Monday, 27 December 2010

Running faster?

For all of you out there who struggle on the run I am trying to find the answer. The strategy of IM pacing in full of nuance, dark arts and so on. As a 6x IMer I have always raced on feel and my best race had a 3.38 marathon in it. My PB for a standalone is 3.18 but that was 5 years ago. I know that I dont run well on hot and hilly courses (see Lanza and then last year at IMDE where I think the heat got me). The challenge for me has been to significantly improve my run endurance so that translates into a faster IM marathon.

I have tried a variety of ways to reach the targets I set for myself. Volume I think is part of the key and I have certainly raced better of a solid block of 6 hr run weeks but as a time limited IMer this is often difficult, if I am to maintain the bike volume of typically 9-12 hrs during the build phase and to keep 2.5-3hrs of swimming in the mix. This year I achieved my volume but it was all done at a steady pace never exceeding my IM pace. This was based on some observations that until you are targetting a specific volume (say 6 hrs running a week) speed work is unlikely to be beneficial for an IM racer unless you are running right up at the front of the pack. I liked the idea of this since it should "lock in" your race pace and maximises the benefit of each session by avoiding the hangover into the next session associated with faster running... But I often found myself running fatigued and plodding away doing my own version of the IM shuffle but in training.

I think that in order to run well you need to train to run with good style so that you learn to recruit the right muscle groups and get a good balance and style. I think to achieve this you need to either be doing drills when you are fresh (a state not commonly associated with an IMer in the midst of their build blocks of training) or you need to find another way to promote more balanced running. The obvious option is to either do some speedwork or hills or both. The advantage of this is it engages my brain a bit more so I am not merely slogging out another run but I am thinking about the session and hopefully will increase training effect. As ever there is always a balance which is the risk associated with increased running stress. Now I am sure for you 65kg types with a good running history their is probably less of a need to focus on the running training in quite the same way. But for the heavier athlete we need to develop the strength to go with the endurance since we have got more mass to carry.

So having decided this year I will concentrate on trying to get a faster IM mara time and see where I can cut back on the bike training hours without losing the important bike strength. I now just have to work on and implement the plan... which for me means an ever more cautious approach to how I increase my run stress and a hope that this years prehabilitation in the gym is gonna help strengthen me so that my body can greater withstand the demands placed upon it.

To this end i have joined RussC in the advent challenge which has helped push up the run volume this month. Next month I will go back to a more balanced 3-4 run week but try to keep the overall volume about the same building towards an early April marathon (sussex or brighton) as a staging post and also an attempt to get a 3.14.xx so i can go GFA in the Virgin London Marathon in 2012!

so there we have it. time to remember how to ride a bike!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Habits of partially achieving ironman

I am currently engaged in a process of attempted personal reprogramming to try and understand how to maximise my potential as a manager of people. Some may have read Stephen Covey's 7 habits of highly effective people, but to be honest I dont know that you are missing too much if you gave it a miss. If you have read it or are a self help/self improvement book junky then you will appreciate the importance he places on developing long term sustainable "habits" of behaviour that can support your personal achievements...

Reading about these habits it sounds like IM training all over again and there are clear parallels between the habits required to achieve your life goals and those required to be successful in Ironman. The important factor amongst all of this is achieving life balance in any pursuit and to extend the good habits to all aspects of your life. This means it is no good to aspire to be the best at IM if you dont adopt all the behaviours that will maximise your potential. Its not just about completing the training schedule that you set for yourself (hopefully a realistic and achievable set of plans) although that in itself is a Major part of the schedule but it is also about the other stuff... What other stuff ?

Well when you finish your long sessions do you take care of sorting out your recovery food, get some rest, remember to clean the bike, log the details of your training session (where I am sure you monitored HR and effort). Do you do your stretches, core strength exercises, always do the full warm up, or do you go to hard when you should be going to easy, go to easy when you should be going hard. Had an injury and not done all the rehab you should have done, binned a session because bed was to comfy and the rain a bit wet. Probably not because you are all Ironman right!

The one thing you learn is that you need to get consistent, do the same thing again and again and slowly it gets better, faster, stronger. This is the habit that leads to successful IM racing. Without this basic habit you can forget about your build, peak, muscular endurance, taper and all the other details of IM racing. There are no shortcuts to consistency.... but also if you are to sustain and grow as a person or as an Ironman you need to apply these habits to your personal life; be consistent in your relationships, be consistent in your approach to work colleagues whether they are the boss or the office cleaner and most of all be consistent in your goals and personal expectations.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

That which does not kill us..

.. makes us stronger (Nietzsche 1844). This is pretty much underlying principle of ironman training, though it is perhaps not a good idea to push yourselves too close to the limit, since for most of us it is a hobby and not a matter of life and death.

What is certainly true is that the achievement in finishing an ironman race to the best of ones abilities can inspire confidence and a sense that one can overcome all sorts of adversity. Achieving your goals in an IM race will involve a significant period of sustained suffering which is in turn built upon a solid foundation of regular and prolonged training, and further suffering. The reward comes not only in that endorphin euphoria of the finish, and the restless night that often seems to follow race day as you lie with aching legs and sunburned and chafed limbs, but in the knowledge that you set out to meet a challenge, followed through with your plan and delivered.

