Saturday, 21 July 2012

Reality Bites IM Switzerland Race Report

This was my third time of entering IMCH and my second time of racing after pulling out in 2010. My first race here was pretty good. I thought this was a course suited to my strengths with a fast bike course with some steady hills and then an "interesting" run which was protected from the sun and to my mind provided enough variation to keep from getting overwhelmed by the distance.

Preparation had been patchy this year as the shere volume of work has left me unable or unwilling to meet the previous years training volumes. The endless rain had not helped, seeing me fail to get out for several weekends when I could not face getting drenched, but with a confidence built from experience and my previous race here I was quietly confident of a good performance around 10 hours and talking my self up even thought a 9:45 was possible.

Build up was OK and travel arrangements all went smoothly.

Race day arrived with mixed weather assumed and soon we were at the swim start. In 2009 we started in the water this year we started on the bank. As I stood waiting I chatted with a German who was calm and mentioned how he was a bit underwhelmed being at the start of another ironman (I guess he had done a few). The swim started and the next 10 minutes were some of the toughest swimming I have ever had. People could not swim straight and kept going over my legs pushing me down. I was maxxed out until we reached the first buoy. Having trained to recover in the swim I was able to get it under control but it was a tough start. The rest of the swim went smoothly, with no repeat of getting lost as I managed in 2009. In fact having bothered to work out the sighting from the second buoy I swam a much straighter line than most from the second buoy since I swam to the bridge and not to the island. Out onto the island you then run across and jump back in for a second lap. All felt well and I was swimming what felt a good time.

Out of the water and got some cheers from LFTRI club supporters, a first for me coming out of the swim! In T1 I decided on a gilet and arm warmers and was soon out zipping with the lake to my side. I felt I was not pushing too hard but was at a level I thought I could sustain. My heart rate was around 150 which was probably too high!! the first 40 km were nailed in 1:04 (a lot of flat and a small hill). The draft fest of previous years was not so obvious and the busters were out there doing their work with plenty of whistling, words and a few yellow cards. The first inkling of trouble to come came at the beast, a climb a bit like boxhill only longer. I was one paced up the hill and had no zip, OK I thought my legs are misbehaving they will come back. I pushed on and went through the first lap in 2:31 a repeat of 2009. Back alongside the Lake and I was still going well and until we turned inland and up the hill. First one went fine, then there was some descent and then another small hill,

Suddenly it felt like it was all over! I started to bonk, lost all power and had to really concentrate to stay upright. Slowing I concentrated on eating and drinking. I realised I had not been fuelling properly and my lack of recent cycling became apparent. The next 50 km were tough. There is a long drag up past the tram line which seemed to last forever. Rain, hail, sun whatever the weather made little practical difference to me as I battled with my body to keep going. Back into Zurich and I rallied a bit only to blow again in the last 10km. It is a funny thing to look down at your legs and wonder why they just wont work. I was struggling to get 20 mph on a flat road with the wind behind me. Finally I entered T2 my race plan blown and the realisation that I still had a marathon to do from the worst position I could think of.

T2 was slow. I broke my watch and thought long and hard about whether I really wanted to struggle through a marathon. The thoughts of all my team mates and supporters was enough to get me out on the run but it felt tough and the idea of completing seemed unlikely. However 8 previous ironman races has some advantages. I knew I just had to keep going if I was to finish. I knew I needed to concentrate on feeding and beating the fatigue and not worry how fast I was going. I knew that their would be some better patches at some point when I might be able to pick up time. I knew to not think about the whole but to focus on short goals, the next feed station the next distance marker the next lap. I also knew to find energy from supporters helpers other athletes, each interaction however small breaks up the mental battle with yourself, a smile, a little shout of support a brief shared moment all help to break the mental challenge or persuading your body to do something it does not want to. It was not pretty but it was done. In fact the fastest split of the day was my last 3 km (running at a pace that last year I sustained for the whole of the marathon).

So it was done.

Some more reflections are needed but the reality is that my race represents my training fairly. The challenges of work this year have left me with less time and energy to commit to my training. 10 hrs 30 minutes is respectable but not where I want to race at this time so a review of my goals is needed. Perhaps it is time to take the pressure out of my hobby and race for fun rather than for performance.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Not getting slower (much)

Back to Wimbleball for another go. After last year I had a plan to come back ready to attack the hills and make a deal of the run. In the next 364 days things did not seem to go to plan and I came back to the same hills and had the same thoughts like "why do I do this?" and "Can I stop now?"

