroke around the final buoy where I felt more confident again and put in some more front crawl.

As I got to the finish, the lake became too shallow and I stood up, only to find my feet in thick mud. I waded over to the site to grab the fencing and eventually managed to unstick my feet enough to make it up to the swim exit.

After that, it was simply a matter of running the 600 metres up the hill to transition. Thankfully, the club was there to cheer me on, and remind me to remove my neck protector before getting on the bike this time!

Transition 1

I cycle without socks now, which is a big time saver as I can just throw my triathlon shoes on and set off. Although, on this occasion, I also did an energy gel.

I usually take a gel flask that I keep in my back pocket. I can operate this with one hand, so I can take all of my gels on the bike. However, I wanted to represent the club in my tri suit and the tri suit does not have a back pocket. In the end, I decided it was more important to represent the club, and so had to rework my nutrition strategy so that I could do individual gel sachets.

The cycle

Because they use the same cycle route for the standard in the middle distance race, it was a 45km route. However, emergency gas works had added a 5km detour, so that meant the 40km cycle was now a 50km cycle.

And hilly. Really hilly. Most triathlon courses are pretty flat but this one was like riding the Tour de Yorkshire. Regular 8% climbs, with some as high as 11%, and a lot of false flats that were hard work, too.

I kept overtaking one guy in the climbs, who would then overtake me on the descents. I thought I had left him behind after one of the long climbs but he appeared again half an hour later. And I caught him back up half an hour later after that, on the flat of all places.

I stopped at the feed stop to do one of the gels I had tucked into my race belt (another victim of the lack of a pocket for my flask), and because my back needed a good stretch by this point, too.

Shortly after, I almost got taken out by a car. They were turning onto a side road and not looking where they were going. When they saw me, they slammed on and managed to finish with their bonnet halfway across my lane. Luckily, I was to the left and did not need to make a course adjustment. But my heart was definitely in my mouth.

As we got back to Castle Howard, up another large hill, the club was once again there to cheer me on. As we got to the roundabout, the sign said left, so I made a move to go left. It turned out the roundabout was still live to traffic and I needed to go around it as normal, but luckily the marshall’s shouts were in time and I quickly corrected my course.

Transition 2

No problems here. Another gel down the neck and my trainers on.

The run

The run started with a long downhill and my knee was really giving me some grief. After the first few kilometres, it eased off into a general ache, possibly because I showed down. The course was on trail with some narrow bits that involved dodging around people and some steep hills that held mud steps dug into them.

Although some of the triathletes on the course were faster than me, a lot of the runners were slower and I got a bit of a boost from seeing that most people were struggling and I was able to keep running, albeit at a pretty slow pace.

At the second water point, I took a caffeine gel to tide me over to the finish. I had a brief walk after the feed station, while I munched two jelly babies. After that, it was a metaphorical sprint for home.

Returning to the grounds was lovely. It was scenic most of the way, but running between all of the visitors and spectators and along the side of the house was cool. The closer we got to the finish, the more supporters there were cheering, including the club yet again! I went in for some high fives before crossing the line.

The result

I finished in:

3:46:05

And my splits were:

Section Time
Swim 41:59
T1 4:12
Bike 1:58:51
T2 2:20
Run 58:41

I am happy with all of that. I said I did not want to push it too hard, and I did manage to take it easy, or at least “easier”. I had some time to look around and enjoy myself in parts. The extra distance added probably 25 minutes on to the cycle, and the hills and an easy-paced run accounted for the remaining difference to a more usual time.

Event organisation

The event organisation was mixed.

They closed the rounds from 2pm to 5pm on Saturday for the junior event. However, they said the campsite would still be open. The diversion took us the wrong way, though, and when we stopped to ask the marshalls, they had not been told anything about what was going on. In the end, we did a loop three-quarters of the way around Castle Howard before finding the road in.