These are important life skills that do you well in a whole host of other scenarios whether it be managing an injury or illness, setting out on a new business plan or indeed learning a new skill. Taking and applying that perseverance to your life challenges, and the knowledge that you know how to carry out your plans and deliver are valuable attributes. Ironman therefore can teach you how to be better at that which you choose to do, you just need to remember the lessons it teaches you.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Back to training-

As may be seen my goals for the next few months have changed a while back to refelct my off season goals and to try and start a new phase in my ironman racing career. A period away from ironman training has helped to renew my passions for cycling and running (the less said about swimming the better at the moment). The questions I ask are what should I do differently in my training,if anything, where should I cut my training schedule what should I spend more time in and most importantly how can I get quicker.

After 6 ironman races I know where my key limiter is, which remains my running, and although I am sure my tendency to go hard on the bike may be a limiter, I am equally sure that the gains are to be made in better run training and the challenge is how to make sure I reflect this in my training plan. The problem is that with limited resource (time) and the fact that it always running I find the hardest to recover from plus a tendency for injury it always seems to be running that I fail to achieve my training goals on.

To try and keep the balance I am hoping to get into the gym to do a bit of conditioning every week, I am toying with the idea of barefoot running but think this may be a step too far, although I am currently moving towards neutral flat running shoes. I am also embarking on a course of management training over the next 6 months (only the odd day) but I am hoping to take some of the lessons into my training and racing.

My first lesson is from Aristotle

We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.

So I plan to develop the habit of being an excellent runner!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Keeping going

No matter what you do or where you do it there always comes a time when your motivation dips or some barrier comes up that seems to block your way forwards. Ironman as an event and as a lifestyle is not terribly forgiving from this aspect. Consistency and perseverance are important attributes to successful racing: fatigue through training, injuries, poor performances and the other things in your life (you know the little things like keeping a roof over your head, sustaining the important relationships in you life and putting enough food on the table) will all challenge this resolve.

If you cannot reconcile these differing demands the stress from the failure to achieve your goals can make matters worse rather than better and can feed into a spiral of failed goals. Stress about ones lack of achievement which leads to setting new more unrealistic goals (this week I will run 80 miles to make up for the fact that last week I did not run at all). These truths run through all peoples lives and it is how we manage the periodic dips in personal performance at home and at work and how we respond to the barriers placed in our way that define us. Ironpeople tend to be those who will persist at a challenge and devote time and energy to overcoming an obstacle (training longer).

This application that our sporting choice necessitates does us well in a number of situations- however we all understand that this application can sometimes lead us into problems- typically we might get overuse injuries, fatigue and burnout in our sporting life but what about our other world where we come up against a limit of our promotion prospects, career development and or personal development (assuming we are not all pro athletes). This is where the second maxim of training smarter comes in. Most people approaching IM usually start with the train longer and then come round to the train smarter and this is almost certainly a natural process in Ironman. We start by trying what we think should work (train longer)and then learn from this what may or may not work and as a consequence we learn to train smarter.

The shortcut is to use the knowledge of a coach to help you train smarter from the gitgo (start). In life we learn through trial and error (mostly) where our particular skills lie and those who can persevere and keep putting themselves into the mix (train long) and can reflect and learn from their experiences (train smart) would expect to see reward in terms of career progress and achieving life goals.

When we come up against a motivational barrier it is time to take a third approach and that is to reflect. Look at what you want to achieve in your athletic pursuit or personal endeavour, identify what is blocking you and try and map a new way forwards. Finally much as we approach our training to the next IM race break your goals down into achievable chunks and celebrate your successes along the way. Which is why I took this picture, where my motivation to train which has been mislaid somewhere was overcome by the beauty of being able to ride through some fantastic countryside.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Dextro London Tri

Result 2:08:27

Swim 00:24:05
Trans 1 00:03:25
Bike 00:57:54
Trans 2 00:01:52
Run 00:41:13

3rd in AG 4th Vet (over 40) 48th overall

I had trepidations about doing this race as it was raining, I had not done any significant training in the last 2 weeks, I was regretting not being in Switzerland to do the IM as planned and I could not really see the point. Just goes to show that sometimes if you have already done the training, and you have no expectations the race will come to you. This was by no means a spectacular result but shows that I can still be competitive and that with some focus on swimming and running I could get close to 2 hrs.... ish.

The swim was quite peculiar, only 50 odd souls in the wave at the start made for a hassle free swim. Problem was I am used to having lots of other merry souls around me to do the sighting in the swim but after the first turn I swam this race largely alone, Like I said a bit strange but did allow me to pace myself to a not unreasonable time. The other feature of the swim was large quantities of pond weed which was quite a handicap in the first 300m of the leg.

A 400m run from the serpentine to transition was a bit tough but soon I was out on the bike, somewhere I generally feel pretty comfortable. The bike course was definitely "technical" with a wet road surface and some tight corners there was plenty of chance for serious mishap. Each lap also had a dead turn at either end which meant a fair bit of sprinting out of the saddle to get back up to speed. I had a great time, I was not caught by a single cyclist and overtook many- at times you had to surge past some meandering cyclists so that you could get the line through the next corner. Anyone who has followed me thru London traffic will appreciate how much I was in my element. My split times on the laps were all within 10 secs of each other which was also pretty cool. Saw a few less fortunate riders who had hit the deck but had no problems myself. Back into transition I was quite excited about having to only run 10kms. A 4 lap format I followed my normal training schedule for 4 sessions. First lap I settled in and tried to find my running legs, second lap I concentrated on my running form trying to stay upright with a fast cadence this sort of worked. Third lap is about survival, I was passed by somebody I decided to hang on as long as I could, which got me to the fourth lap where I tried to see how much I could suffer, nothing like Alistair Brownlee did, but I was able to retake my paceman for the third lap and finished strongly.

