8 weeks, 111 sessions, 126 hours, 100k swimming, 1500k cycling, 250k running.
Not bad numbers for a return to training. The last 8 weeks has flown by, and all of a sudden I have finished my first 8 week block of training for Roth. I really can’t complain with the consistency I have put in, and have to average over 15 hours a week, week in week out, when I came from a base of around 7 I am pleased with. Whilst I have a fair bit of fatigue built up from all the training I have put in, I am on a completely different level compared to 8 weeks ago in all 3 sports.
The first 4 weeks were good, and the jump of doubling my weekly sessions seemed to work (possibly with some help from Neovite). Swimming was probably the toughest for me as I quickly ramped up my swimming from 5 sessions a week. Consider that this time last year I was on about 2 and it was a shock to me. On the bike and I think I had 3 days off it over the 8 week period (incidentally, those were my 3 rest days too) thanks to all my commuting being done on a bike, and I began to feel strong again on the bike and also get used to riding a TT bike. Running took a bit of a hit when I was struck with a foot niggle at the start of the plan. I had to cut back slightly but I kept it in check and it had a minimal impact overall as I still managed to hit every sessions, though duration was down a fair bit, as evidenced by it being the smallest block of training.
The next 4 weeks began to show my hard work paying off. My run times are massively down on what I was achieving last year and I have knocked a good 10% off my times across the board. A couple of races (10k 38 minutes, 5k 18 minutes) helped show me that despite my little jaunt into the ultra world last year, I do have some speed in my legs and now it is just a case of merging the two to hit a good Ironman run.
My cycling has cemented a good base, and I am close to the shape that I had at the peak of last year already. Club rides always provide a good opportunity to get hammered and, like my running, my speed has increased compared to last year. Although I have yet to get a lot of long rides in, my middle-distance rides are becoming comfortable as I manage to hold good speed and survive on very little food.
Swimming seems to be the only sport where there is no tangiable improvement, as my performances seem to vary wild. I have no doubt that my fitness is a lot better than last year. Lots of squad swims means I am used to hanging on to the back of a lane for dear life and a 4k swim doesn’t feel like too much. However due to the fact that I am consistently swimming hard, and the fact that we are doing lots of speed work at the moment, I have a lot of fatigue and my performances vary from very good to mediocre depending on how tired I am. Yet a few days out of the pool and I feel less fatigued but seem to completely lose my feel for the water. I am hoping that as I continue to get used to the long sessions and as we move more into endurance work I will begin to see some consistent quality swimming. It can be a bit disheartening trying to hold the feet of ITU and elite swimmers sometimes!
Walking the line between pushing myself as hard as I can and avoiding overtraining is always a fun one. Having always been self-coached, I have learnt what works for me, and have learnt when I am pushing too far (though I don’t always listen to this!). The 3 weeks build – 1 week rest seem to work well for me, as I am lucky enough to be able to put in big hours but spend plenty of time recovering.
I will blog about my next block of training soon, and how I plan to approach it. I have got lots of good things to take away from this block and a few lessons too. With 100 days to go til Roth (!!!) I will focus of becoming more race specific and building up some endurance with longer running and cycling. I just hope I can put together as good an 8 weeks block as the last!
So yesterday I took part in the Chesire Cat sportive, essentially the start of the sportive season on the first day of British Summer Time. Unfortunately, as it was the first day of British Summer Time, it meant we lost an hour of sleep, so cue a very early start, feeling very tired waking up etc – a perfect Ironman race practise!
Going in to it, I was feeling pretty confident. My riding recently has been good, and I am in a good shape for this time of the year. It was also the end of my rest week, so whilst not exactly the best thing for a rest week, it meant I should be fresh and recovered from a good solid block of training (the next blog post!).
I was riding with Mike from my old job, and arrived at about half 8. Once I had eventually found a parking space, we made our way to the massive queue, which was snaking in all sorts of directions around Crewe football stadium. After queueing for about 45 minutes, we eventually rolled over the start line, and started on our way.
The first 20k involved mainly riding through big packs of people who had more sense than me to pace properly, but I was feeling good and wanted to test my form. We soon hit the climbing and the pace slowed, but I was still climbing well. Fairly soon, we hit the major climb of the day, Mow Cop, which is a nice little 25%. With the Fred in my legs from last year and having done plenty of hill work on the bike recently, I got up fine without stopping, so got my medal, but it was hard work on a TT bike with pretty big gears! It’s time like that when I miss my road bike with easy shifting and a compact chainset!Plenty of people were walking, and with no choice to push a massive gear, I was climbing quicker than most people when I could get past. It was certainly more crowded than climbing Hard Knott as it was so early on, and made for good track stand practice….