When we got there, we found nobody manning the campsite desk. We drove around for half an hour and tried to call the campsite manager, but it just dropped to voicemail. In the end, we managed to get through and get everything sorted.

They also had not prepared enough racking for all the events they were running. Even before people had finished the standard distance, they were begging people to collect their bikes from transition so that they could free up space for the junior races.

And everyone ran out of bacon on Saturday.

Beyond that, though, the event looked well put together. They had activities for children, including a bouncy castle (they had two, but one of them was broken), a large event village and plenty of marshalls out on the course.

Conclusion

Well done to everyone who raced over the weekend! It is great to see the club continuing to grow and develop and the Castle Howard weekend is a great example of that. I would race at Castle Howard again.

Allerthorpe Sprint Triathlon 2019

Sunday, July 7th, 2019 | Sport

I completed Allerthorpe Sprint Triathlon last year in a time of 1:30:17. This year, I dragged Elina and Venla along, thinking they could enjoy the sunshine and paddle in the lake. As it turns out, the day was cool and overcast: perfect for racing.

I had come down ill on Friday and still felt pretty rough. The combination of having a toddler and a compromised immune system from a training load designed for ironman hasn’t been working out well for me: I had a cold for Driffield and World Triathlon Leeds, too. However, I decided to power through and race anyway, especially as I set a great time at Leeds.

The swim

The swim went well. I was in the last of three waves setting off five minutes apart. I mostly used breaststroke with some front crawl to try and say on the feet of other people when I needed to speed up. Just at the end, I managed to overtake one of the slower swimmers from the wave in front of us!

Having cramped up in my ironman swim, and in one of the long prep swims, I was a bit nervous of it happening again. This was irrational because I only cramp after over an hour in the water. But it still played on my mind and I had to back off once or twice.

The bike

I had decided to go without socks on the bike, so as I entered into T1 I just had to pull my wetsuit off and pull my tri shoes on. This made for a T1 time of just over two minutes: a far cry from the 16 minutes at The Yorkshireman or eight minutes in Leeds. I forgot to take my neck protector off, though and had to do the entire bike with a giant piece of rubber around my neck.

The bike felt pretty fast and I tried to keep my watts around 220. My swim was a bit faster this time which meant there was an uber biker that was a slower swimmer than me. Baring that overtake, though, it was business as usual with me gaining places consistently throughout the bike and run.

The run

In T2, I pulled on my flat cap and headed out for the 5km. I went out a little too fast on the run, but nothing I could not handle. After the first kilometre, I settled down into a sensible face and held that to the end. I managed a sprint finish, hence the look on my face as I came through the finish gate.

The result

My official time was:

1:20:10

It’s a shame it wasn’t 11 seconds faster. I was 17 seconds over 1:30:00 last year, and I just missed three hours by 15 seconds at Allerthorpe Classic. But that was somewhat intended: I didn’t look at the overall time on my watch because I knew if I was around the 1:20:00 mark, I would push myself harder than I wanted while I was ill.

Splits were as follows:

Stage 2019 2018 Diff
Swim 18:21 22:01 -3:40
T1 01:52 04:39 -2:47
Bike 35:55 37:10 -1:15
T2 01:43 1:27 +0:16
Run 22:17 25:01 -2:44
Total 1:20:10 1:30:17 -10:07

Pleased with almost everything there. A sub-20 swim is a great swim for me. Maybe a bit disappointed by the bike time as I’m now riding a super aero ride bike with aero wheels on, too. That is a lot of cash for very little extra speed. T2 was slightly slower because I put my socks on in T2 rather than T1. 22:17 is a super 5km run time: only 11 seconds slower than my all-time 5km PB.

I came 75th overall, out of a field of 166 finishers. 11th in my age group.

It was also my first race in my club tri suit. Does that account for the 10 minutes knocked off my time? Maybe so!

How do you keep going for 14 hours?