All in all a good day and a new pb. Ok the bike leg was at least 2.5km short but it what with the dead turns and the race controlled corners where we had to slow down I think it was very bit as good as my last race at the London Olympic 3 years ago. And what did I learn....

.. maybe I'm not so slow!

Thursday, 22 July 2010


Sadly my mother passed away last week after a prolonged illness but the knowledge can never prepare you for the pain and disconnection of bereavement. Much of my time training in the build up to my last race was spent thinking about my mum. The solitude of early morning rides and runs was a personal space where I was able to try and reconcile myself with a future where my mum would no longer be there. Always interested to hear of my tales of overseas travels and racing, a voice that never once questioned my need to train for this crazy pursuit, I will draw on her spirit and strength to guide me over the coming months.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Ah Feck

IMDE Race Report

Times (AG position)

Overall 10:16:40 (57)

Swim 1.07:15 (83)

T1 4:25

Bike 5.07:01 (36)

T2 1:49

Run 3.56:09 (117)

As I posted coming into this race I felt I was in good nick, cycling was the strongest I had been and i thought my running was somewhere near the mark and swimming was normal for me!

Stayed in Ibis hotel which was clean and dull. Perhaps walked too much on the thursday and friday as the various places e.g. expo, swimming venue were all spaced apart and I chose to walk mostly but don think this had much bearing. Also used public transport with my Ironman ticket pass which was good.

Saturday was real hot reaching over 40 in the sun and the peak recorded temp was 36 degress. Luckily some cloud appeared for Sunday morning but it was still warm(28-30C) and humid with soem commenting that it was like Kona weather!

Swim was a non wetsuit which was odd but also kinda fun because I dont really like wetuits, well I like the fact they make me a whole lot faster, but i dont like all that black rubber and constrictions it puts around you. The start was not as bad as I had last year at Lanza which was pretty bumpy and I had no out of body experience like IM Swiss, I managed to draft a lot and just settled for following the more distinctive swimmers around me, which was much easier since they were not all wearing black suits!

Came out in 1.07 which was OK and about par for what my training was telling me!

Out onto the bike and I soon felt great, I was flying past all and sundry even though there was a slight head wind as we raced up a closed section from the out of town lake to the centre of Frankfurt. I felt about right and was happy to swap positions along the way with a few other bikes. There is a short section through the centre of Frankfurt before we headed out into the countryside. There are a few hills and a notbale cobbled section but non of it was demanding and i stayed in my saddle throughout. After a while i found nyself in a well tempered pace line including Mladin, Luis and Christoph. By well tempered I mean we all kept our distance, dropped back a bit when overtaken and generally obeyed the bike laws. The presence of multiple draft busters meant I saw very little drafting. This legal paceline proceeded at a steady 22.5 mph average for the next lap or so of the course. If anything I felt I could go faster than most and spent more periods off the front. In the whole of the next 100km only 2 bikes came past, and I felt strong throughout.

On the second lap at about 130 km I started to feel sick. I have had this before on an IM bike leg and it is usually where I have eaten too much. I stopped eating and drank only fluids for the next 10 km and then had to back off from the paceline when this did not work. By the time I got to Bad Vibel (about 20 km from the finish with a small diversion this year) I was feeling a bit better. I had however dropped about 20 bike positions in this time but was managing to track a large bunch as we approached heartbreak Hill for the second time. This bit I enjoyed as I powered up the hill and passed lots of my fellow racers. There then follows a slighlty teduious decent into the town centre and T2.

Final split was 5.07.01 which was for a distance of 185km ( which means if it had been 180 km I would have nailed my sub 5 bike split!) and I was happy with that. I was slightly concerned that i had not eaten enough but I was probably only a gel or two short of what I had expected to get through (12 gels and 2 energy bars if you ask).

Out on the run it took about 3 km to sort my back out (again a normal thing for me) and I was running 5min/km which was target pace. Settled down running with a couple of younger brits and chatted for a bit. Thought the run course dull but there is a nice section in the trees from about 7-9km which relieves the boredom. It is a 4 lap course and I finished the first lap in 56 minutes and felt OK. Somewhere in the second lap everything fell apart. This is unusual for me. I expect to struggle in the thrid quarter but in my last two good IM runs I have found myself running in the zone in the second - but not this time. It then just became an IM slog. The sun got hotter and I just could not find any running strength in my legs. The little man came back and sat on my shoulder telling me to quite and have an ice cream. The last lap was about completion until I got to the last checkpoint when they gave you the fourth (purple) wrist band, about 4 km from home. At this point I decided that you can suffer running slowly or suffer running fast and that if this was the case faster seemed a better option since it would not last as long.

I set off, picking up Will from Bad tri club who I had been chatting with on and off during the run as we crossed paths. The next 3 or so Km were almost certainly the fastest I have ever run in an IM (sadly my garmin had packed up). I reckon we overtook a good 14 athletes with there purple wrist bands and kept the pace all the way into the finish stand. The pain had gone and was replaced by a sense of unease that if I could do this now then why not before...