With my excellent preparation for the race, I had read people comparing Mow Cop with Winnats Pass and the Cat and Fiddle, so naturally assumed they were part of the route (especially the Cat and Fiddle given the name of the ride!), but neither featured. There was more climbing up til about 50k, but nothing any where near those climbs, which was all a rather pleasant surprise! At around 50k we hit a big group and got pulled along to the 2nd feed station, somewhere around the 80k mark. At this point my legs were starting to go. Stupidly I had hardly been eating for the first couple of hours, or drinking much, so started to pay for it as we went past my usual riding distance on bananas and squash, and I started to struggle. I hit a big low patch at around 90k and legs were dying. Mike had picked up a group just up the road and was soon flying off into the distance. Thankfully, a big group came past me, and I managed to tag along and sit in the bunch, reduce the work, take some nutrition on board and get the legs back. 30k of riding in the pack and I started to feel good again, which was lucky because Mike was beginning to string the pack apart and gaps were beginning the form. The benefit of having a TT bike soon became apparent as I was able to put the head down, and TT it because gaps to hold onto the front group.
The final feed station came with about 30k left to go and we went straight past. I was feeling good again, and had plenty of stuff left with. We pushed it hard and soon realised, that if we kept up a decent pace we would be on for a 5 hour 40 ride time, which was a ‘gold standard’ ride. A few of the quicker riders began to come past and we had a good pack forming until at 145k, with 15k to go, we hit a canal bridge which was just being raised! Extremely frustrating! A 5 minute wait, and there was a big number of people waiting to go, so once it was clear to carry on, we had about 40-50 people riding in a big pack with some very good club riders on the front pushing a good pace. With 5k to go, we hit Nantwich town centre (very odd being so close to home in Wales at this point!) and hit the traffic, big roundabouts and traffics lights. The big pack soon split up and once we were finally through it was just a case of hammering it as hard as possible to the finish. We had a good pace line, and I was pulling at the front, down on the TT bars at max effort to get to the finish. When the line was in sight, attacks started to come, but I was spent and rolled over the line in 5 hours 53, and then spent a minute queuing to get my transponder scanned at the finish line, for a finish time of 5 hours 54. Slightly frustrating not being able to make the gold ride with the bridge and traffic but a good ride none the less.
Overall I had mixed feelings about my race. I was disappointed to mess my nutrition up so badly, and it really put doubts in my mind about my current shape, but once I had recovered, I managed to stay strong. I also managed a good run afterwards, ticking along at 4:17/km pace pretty well. It wasn’t sustainable for a marathon currently, but maybe a half marathon?
My ergomo also randomly died on me 15k into the race, which is extremely frustrating. I am hoping it was something on the day, and will fix itself, or I can fudge it myself as I can’t afford to send it off to Germany to have it fixed if it is dead. Whilst it will mean I can return to having normal crank lengths again and the choice between standard and compact, it means my hopes of training and racing with power this year will have to be postponed, which would be a big shame.
So lessons from the race:
- I need to practise my nutrition, both actually taking it on and getting used to it again. After a many months of squash, bananas and some malt loaf if I’m lucky, trying to fuel a race on gels and energy drink meant my stomach was not happy when I actually got round to taking it onboard! I get fed up of the sickly taste, but now I can cope with it when used to it, so need more practise in this area.
- I need to get used to that high intensity for long durations, as well as doing long rides again without big stops and breaks during rides. This is going to be a main focus for the next block of training.
- I need to sort my saddle out! It was great for climbing and sat up in a pack, but trying to hold a TT position, just felt like it was digging in! Not good if I plan on holding that position for 180k…
It was a good race though, and nice to be back at events. Definitely looking forward to hitting some triathlons in the near future (when I get some money!).
Update: Here’s the Garmin file from the ride – http://connect.garmin.com/activity/75762114
So a couple of months ago I received an email from the guys at Tri247 telling me I had been selected to take part in the Neovite Test Team study, effectively looking at how Neovite, a colostrum supplement affects athletic performance. A few days later and a parcel containing a couple of bags arrived in the post. We had the instructions to take 20g a day for 15 days for the first back, and then 15g for 20 days for the 2nd bag, so it would be a 5 week study.
For those of you that don’t know, Neovite is a dairy protein from milk taken in the first 48 hours after calving, and includes colostrum as well as a whole host of other things that are supposed to be good for you, helping you to build muscle (i.e. recover quicker) and help support your immune system (i.e. get ill less). A lot more information can be found on their website.
I started the trial on Week 1 of my Roth training, and effectively jumped from under 10 hours a week training, to over 15 hours a week, a 50% increase in training. Over the first couple of days I only had small changes in digestive habits, with a bit of bloating and needing to go to the toilet more regularly, all of which settled back down quickly. I certainly had nothing like the horror stories that I had heard about as your stomach and digestive system adjusts to taking the stuff. I do know, however, that I have a fairly solid stomach that can cope with most things, including dodgy food, both questionable cooking and best-before dates, as well training on full stomachs, so having no effect on me wasn’t too much of a surprise.
During the period of the trial, I only had a couple of colds, certainly nothing that affected my training, and only one point where I thought I was getting ill. However this passed very shortly, and overall I stayed in good health, depsite sustaining a lack of sleep at certain points, due to Univeristy work and commitments whilst training full-time.