Sunday, June 30th, 2019 | Sport

When I tell people that it took me 14.5 hours to complete my full distance triathlon they often ask “how do you keep going for that long?” It might be meant as a rhetorical question. But I’ve some thought into it.

Prepare your body

You need to do the training. Nobody would be surprised if someone did not do the training and failed to finish. It’s not just the volume of training: you need to do some distance work. You need to prepare your body for each discipline because otherwise, you run into things you hadn’t run into.

In the run-up to the event, I did a 4km swim in the pool, a 3km swim in open water, 2 x 100-mile bike rides and a three hour 30km run. Three of them were on back-to-back days.

I think it is important to do this because you hit things you wouldn’t hit in short workouts. Things like cramps. Things like back pain that only sets in in the later hours of the ride.

Prepare your mind

Two things you need to do here:

First, make sure your training gives you the psychological belief that you can do it. Do this by doing hard events. Few people believe they can do a full distance race if they have never done a triathlon. Neither did I. But I did understand I only had to believe in the next step.

I did a sprint. Then a standard. Then a load more standards. Then a half. Even then, it was only after I ran a marathon and an ultramarathon that I started to believe I could do it.

In preparation, I did some long sportives including the Tour de Yorkshire (only 123km but 2,400 metres of climbing) and The Flat 100 (160km). The latter was down as part of a race simulation weekend where I also swam 4km on the day before and a 3-hour run on the day after.

Second, it helps to have some mental strategies to assist you on the day. Mindfulness and self-talk are two of the most important and I teach both of these on my sport psychology course.

Keep eating

Providing you don’t get injured (you did some strength training, right?), the two things that are going to stop you are running out of energy and running out of mental resilience.

Your body cannot convert fat into energy fast enough, so you need to supplement this with food to avoid hitting the wall. Being hungry or dehydrated will also make you grumpy, which will increase your chances of wanting to give up.

Therefore, it is important to keep eating throughout the entire event. I’ve written about my fuelling strategy here.

Pace yourself

As you get more tired and fed up, you may encounter a desire to speed up. You want to get it over with. Do not listen to this voice.

Going above your target pace increases the risk of cramps, increases the risk of hitting the wall and is generally unsustainable, so will produce a slower time overall and maybe even a DNF.

Summary

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Actually, it’s a marathon plus 112-mile bike ride and 2.4-mile swim. So, take it easy, keep eating, and make sure you have spent the time building up your muscles and building up your confidence.

Fuelling for The Yorkshireman

Saturday, June 29th, 2019 | Sport

How do you keep going through a full distance triathlon? By eating a lot. I was aiming for around 60-75g of carbs per hour. My friend Meghan thought I would be fine on around 40g, which is good news because I didn’t hit my target.

The swim

I took a High5 energy gel (23g) just before the start and a Torq gel (30g) halfway through the swim.

Yep, I took a gel at the turnaround buoy. You can stick them in your sleeve but you need to get them far enough up that the wetsuit seals again. Or you can stick them down your chest. I do both in case I need two.

53g of carbs over 2 hours, so 27g per hour.

The bike

I optimistically took 10 gels with me on the bike. However, my stomach was not too happy when I ate so I only managed to take 4 of them (30g each, 120g total) and ate my way through 3 Clif bars (45g each, 135g total).

I also drank 2 x 750ml bottles of Lucozade and a 750ml bottle of SiS energy drink (123g in total).

That makes a total of 378g over 7.5 hours, equalling 50g per hour.

The run

On the run, it gets a bit more guesswork as I predominantly did it on the nutrition provided by the feed stations.

I did five energy drink cups per lap on the first two, plus two more on later laps, so 12 overall. I’m guessing they had around 150ml of liquid in each. That makes a total of 1800ml with around 80g of carbs per litre. So, let’s say 144g of carbs there.

I also had 8 cups of coke. They might have been a bit smaller, maybe 100ml per cup. Coke says there are around 11g of coke per 100ml, so 88g of carbs there.