At the finish my legs went wobbly and I took up the "catchers" offer of a mobile bed to lie down and have a bit of a rest. After a bit of resuscitation I gathered my bit up and went back to the hotel.

Why could I not run to my capacity. PossiblyI went too hard on the bike, but I don't think this was a significant jump compared to last years efforts- an improvement yes but nothing to dramatic and I was certainly in better condition. Was it a nutrition problem? Maybe but again I would have expected that to hit me later. this leaves two things.

1. lack of running condition. This year I have been more conservative in my approach to running: which has kept my Achilles at bay but maybe left me lacking the correct muscular endurance.

2. I did not like the heat and humidity.

Only one way to find out......

.. see you racing again soon.

Sunday, 27 June 2010


So it is nearly raceday and time to commit to my goals. When you are feeling good in the run up to IM in my experience this is no guarantee of a good race... which leaves me with mixed feelings since I know that my bike is the strongest ever and that my run training has been solid if not spectacular.

I would like to feel that I can post a solid bike to put me in the zone for an AG place to Kona if I run a pb (and then some) in the marathon. Sometimes the 40-44 AG can be unforgiving.. they often seem to race faster than the younger AGers, see the results at yesterdays ITU European longcourse champs where the top4 AGers were 40-44!

So back to my goal which to work means I need to keep every run split at 5min/km or better and that is where the racing comes in. Hitherto I have only ever really aimed to meet a certain target or even just to complete. Will the concept of "racing" help or will it just mean I pace my race more poorly than normal and have a really bad split somewhere in the marathon. Well I believe I am fit enough to reach my target and have done (enough?) work to put me in the frame. So it will be time to use up the mental resource to push through that vital third quarter of the marathon and know that come the last 10km I will be racing for the finish and not just for the clock.

Monday, 14 June 2010

I'm Spartacus

Well not really but I am the midnight centurion. Midsummer is soon upon us and a Tri London tradition of celebrating with a century ride around Regents Park is bout to be reenacted. This will be my fourth 100 mile outing (that will be 38 laps as you ask) with the record currently standing at 4hrs 45ish mins as fastest and 7hrs something as slowest (the Nadir in both time and light as it was done on the darkest and coldest night in December 2007).

Last year was done as a TT and we will repeat the effort this year, but hopefuly as a 2 or 3 up TT team, with full aerokit to boot. This fulfils a whole range of things. Firstly it is clearly atypical behaviour and therefore a good thing! Secondly it is a good test of aero position and bike kit prior to an A race and third, I had my best IM race ever last year after doing it so clearly I need to do it again.

The enjoyment I get from this sort of activity is not appreciated by most but reading stories of endurance runners doing the Grand Union Canal Race or the run across America suggests that this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Part of me is long since acclimatised to working long nocturnal hours since as a junior doctor I used to go to work on Saturday at 8 am and return from work on Monday at about 7 pm and could sometimes go the whole 60 hrs on 4-6 hrs sleep. I know some countries (USA for instance) still work their juniors this hard but thanks to the European Working Time Directive this is now illegal. I think on balance this is a good thing but still feel that the self awareness and discipline that I learnt through working in theses conditions are not easily replicated elsewhere.. and when I engage in these activities I find my self saying "well at least I have a choice over this and it is not work!"

I know for instance that by about 0800 tomorrow after a night with minimal sleep I will still feel pretty lively, that I will start to dip around lunchtime and that unless there is something I have to concentrate on sleep will beckon. I have learnt that a shower and shave is worth about an hours sleep (you'll have to trust me on that one) and that a good breakfast will help offset the fatigue (especially a high protein and fat fry up) and finally that a 20-30 min powernap can leave me ready for a further 4-6 hr stint. Finally I have also learnt that If I am not asleep by 10 pm I may find my body tired nut unable to switch off due some strange affect of the fatigue. This was all supported by research in which I was a guinea pig but I seem to remember it also involved drinking, something else that also seems to no longer be quite such a part of the junior doctor curriculum.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


The last few weeks have been tiring. Blending a few flights with a couple of weekend races and trying to keep the training rhythm has proved challenging. In the last 17 days I have not slept in past 6.30 on a single day, and while you can go to bed early it is not always easy. Not that I am moaning, this is my choice and something I find invigorating, it is just some days at a bout 4 ish I get the urge to have a nap (and occasionally do).

The tour of Wessex was a fantastic. Although I only did 2 days it is an event that a wholly recommend to anyone who likes cycling and especially those IMers looking to dig a bit of a fatigue hole/build a foundation in their training. The routes are great the organisation is just so, and the cakes provided at the end are great. I am already planning next year.

About this tiredness, the question is, as you make that final push to peak fitness, is exactly where the limit lies and what the most benefit to be had is in these last few weeks. Sure I understand "you can easily lose a race through overtraining in the last few weeks" sort of thing and have had my own troubles in the past, but knowing that there are only three more Thursday morning sessions does incline me to be a bit more reckless with my efforts. For instance even tho' today I felt inert at as i set out to do my early morning ride planned set of a few hill repeats followed by 4 x 20 mins HIM pace... I felt less inert by 6.30 as I raced around Regents Park in a paceline that was averaging over 25mph (thanks to the bike boys Damian Tim and the man in yellow who today was strangely wearing black)... for sure it was not the session I had set but the fatigue and weakness were overcome by the company of friends, and the set was broadly similar to what I set out to do. Currently I am favouring the lots of hours and careful as I run approach there is a lot of Achilles trouble about and I have had my fill of this before and before and another time too! That said with running as my key limiter the temptation is always there to do that bit more. The next two weeks will define whether I have achieved my goals since I aim to do2 x 7 hr running weeks.