Race stats

Swim           28:49
T1                5:33   (armageddon*)
Bike             2:59:16
T2                01:44  (tent to myself)
Run              01:46:47

This roughly equates to what I did last year with bike and swim a bit faster and the run a bit slower.Swim was confident and steady. The T1 experience was hell. At most events I am not in the thick of it coming out of the swim. Because of being in the second wave it was packed and the tent was way to small. This was in keeping with the entire logistics for the event which were frankly appalling and do not bode well for the new WTC led Ironman UK franchise. Still I stayed calm put my kit on got my bike ran to the start line and then....

More Chaos. About 50 bikes with cyclists variably attached trying to mount on a sharp hill.Some pushing bikes some trying to get their feet into shoes some falling into the bushes and me shouting encouragement ;-). Too many bikes not enough thought! still I then put the hammer down for the first lap pulling along a varied contingent of others. My objective being to get out of the midfield pack deter any wannabees and find some riders on about the right pace. seemed to work. Probably went to hard the first lap and had to rein it in a bit for the second lap but still result was OK.

Back into to a lovely quiet T2 and out on the run. Soon new what it was going to be and decided to take it steady. Ticked off the laps and came home in a slow time.

Nice to meet with various trilondoners LFTri folk and other racers and in a better post race environment would have stayed longer. However the whole fiasco of queueing to get in and out meant that I was keen to be out as soon as possible. The recovery tent was mean too. You got a bottle of water some gatorade filth and a hog roast bap. Ur that's is folks. No buffet of nibbles sugary salty stuff tea or coffee. Very poor!

 So what did I learn. That my bike and swim are OK. My running is poor and that the more WTC takes out of a race the less the overall experience. will have to wait for another breakthrough some time else...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Ironman training and the NHS. Alike and not alike

Having a well earned rest with a few days off after doing two days of the Tour of Wessex which is quite simply one of the most enjoyable events I know. The photo above shows myself, Lance and Kris who had agreed at the start of the first day we would take it easy for the first thirty km or so until it we got to Cheddar Gorge.  So a full thirty seconds later I fly off down the road with Kris chasing.  A group of 4 formed and we were soon hammering it. It was exhilarating as we flew past everybody and all thougths of control were left in the vapour trail as we tore across the flatlands towards Glastonbury Tor. The rest of the 2 days and 220 odd miles were not quite so fast but were just as enjoyable inspite of our tear up at the start.

Training appears to be catching up and the familiar tiredness that challenges your resolve to start a session hovers around but the commitment to my goal at IM Switzerland remains. In some ways I am perhaps a bit fresher than last year at the same point but not quite so quick (yet!) so long as I dont think about running.

My plan this year is slowly overcoming the obstacles of illness and work and with under 6 weeks to go I am confident of a performance of sorts but perhaps not the next level I would hope for.

So how is Ironman like the NHS. Well if I look simply at the process of getting fit for an IM and trying to manage services in the NHS there are clear similarities. I know what my goals are in both. I know what sort of time, resources and commitments are required to get the expected results. For those training for an IM should recognise the effort in part of the equation coupled with some specific IM knowledge should get you near the outcome you hope for. Coupled with this is the endless ironman logic that you need to keep going, making adjustments improving you capacity and keeping site of the final goal. Like wise you would expect that if I plan for a certain level of NHS activity, develop the services ability to deliver and improve on their existing quality indicators then again we should be somewhere in the ballpark. Howver this is where the outcomes can vary dramatically. In the IM there will be a race, it will most likely involve the swim run and bike bit and will come in at around 140 miles in total. If you have trained hard and dont have a major catastrophe I find the results will reflect the training.

In the NHS the rules change, constantly. One moment you expect to be paid per case the next you are looking at a block contract. One moment you think that you will not be held responsible if you only undertake the work commissioned the next moment you are told you will be responsibile for targets to achieve all the work regardless of whether you are to be paid for it. It is often a strange mix of "third way" internal markets and what I can only describe as neostalinism where we are expected to deliver no matter what the funding or staffing available. So not really like ironman except perhaps for the constanht challenge and the need to persevere through each and every barrier to success.

Back to training it's a lot simpler

Monday, 14 May 2012

Old lessons

750 m swim 50 mile bike 14 mile run
4:22:30 42nd overall
Swim and T1     14:37
Bike and T2       2:19:12
Run                    1:48:41

Had a great days racing yesterday at the Swashbuckler Triathlon. A beautifully set and thoughtfully organised event it was a pleasure to participate but also a lesson in how sometimes we forget what we already know and sometimes we know what we cannot  forget.

The race was in the Bucklers hard tidal estuary. An early start and cold water meant it was going to be a reduced swim. The race briefing on Saturday and my experience that morning of just how cold it was at 7 a.m. when I went for my club swim had made it clear to me that keeping warm would be a priority on race day.