Finally, I had a High5 energy gel (23g), 20 jelly babies (5g each, 80g total) and some handfuls of crisps (approx 5g total). The total of these three makes 108g.

That makes a total of 332g over 4.6 hours, equalling 72g per hour.

Summary

I was surprised how much energy I took on through the drinks on the run, roughly hitting my target. In total, I took on 763g over 14.5 hours (including transition), which equals 53g per hour.

The Yorkshireman

Friday, June 28th, 2019 | Sport

Last Sunday, I completed my first full distance triathlon. Full distance, also known as iron or Ironman, is a 3.8km swim, followed by a 180km cycle, and finishes with a marathon. It takes the elites about eight hours while normal people get 17 hours to complete it before the cut-off.

It’s been a crazy few years. In 2017, I saw the Ironman World Championships pop up in my Facebook feed. I didn’t really know what it was, but I watched it and thought “that looks cool”. One month later, I did a GO TRI at Temple Newsam. This was followed by a sprint distance in April, a standard distance in May and a middle distance in September.

It was never supposed to happen this fast. But then Freebird announced they were launching a full distance race in Yorkshire, named The Yorkshireman, and I decided the opportunity to take part in the first Yorkshireman was not to be missed.

Pre-race

I arrived on Saturday as we were camping the day before and of the race. The campsite was a bit of a walk from the event village but had toilets and showers. There were no queues at registration but there was a mandatory 20-minute race briefing video to watch.

Once that was done I was able to rack my bike and my bags. I was worried the bags would be a bit small to fit all of my kit in as I was doing a full costume change between disciplines. However, they were very generously sized. We were also able to go down and see the swim start with a guided tour taking place every hour.

We took part in the inaugural flat cap run, which was predominantly an event for children. It was a 900-metre run starting and finishing at the event finish line. Venla picked up the lantern rouge but also won her age group as she was the only toddler taking part.

I got to bed about 9pm but it was an hour before we got Venla to sleep and a bit longer until I drifted off. I got up at 4:30 and had some cereal and half a banana before heading down to the race start. Oh, and two immodium tablets. Never forget the immodium before a big race.

The swim

The swim was the hardest part of the race and the hardest swim I have ever done.

We gathered by the river bank and my parents appeared to cheer me on. As we jumped into the water I made my way to the back of the pack and jokingly asked “is this where the normal people start?” which gave us all a giggle.

The swim started with a long stretch upstream. The current wasn’t strong but it was noticeable. I tried to keep to the side to stay out of the fastest current but in doing so I kicked a concrete jetty and hurt my foot. At the turnaround bouy, I stopped to do a gel.

On the way back I tried to keep more central but still struggled. I was tired, aching and cold. I tried to speed up at one point but almost immediately cramped up and had to get some help from the water safety crew. So much for the gel seeing that off.

Worse, I had drunk so much of the River Ure by this point that my bladder was bursting. You may want to skip to the bike section if you don’t want graphic detail. Every stroke felt like I was being kicked in the bladder. You might think “well, why not just go, you’re in a river after all”. I would agree, but if you have ever tried to wee in a wetsuit, you will know how difficult it is.

Twenty years of being an adult have taught me not to wee myself. You need to relax. But you cannot relax while you’re swimming. Even if you stop and tread water it is super difficult. I had even practised in some of my open water sessions but not been able to do it.

To complete the swim, I needed to get back to the start then go downstream and back up again to complete the final 400 metres.

Unfortunately, by this point I was in so much pain, so cold and so fed up that I thought about giving up. I stopped to tread water and decide what to do. “Just swim over to the jetty and all the pain will be over,” a voice said to me. I seriously considered it.

Somehow, I convinced myself to struggle on. Reminding myself of the six months of training helped. As I made it to the final buoy, my bladder decided it had had enough and finally opened unconditionally. I think I emptied half of the River Ure back into it. I shouted “come on Chris, you can do this” and the water safety crew took up the chant, too, cheering me on.