Finally the summer solstice approaches and I fancy another 100 miler. And fancy a go at the 4hr 42 odd we managed last time, I am hoping for a bit of help with this one!

Monday, 17 May 2010


Marshman results
Time 4.42.03

16th overall 3rd V40+

Swim 29.16
T1 2.37
Bike 2.31.29 (2.29)
T2 2.15
Run 1.36.23

Finally managed to commit to enter and complete an event for 2010. I have failed to reach the start line for 5 running events this year, for various reasons not only due to injury, and thought I was going to have to pull out of this one after I succumbed to some viral gastroenteritis on thurs night that had lead to 3 ward closures at my hospital!

The Marshman is a niche event (I guess) that fills the need for a HIM or HIM+ distance about 6-8 weeks out from an Ironman. It is billed as being efficient but with no frills which again I guess it sort of does. The race takes place on and around Romney Marsh in the shadows of the Dungeoness Nuclear Power Station! This is an area I know well since we often come down for weekends had ridden extensively FLAT course. First impressions were good with a high ration of smart toilets to competitors, always a good thing.

The swim start was nice and relaxed, we all got into some cold water, a gravel lake type affair usually used by waterskiers et al, and then he called us together and blew the hooter. Water was cold but I had a clear run up the lake to the first buoy. Tried drafting a bit but my technique either leaves me constantly touching the draftee's toes, or if I draft off the hip, banging into them! (I guess I need to work on swimming straight). Soon was catching the early burners who went off to fast and settle into a rhythm. It was cold and my fingers went numb, 29 mins and a bit later I got out of the water.

T1 was quite time consuming as I put on arm warmers, HR strap and watch, gloves (my hands are my career), hat socks shoes, shades.... Try to adjust arm warmers.... give up and head out. The ride was fast and flat. Went out trying to keep to what I felt like IM pace when 2 guys went past me, so I went a bit faster. Felt comfortable until about 30 miles when my position felt funny and I thought my legs had grown. Realised my seat was dipping down at the front (on my lovely new bike). I had adjusted the seat position on Saturday and clearly not tightened up the single bolt enough. I stopped to try and tighten it but already knew I would need 2 allen keys to affect this properly and only had 1. This worked for a bit but then I got that sinking feeling again as the saddle loosened up once more. With 20 miles to go I made a decision to try and balance myself a bit more and was pulling the nose of the saddle up intermittently. By about 48 miles the saddle was generally loose and I had to balance on the fulcrum to stop it tilting either forwards or backwards. Did the last 8 miles in a big gear since this meant I was bearing more weight on the pedals and less on my now tender perineum! Was pleased to get to T2 in a ride time of 2hrs 29 mins (but the split time was slightly longer due to stopping twice for the saddle). I felt that I had plenty in reserve and could have gone longer and or faster if I had not had the seat problems or was doing an IM.

Set out on the run and was surprised to bump into TriLondons star triathlete Adam Chadburn who asked me how many laps the run was going to be. "One big one I said" Adam looked perplexed. It transpired that one of the marshalls had misdirected him onto the mini marshman course and he had done an "extra 4 km lap" which put him alongside me. After running alongside me for about 500m I suggested he best get on and see what he could retrieve of the race (and as you can see he still did well). I also felt good and settled into a good rhythm. In spite of this I still soon had that familiar sound flap flap flap of someones trainers coming up on me, this happened about 6 times meaning I had dropped 6 places but caught one. The run was pretty tough including a section across a field, and then a long beat up along by the sea, where I chased some very slow tourists who were cycling in the same direction. Stuck to my plans of trying to run at IM ish pace. About 1 hr in I realised I was catching a couple of runners, they were still a long way off but definitely getting nearer. I ditched the race plan and started counting 20s (20 right footfalls) and pushing my self a bit. Sure enough they got closer. I passed them with about 2 miles to go and then saw another racer a bit further up. He was too far away to be caught running at the pace he was going but you never know. There was one last feed station at 19.5km, he stopped for a break and then saw me coming and set off again, but now he was close. Feeling good I sat in behind him fora few hundred metres then pushed on past. I felt good and still had more to give but arrived at the finish sooner than I thought, again across a dodgy pitted field which could have turned an ankle or two!

Very pleased with performance, learnt about the dangers of not tightening things properly and now know where to focus my energies for the next 5 weeks with an emphasis on more running endurance and perhaps some bigger swims as well as a few Open water sessions.

Today I am a bit sore where the saddle was pressing!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The three evils of Ironman

This week I gave a talk at my hospital about some aspects of Medicine and Ironman. Whilst doing this I camE up with what I have decided to call the 3 evils of ironman. Sure they are nothing new but I thought they might perhaps shed a bit of light on the issues facing some of us as we race. So what are these three evils?

Hypoglyceamia, Hyperthermia and Dehydration. Or in other words bad nutrition strategy, overheating and not replacing your fluids enough. What is interesting is how these are all linked and related to one other thing, your race strategy.