Still Saturday was spent 1. Buying a pair of goggles as I had forgotten mine. 2. Buying some water bottles (see1) 3. Buying some energy drink (see 1). 4. Getting my TT bike working since I took it out of storage on friday evening and had not ridden it since IMUK last year!!

4. Was a bit of an error, I had meant to get the TT bike out sooner but the endless rain had put me off. I had also lost the tape that marked my correct saddle height. Cue much fiddling about in the street behind my brothers house in southampton as I tried to best guess the saddle height.

Race day started early (04:00hrs) with a 30 min drive I was a bit leisurely and got to the race with 30 mins to go til I was supposed to be in the water. Cue much rushing around. I had decided to wear my woollen baselayer under my wet suit, and planned to put gloves on as well as my neoprene booties and a water/windproof top in T1. Told to hurry to get down to the start and realise my racenumber is in my bag back in my car and I had no socks (I always wear socks and when the air temp is 2 degrees C I definitely wear socks). I run back to the car grab race number, run back to transition and leave my stripey cotton socks and rush down to the slipway to get in the water. The run down across 200m wet cold grass left my feet numb and the 11.6 degrees C water felt warm by comparison.

I had enough time to get into the water find myself at the front, admire the sunrise and we are OFF! Flat out not sure where I am headed. Use people left and right to guide me. Works well, water not too cold settle in and decide to draft someone as they slowly pass me on my right side. the open water sessions with LFTri are working as let him drag me all the way back at what seems a good pace. Swim was something like 700 m but have no idea if I was fast or slow. Out the water and up the hill and into transition. Takes ages for me to put on booties, top, gloves etc. Watch people going out onto their bike in trisuits, still wet and into a very cold air at 20 mph. Think either they are insane or I am a bit of a southern softie.

Finally off on the bike. Feels Ok and I am not cold!! A beautiful course, sun, horses and ponies and cows, back ache, arm ache, sore undercarriage, look for a distraction. Some guy comes past with the second placed woman. Rather she comes past with him attached like a remora fish so I start giving him some verbals! Helps me forget my back pain no end. I keep hopping past the girl and her escort . Eventually the remora gets cross and starts threatening me with violence but shows no sign of getting out of the draft! Finally I decide to press on and drop the pair! Second lap was a bit better and finally start catching a few riders. This was nothing like last year when it was rare for any bike to come past me! In the first lap I as taken over by a good 10 bikes. Still I knew I am behind on training so just confirms what I thought.

The run was perfect (conditions) but again my lack of volume left me one paced (slow) still the journey of two laps was great and in spite of dropping about 10 places in the last 2 miles I was happy to get the job done. And a first for a long time.. my family and my brother's were there to see me finish.

So I need to bike more run more and get my race prep sorted! 5 weeks to HIMUK, better get the run volume sorted or IMCH is going to be another long day!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Illness Recovery

Last thursday was the first training I had done for 3 weeks and brought 20 zero days of training to an end. The frustrations to someone who relies on repetition to achieve their goals was not really felt until I was starting to recover from  a variety of cold like symptoms. For at least 10 days the idea of any training was ridiculous, but once the rib rattling cough had subsided, the tonsils no longer felt like a flame grilled barbecue and the blocked ears no longer hurt the temptation to start back in was acute. Thankfully a combination of work, family and self reflection meant that I did not rush back into training.
Several things were learnt.

Being ill was a great way to reflect upon how busy I am when combining all the roles of work, family and training. As I recovered there was just more time in the day. Trying to sometimes fit in the training can lead to stress when the time conflicts arise and I cannot manage the session I had planned, not having to do this meant I was more relaxed. This was balanced by my desire to be fit and to achieve my personal goals and to not lose the fitness gains I had banked through november and december. Further the acceptance of a new role at work means that the time pressures are ging to be even greater and this fed into my general review of the trainning plans for the year.

As I started to focus on returning to training I had to reconsider my goals and objectives. Clearly an ultramarathon of 32 miles was not going to be a good reintro to my training. A knock on means that training for the Jurassic Coastal Challenge was also off. Plans to improve running through a super base are gone. Since it is the current mantra of the NHS I thought I should practice what I preach which is "More with Less". So the challenge for the year has changed. It is no longer about setting all time best performance but is about finding out if I can do as well with less time.

Back in the pool and the saddle things felt OK although generally a bit weak. Running was rubbish! To get where I want to be the focus on training will be to look at maximising every sesson done ( a common mantra) but reducing the total number of sessions/hours done.

So the first goal is to regain my fitness level of 3 weeks ago and then hope to start building. It should be fun!