Transition 1

I was helped out of the water two hours after I had jumped in. There were less than 100 of us doing the full distance, but nearly 500 doing the half and by a stroke of good luck for me, they started two hours after. Thus, as I was hauled out of the water, hundreds of middle distance athletes who were waiting to get into the water clapped and cheered me on.

I managed a bit of a run into the transition tent, collected my bag and collapsed into a chair in the changing area. The guy sat next to me had brought a supermarket pot of pasta and a fork to eat it with. I took a second bathroom break to empty the remaining River Ure out and then collected my bike and set off on the road.

The bike

180km (112 miles) is a long way. I had ridden two 160km rides in the build-up to the race but this would by a small margin be my longest ride ever. Pretty quickly into the bike I realised I wouldn’t be hitting my nutrition targets as my stomach didn’t want to tolerate so much food. I stopped every 15km to stretch my back out and used those opportunities to eat, too. That made for roughly 12 stops and I counted down.

The weather was mixed. Early on the sun came out and I spent some time at one stop putting suncream on. Later on, it looked like it was going to rain, although it held off throughout the bike.

The bike section consisted of an out section, three loops and a back. There was a feed station on the loop which I used to change my two sports drink bottles for another sports drink and a water bottle. I also took a bathroom break on the final lap.

As well as my scheduled stops, I stopped twice to help people. One guy had got his chain jammed in his front cassette. I couldn’t offer much but moral support and go back to the marshall nearby, but he sent me a message after the race to thank you for stopping. The second time, some poor guy on the half had accidentally done the bike loop twice, rather than once, and was now lost.

Frustratingly, on both occasions, Garmin put me on the previous lap, so I had to calculate my own distance to go from then on. My Garmin also crashed about 10 minutes into the ride but luckily restarted after another five minutes and worked okay from them on (apart from the distance issue).

Parts of it were long and boring. I used my mindfulness practice, and occasionally a bit of singing. A mixture of rock and Eurovision. Sometimes I wanted to give up, especially when it was time to start another lap. I could come back and try again next year. But I reminded myself that if I did that, I would have to do that damn swim again.

Towards the end, I was getting hungry and my back was really hurting so I stopped at 30km, 20km and 10km before finally making it back.

Transition 2

On returning transition, I got the pro treatment as they were racking everyone’s bikes for them. I grabbed my bag, threw my running kit on and headed out, finding my family at the exit to transition waiting to wave me off.

Unfortunately, they had to wait a little longer as immediately turned to take yet another bathroom stop, before finally starting my run.

The run

By this point, it was 4pm. I had until 11pm to complete the race but if you were starting your final lap after 9pm you had to do a slightly different route. Even though it was the same length, I wanted to do the “real” route, so I figured if I put in two speedy laps I could walk the remaining two and still do that.

At the first feed stop, I grabbed some energy drink, jelly babies and crisps. I began running at an easy pace of around 6:30 per kilometre and decided to walk each aid station where I would do another cup of energy drink. I completed the first two laps in around 1:10:00 per lap. Each time I came back into the grounds my family were there to cheer me on.

In my pre-race plan, I had banned myself from having any caffeine until halfway through the run. So, I was pleased to arrive on the third lap and start replacing my energy drink for coke. I did some more maths and realised that if I put in another lap of 1:10:00 I could walk the final lap and still do a sub-5-hour run split and sub-15-hour overall. So, I kept running.

As I finished the third lap, I took a final bathroom break just as it started to rain. Luckily it was only light with the heavier rain staying away until just after I finished. I walked for a bit, chatting with a guy who was also doing his first full distance.

But I couldn’t stick with walking. I was feeling alive. I was actually going to finish this thing. Although I started mixing in some more walking, I did some of my fastest running here, too, putting in several sub-6-minute kilometres.