Hypoglycaemia (aka Bonking, the wall etc) occurs when you have used up most of your energy stores. Plenty has been written on nutrition and IM racing. The key factor being that without eating you cannot sustain a high enough power output to RACE your race. You may have all the fitness you like but if you race too hard to soon and dont feed you will become energy depleted. Your race then starts to fall apart because, as your blood sugar starts to drop, you become less efficient meaning that to sustain the same energy output your heart rate will rise more than it would with an effective nutrition strategy In addition your "central governor", the little voice in your left ear, will start telling your body to slow down for fear of your exercise causing your body long term damage. So the key is to find the optimum race speed/power output/HR that you can sustain and effectively digest your food. This takes practice but surprisingly few of my fellow IMers do religious nutrition training in the same way as we simulate the swimming, biking and running. Having done a few IMs most of us kind of think we know what it takes, but in practice a lot of people eat less in the race than they need or equally find they have to "review" there eating strategy on the side of the road.

The next factor to consider is how hot you get when racing. At above 25C most of us Brits who have not yet acclimatised will find the heat they generate challenging. If you do not dissipate the heat one of the first things that will happen is that you will lose your appetite.. a fatal mistake if this happens in the first few hours of your bike leg as you will not eat nor probably drink as much as you should. Since you have done all this training it will probably not be until the last third of the ride that this starts to become a factor, if you were not gonna run after it then this would not be an issue... how many of us get to the end of a long bike and then need a few long cold drinks to refresh.. perhaps we should practice getting home at the same weight we left (a good measure of successful hydration).

Clearly the more dehydrated we get the less efficient we get at losing heat since this is largely dependent on sweating. In addition dehydration pushes you heart rate up making us less efficient (so using more energy) and making us hotter still! This might explain in part the huge dropout rate from IM China of around 30%. Admittedly it was really hot (?38C+) and windy, but these extremes of temperature need specific adjustments in your race plan. Being less dense e.g having a low BMI and by just being smaller you have a huge advantage in the heat, and to some degree with hydration too since you need too drink less volume.

So I am now going to try doing a few rides where the objective is too come off the bike after 5 hours weighing within 0.5 kg of the weight when I left the house, and not feeling I so hungry I could eat a 17 egg omelette, chips beans and all the rest!

Friday, 16 April 2010


Its a funny thing but the more I train the slower I seem to get! Actually this seems quite a common theme when I start hitting the training a bit more. I guess it is just the cumulative fatigue that takes the edge of the training... I certainly see this most with my swimming which seems to almost regress as I increase the amount of running and cycling I do. Perhaps this is not so surprising as I tend to do all my swimming alone and the motivation to chase someone is not usually there... and it is probably my least favourite discipline.

The other factor is the improvements I seek come hard as all those training for IM know. Cycling form seems to creep forwards almost imperceptibly and yet I know with application I can suddenly find myself doing stuff that a few months ago was just not possible. The big question is whether I can resist the temptation to push just that bit too hard usually a bit of running speedwork (which turns into a monster session) which seems to always lead to a calf strain and then patchy further run training. I know what the consequences are likely to be and I know that some speed sessions is unlikely to benefit my 3.40 marathon time and yet I still get the overwhelming desire to do it! Rereading Friels bible the skill is to hold back and obey the 10% rule for increasing you training load. So why do I feel the need to do this session.

Probably it is all ego: the desire to show myself I can run fast(er) and the sneaking suspicion that if I just butch up a bit my running will magically come together..

Experience of 5 IMs suggests that I am not going to dramatically increase my speed without a radical change in my training.. but this time around I am going to try and see if I can get to the start line without any significant running injuries which must surely help.

Everything else is up for grabs tho' and somehow I am gonna turn into a fish! Oh and a new bike is clearly gonna make me 10 minutes faster (I wish).

Friday, 9 April 2010

Club Le Santa

Spent the last week in CLS. What a great break from the endless winter we have had.

Summary of training

Thursday 2 hr bike
Friday 9km hilly run 3km swim 2hr bike
Saturday 5hr bike ride 2.5km swim 1hr ballroom dancing
Sunday 2.5km swim 10 km run
Monday 2km swim 1hr 5 a side soccer 2.5 hr bike
Tuesday 3km swim 10 km run
Wednesday 2.5km swim 1hr ballroom dancing 3 hr bike
Thursday 3 x 15 min turbo then 4km treadmill run @ 4min/km

'bout 25 hours training and learnt how to dance the tango!

Friday, 26 February 2010


Thought I would write about something I really dont understand but recognise in my day job as a surgeon and my hobby as an ironman.

The concept of flow to me is what it feels like to be travelling effortlessly downstream in a fast moving river where you are in control and expending minimal effort. This not to be confused with flow of blood in an artery for instance which whilst important is something altogether different. I will try to expand upon this...

Complex operations can take 4-6 hours to complete and are not unlike an ironman (ok maybe a half ironman event) in many ways. There is always a lot of preparation involved in undertaking planned major surgery, there is the event itself and then there is the recovery period afterwards (both for me and my patient!). Leaving aside the patient side (although not to ignore it as there are plenty of things I can do for my patient before they undergo a procedure to improve there chances of a successful outcome) there are plenty of things I need to put in place before an operation in much the same way as you would plan your race before you do it.