The finish

As I entered the grounds for the final time, my dad met me a few hundred metres from the finish and we ran side-by-side to the rest of my family and then joined into one big group to cross the line together.

It felt surreal. It was amazing, of course, but also it didn’t really sink in straight away. And despite the excitement, you’re also utterly empty, you feel sick and tired and everything aches.

I collected my medal, my t-shirt and my time. We then went to the registration tent so I could get a massage and eat some food. My parents had brought the car down so that my mum could drive me back to the campsite. Venla was so excited that she was running around until midnight.

I was pretty wired, too. Between the excitement, the caffeine and sound of the rain on the tent, I tried and failed to sleep until 2am. At that point, I gave up and went and sat in my car for two hours and listened to an audiobook. At 4am, I finally managed to fall asleep and slept until 8-9ish.

Recovery

When J woke up on Monday, I felt pretty tired and ill. I managed a slice of toast albeit very slowly. We drove back to Leeds and went to McDonald’s for lunch, which I found a big struggle to get down, too. It was only that evening I felt I could eat normally again.

Then there was the soreness. I got another massage on Tuesday, but my legs and back continued to ache for the next week.

The result

The headline figure was my overall time:

14:35:12

My spreadsheet put me anywhere from 14.25 hours to 16.75 hours. But I didn’t really believe this was possible. I was sure it would be longer. So, it was a lovely surprise to get it down to the lower end of the estimates.

In terms of placing, this put me 56th overall. 93 registered, but only 79 started and only 70 finished. Surprisingly, this put me 3rd in my age group. It was out of a total of 6 but I will take a top half finish! The winner, Chris Cope, finished in 09:28:02, 45 minutes ahead of anyone else.

My splits were as follows:

Section Time
Swim 01:59:17
T1 00:16:11
Bike 07:31:12
T2 00:08:23
Run 04:40:07
Total 14:35:12

That gave me the 30th fastest run split, which again I’m pretty pleased to be in the top half.

And one more record for the books: apparently, I am the first official Hyde Park Harrier to complete a full distance triathlon (i.e. the first member to race under the club name to do so).

Event organisation

The event organisation was first class. From the moment we arrived at Newby Hall there were staff and marshalls everywhere. And they knew what was going on. There was no queue for registration. There were people helping out and showing you where everything was in transition. There were marshalls on every junction of the 140.6-mile course (well, there were loops, but it’s still a lot of course) and three people on each feed station handing out drinks.

Everyone was encouraging and friendly. They printed out names on our race numbers and the marshalls used them to cheer us on by name. The event village felt pro quality and there were plenty of toilets, the lack of which really annoys me at other races.

In short, Freebird did an amazing job organising it.

Another highlight of the race: the medal was in metric!

Thank yous

A bunch of people to thank here:

First, my wife. I made sure to seek her permission before signing up for the race because ten hours of training per week is a huge amount of training. I don’t think I shirked my share of looking after Venla, but it did mean that when it wasn’t my turn, I was invariably out training rather than spending time with her.

Second, my parents. They came for the weekend, were up at 6am to cheer me on at the start and still there at 9pm. They were there when I finished the bike and for every lap of the run. When they weren’t cheering me on they were bringing their car up to drive me back to the campsite or cooking me some post-race sausages. They were the ultimate support crew.

Third, everyone at Hyde Park Harriers triathlon club for the encouragement over the last two years.

And finally, all of the marshalls, volunteers and team at Freebird Events for putting on such an awesome race.

Summary

Now that I have had a chance for it to sink in, I am super proud be an ironman (well, technically, a Yorkshireman).

A lot of people have asked me “are you going to do another one?” The answer is, I’m not saying never, but I don’t have any plans. It hasn’t put me off. But I would need to get my swim sorted before doing another. And it is a lot of training to commit to. Finishing a marathon didn’t inspire me to do anymore and I’m not sure this will, either. But I’ll see how I feel next year.