Assuming the planning goes well and the organisation works I can sometimes find myself operating without stress or worry. Whilst the process is challenging anything that disrupts the progress can be rapidly circumvented and overcome and the operation seems to flow seamlessly through to a hopefully successful completion. Some people talk about being in "the zone" which I guess is much the same thing.

Experience tells me that this situation can be difficult to sustain. External and internal factors come into play. Most external factors can be controlled; keeping the environment quiet without unnecessary interruptions such as mobile phones, not having other activities requiring my attention planned into the same time period, having clear understanding of the working relationship and responsibilities of those around me. Internal factors such as self confidence, frustration, anxiety and so on are more challenging but again are overcome by familiarity with the procedure, planning for the unusual or unexpected and maintaining a sense of progression towards the goal of completion of the procedure all help to sustain the flow.

Now tell me there are not parallels in IM racing. The external factors are largely beyond your control by the time you start your race but will hopefully be accounted for by your preparation, training, equipment, nutrition plan and so on. Finding the flow or getting in the zone comes when you have got all this controlled and after 20 + weeks of focused training you find yourself in the race doing the things just as you planned. The challenge comes when things start to "get complicated" much like they can in a complex operation. It is how you respond at this point and how you get back into the flow that can determine your race. When the legs start hurting, the nausea kicks and fatigue starts to limit your performance how do you manage it.. can you focus adjust and then get back on track or do you splinter and come to a messy halt?

The resilience and resolve to stay on track is clearly crucial to my patients when I am operating and I think is enhanced by my knowledge of the physical and mental reserves I have developed through IM racing.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Thoughts on running and training for an IM marathon

The standard question for those starting out and to some extent those experienced IMers it would seem is:

How fast should my IM mara be if I can do a standalone mara in X?

So how fast can you run and how fast should you run? A straw poll of tripetalk/slowbitch suggests about 30 mins add on is not unreasonable. Those with a faster standalone marathon time e.g.sub 3 may see less slippage whilst those with slower times may see more. Alan Couzens has written extensively on this topic and gives a lot of science behind this topic but still I some times find it hard to find the "take home message" in what he writes.

After 5 IM races I have a few thoughts on pacing IM marathons based on personal experience and observation. Sure I am pretty MOP but my performances are consistent with my training. Here are a few rules as I see it!

1. The stronger you bike fitness the faster you can run. The secret is holding back some of that speed on the bike in the race- which for most of us is nigh on impossible! I still find it hard to believe that if I finished my bike leg 5 mins slower it would have any other impact on my IM time than to make it 5 mins slower!

2. I train by doing all my runs at IM pace and almost none faster. I am older (42) and prone to running injuries. I find that by running at IM pace the fatigue of the rest of my training and life makes this plenty fast enough thankyou. Toying with speed sets incurs risk of energy and for what benefit. The only speedwork I might do is a HM or 10Km race. I would love to do more hill running as I think this is a great source of running strength but hackney is very flat! Having said that my best IM marathon has yet to happen!

3. You gotta get your calories right on the bike. I judge my bike speed by feel and the need to get the calories in. For a 5 hour bike I use 1 litre energy drink for first 45 mins then 12 gels 3 energy bars and water for the rest. If I am doing it right the food all goes down and stays down and I may be able to stick in that little bit extra calories in the last 10 mins of the bike (also helps to keep focus). If I start feeling sick, hot sweaty unwell whatever I tend to slow a bit and drink water until the feeling passes. In effect this means I keep my HR below 140-145as I know that when my HR exceeds this I cannot effectively digest food.

4. Setting out on the run I always feel crap with my HR jumping all over the place, by back is stiff and I cant get straight and any leg worries I have will be there! In spite of this MY FIRST 10 KM IS ALWAYS MY FASTEST! I use this knowledge in two ways now. Firstly I no longer worry about feeling slow so dont try and chase any athletes pushing past and secondly I settle on trying to find a comfortable rhythm before working out what I can eat and when.

5. Eating on the Run- Experience has taught me that the coke will be fizzy, the drink at IMCH gives me cramps, the cup will split and I will throw most of it up my nose, but the gels are usually reliable and predictable. I now carry six gels for the first 2 hrs. I try and eat a gel every 20 mins just before a feed station and follow this with water. I try and work out where and what gels are on offer and then plan my restocking when I am on my last gel (they do run out sometimes). Again this gives me a focus e.g. concentrate on timing of gel before aid station etc but also avoids the vagaries of cups of variably mixed "EZO" or whatever 'nergy drink.

6. When I am feeling good eat... a common mantra but a true one. So when I felt good at 15 km in IMCH I ate 3 gel in 30 odd minutes which carried me on to the last 10km (at which point I lost my discipline or reached the envelope of my fitnees) where I suffered for not eating and thinking I could start racing!

7. Hilly rides take longer and have a negative impact on your run split. Stands to reason that if you are cylcing for an extra 45 minutes at the same power output you are likely to run slower afterwards. I also prefer more temperate race conditions and have struggled in the heat (either that or the reason for performing slower in Lanzarote is that I have not been as fit!)

Friday, 29 January 2010

Managing an(d) IM

In spite of being back into training for three whole weeks my weight has still risen and I now stand a full 7kgs heavier than when I started IM Switzerland back in July.

Spent last Friday chasing Jevon's rear wheel around Hertfordshire for about 5 hrs in the pouring rain. This was mentally quite a challenge and demonstrated how far away I am from my peak fitness of July last year. I was also impressed at how hard Jev was able to go this early in the year and suggest he will be flying by the time we get to Zurich. Would like to be able to run more but I am nursing my achilles tendon again for reasons that I am not sure about (it flared after the most moderate of running sessions). I sympathise with anyone out there suffering from one of the many endurance sport injuries that afflict us hope you get better soon (Jo)

Have just started embarking on a few work projects and I am developing my skills as a medical manager and have started noticing how similar training for an Ironman and my role in management is. I guess it should be obvious but there are clearly a number of skills that transfer directly form one to the other.

In particular

Goal setting

For ironman it is obvious your goal is the next IM race, the race time, qualification. Some of these goals merge with people out there trying to seek some progress year on year and some (like me) seeking some form of life balance (?) through the whole experience. The clearer your goal e.g. I want to go sub 10, get to Kona .. the easier it is to target your energies towards that goal. Likewise in my work project the clearer the goal the easier it is to work out how to get there- but in medicine it is not as easy to for instance to change and improve the delivery of emergency care for trauma patients. This is not a single event but a whole variety of activities. However by having a strong goal or target the steps towards it can become clearer.


Having identified your goal it is helpful to look at your motivation towards the goal. Why am I doing a 6th and 7th IM this year? what will be different to 4 and 5? Why do I wan to keep going? For me IM is to a greater or lesser degree part of who I am and what I do. I fell better through what I have learnt from IM, I enjoy the process (see below) of training for IM and enjoy having a goal (see above) to help me through the short cold winter days. It also provides stimulation, sights smells and sounds that otherwise pass us by and the occasional special moments (I get to see a lot of Foxes as I cycle around London in the early hours). My motivation in work is different but also derives from a need for challenge and stimulation but also a desire to do things better and to do things my way ;-). A greater challenge is to transfer this motivation to others, and to do this you have to convince them of your plan and goals.


I like process. I love the way that at the moment there is no chance I could race an ironman without serious risk of major physical injury and pain. However knowing as I do that by following a graduated system of training I am 100% (injury permitting) certain that in 6 months time I will be able to give a good account of myself. This is achieved by following a now familiar process- sure I can tweak it and might need some external input but given the time available and other life commitments I am more than happy with my performances so far. I like the fact that it is the knowledge coupled with belief in a incremental rise in training stress can lead to this change which is both reliable and predictable. I hope that some of the projects I work on will follow a similar path: the challenge is that this is more like my first IM and I have some mistakes to make and some knowledge to acquire- nonetheless the similarities are clear. Above all the doggedness in applying process to training and racing will hopefully transfer well to my work challenges.


I am not sure if I have heard this phrase or just made it up. I find that if I am around management consultant types if you use the right sort of language in a bold and expressive manner they will often nod knowingly as though people always talk about "chunking"- No disrespect and I guess it is the same in any group that has their own language (tribars, bonking, diskwheels and gels anyone?).

So what does chunking mean? Well to me it means breaking things down into smaller chunks to make them manageable. IM training is all about that; think macro, meso and micro cycle, think swim, run and bike, think endurance, tempo, threshold. The breakdowns are endless but provide us with a way of coming to terms with what is otherwise potentially an overwhelming event. It also provides us with suitable staging posts along the way so that we can measure progress as we move towards our goal when hopefully we are able to get them all to work to their best ability on the same day. Similarly most medical processes are an immensely complicated interaction of different activities, involving complex equipment, complex skills and introduce the additional challenge of working with other humans.
Working or training, when it all works it is a wonderful thing to behold and can feel much the same whether you hit the groove in a race or training and everything just seems to flow or the team around you rises to the challenge and responds like a well oiled machine...

....when it doesn't happen well that's pretty much a normal day and it is how we respond to this that defines us. The good take stock, reflect learn and improve.

The rest, well they are the rest.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Beautiful swim

So yesterday was a "free" day with no pressures to do be or anything else. As it was frozen outside I decided the day would include an outdoor swim and an indoor bike ride.

The swim was in the outdoor heated paradise that is London Fields Lido. As I can see the pool from my house I waited long enough through the morning til the sun was shining onto most of the "fast" lane before heading round. The air was a chilly -2 degrees C and there was sheet ice around the edge of the pool. Changing in the outside cubicles to maximise the elemental effect it was mighty chilly. Amazingly to my feet the pool was as warm as a bath, and the forty odd other people using the pool seemed to be having a great time. Easing gently into the water the mixture of the yellow sunlight rising white steam and azure blue of the water was sublime. Quite simply it was the best swim of the year which was quite a shock since a) I am seriously unfit b) I have had some great swims this year in Zurich, Lanzarote and Cornwall and c) it was such a surprise.

It reawakened in me a bit that has perhaps been missing over the last few months which is a realisation of how enjoyable these endurance pursuits can be. Focusing on this aspect should enable me to see myself back into some more solid training as I recover from what would appear to be a pandemic of different injuries (calf, hamstring, back and now Achilles). I am not seeking any sympathy and understand why I have had injuries, but they do allow a bit of perspective into the overall pursuit that is ironman. The biggest conclusion I have come away is that I am genuinely happier and in a better place when I am training than not. draft