Would I recommend full distance? No, because I don’t want you blaming me when you get halfway through a race and decide to curse my name :D.

Further reading

I have separate blog posts on fuelling for the race and how do you keep going for 14 hours.

World Triathlon Leeds 2019

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019 | Sport

The 2018 World Triathlon Leeds was the first standard distance triathlon I signed up for (although I actually completed Wetherby two weeks earlier) and was my target race for the year. I lost my timing chip in the lake and so technically registered a DNF. The swim was cut in half due to fog, so the 2:43:00 I registered on my Garmin would have been 3:03:00 with a full swim.

This year, I was hoping to improve, mostly by setting an official time.

The preparation could have gone better. Two days before, Venla handed me her cold. I could feel a little tickle, which by Saturday had turned into a full cold. It took me 28 minutes to complete parkrun and it rained all day, which made for a wet affair at registration. Thankfully, it dried up on Sunday for the race itself.

I was in the Yorkshire Championship. We didn’t start until 8:35, which made for a lice line-in compared to the 7:10 start I had last year. It also meant that almost everyone else in Hyde Park Harriers was in the same wave as me. They were all in their beautiful club tri suits. Alas, mine did not turn up in time.

The swim

The swim went well. I was just under 40 minutes, which is my useful benchmark. I had my family chasing me around the lake cheering me on which provided some extra speed boost. We were the second-to-last standard distance wave, so not many people swimming over the top of me.

Getting out, I remembered just how long transition is at this event. It goes on forever. There is probably a kilometre of running between the swim exit, finding my bike, and taking it to the mount line and then doing it all again in T2.

The bike

I took it steady on the bike. I always imagine that everyone will come flying past me on the descent down Stonegate Road but almost nobody did. On the second lap, I caught up with Dan from the club. The course was getting fairly quiet towards the end and Farhad was cheering us all on, and taking photos, at the turnaround point.

The run

As I exited T2 I took stock of my overall time. It was unlikely that I would be able to go under three hours, a goal that I missed by 15 seconds at Allerthorpe Classic last year. I would have to run a 49-minute 10km and that seemed to big an ask.

But I decided to run hard anyway. I suspected that the course was slightly shorter than 10km, at least as Garmin would measure it, and it was mostly downhill. So, I thought if I put myself in the position to be around that time, I would see what happened.

Once I made it to The Headrow there was lots of support: members of the club, my family and many people who were already turning out to watch the elite races. As I came down The Headrow at the 8km mark I realised I was at 2:50:00, giving me ten minutes to complete the final two kilometres. This was by no means in the bag because I had to run up The Headrow, and the distance on my watch could be inaccurate, but it was looking good.

It was only as I rounded the final corner that I knew I was going to go sub-3.

The result

My official time was:

2:58:00

Putting me 48th in the 57 that entered the Yorkshire Championship. Not quite a qualifying time yet! But there were four Harriers behind me, so not the lanterne rouge, either. That breaks down to:

Section Time
Swim 39:25
T1 8:32
Bike 1:19:04
T2 4:02
Run 46:59
Total 2:58:00

An eight-minute transition sounds awful. But even Naomi, who qualified for the European age-group championships last year, took five minutes due to the amount of running.

46:59 on the run is a superb time for me. My personal best 10km is 47:39, that I set at Wetherby triathlon last year. This could represent a new fastest time, then. That said, my Garmin measured it as 9.86km, which, if accurate, means a proper 10km would have taken me another minute. And it was mostly downhill.

As ever, my running outshines the other disciplines: I set the 26th fastest time on the run, which puts me on the top half.

I’m really pleased to have gone under three hours at the standard distance for the first time.

Well done to all of the other Hyde Park Harriers who raced, too. I know so many of you achieved huge PBs. And overall wins, too: Amy and Cat took first and second prize in the women’s Yorkshire Championship.