In terms of recovery, I did seem to be recovering well. I know that I can cope with big increases in training load (my age certainly helps!) but I was surprised at just how well I was coping. Sure, after big days in the saddle, my legs would be tired and sore, for instance, but a good meal and sleep later, and I would be fine the next day, ready to cope with the next day’s training, so I do feel that I was recovering quicker whilst on the Neovite. Since I stopped taking it, I do appear to be recovering slightly slower, though how much of this was down to not taking Neovite, and how much was affected by my Final Year Project deadline, which was adding a lot of external stress and significantly reducing my sleep, is difficult to tell.
I attempted many methods of taking it. I tried just with water, tasted horrible. With squash or juice – made it quite thick and odd-tasting. With a smoothie – didn’t mix at all, and I might as well have just eaten the powder on its own! With milk – mixed well, but still had an odd taste. With milk and nesquick – perfect! Mixes well and tastes nice. Just had to ignore the amount of milk I was drinking!
Overall I felt that the Neovite helped me go from a relatively small maintenance training load, back up to training full time pretty well, and helped me recover from it well, and kept me healthy. I certainly didn’t feel any negative side-effects. How much was down to a placebo effect, diet and general fitness, and how much could be accounted for by the Neovite is difficult to tell, though on balance I think it certainly helped, and will certainly consider it when going on training camps, or attempting big increases in training.
Short story: 10.1k in 38:28 to come 32nd out of 342!
So my preparation for this race wasn’t exactly the best! A night out the night before at an unsigned gig standing up all night, meant I went to bed with stiff legs and climbing the stairs giving me a bit of a ‘burn’ was showing the effects of being back into decent training. I woke up late and grabbed some toast after finding some jam in the fridge and headed to Blackpool still half-asleep.
It was nice to catch up with everyone from Simulation where I spent my year in industry, and nice to see that Dave was applying his usual training of just turning up on the day! The last time he ran was when we did a 10 mile race back in 2009!! I had a quick warm up consisting of a few laps of the track, starting really easy, going steady, then a lap at race pace. I felt OK, but the legs didn’t want to cooperate much, which was a bit worrying.
I said before the race on twitter that my race plan was to run the first 5k at 4:00 min/km pace, then push and see what happens, and had said I was aiming for around 38 minutes. Looking at my Garmin file I clocked the first 5k at 3:53/km pace, and the 2nd 5k 3:43/km pace, so a bit quicker but bang on for pacing and a good negative split.
Starting the race I position myself towards the front but to the side out of the way of the big groups. The route is a lap of the track, then start the first lap of the race with another half lap and out round the park, and repeat for the 2nd lap. The gun went off and everyone shot off like a rocket! I was stuck in a bunch and just got dragged along by everyone running round the outside of the track to get some space. I was feeling pretty rushed and a quick glance at the Garmin saw 3:30 on the clock, far too quick, so I settled down. By the time the first lap had been completed it started to string out and my legs finally woke up and decided to play ball. I hit about 3:45 pace once it settled down and started to settle into a good rhythm. One guy who was stuck behind me in the big group ran past and then no one overtook me for the rest of the race!
We left the track and I immediately started picking people off. I checked the watch a few times and was running quicker than I wanted to, so backed off, conscious that my endurance isn’t great at the moment and didn’t want to blow up! I settled at a nice 3:55/4:00 pace and ran within myself for the next 15 minutes. I didn’t have anyone to run with as everyone running my pace seemed to be up the road. I lost count of the number of people I overtook pretty quickly and it became clear I need to be more confident when positioning myself!
When we hit the track again to the begin the 2nd lap I was feeling pretty good. I was running well, wasn’t too tired and felt pretty comfortable. So at this point I decided to let the legs open up and run at the pace they wanted to. Immediately I started to pick people off more quickly until about 7k when there weren’t many people in front of me. By the time we hit 8k I was running pretty much a flat out sustained pace and only had 3 people in front of me that I could see on the windy course and I started to chase. When I hit the 9k mark I just went for it, but unfortunately as I was already at max pace this only translated to an extra 10s quicker per km! I picked off 2 of the guys fairly quickly and only one guy to go who had about 40m on me. When we hit the track I went into full-on sprint mode but was only managing 3:10 pace – I was gone! The guy finished 2 seconds ahead of me, so I can’t really complain! Coming home in 38:28 I was extremely pleased, and it was nice to have some sort of speed back again. I don’t think I’ve been running this quickly since I was 13 when I could run 1500m in just under 5 minutes!
For the first race of the season (and first ever 10k) it is a good result to take away and proves that my training is going in the right direction. I certainly felt that the first 5k was a sustainable effort for a half-marathon with some more endurance work. More speed work should see me becoming more efficient, and I just need to slowly start increasing my mileage and things should be looking good! There is a local 5k (free!) race every week which I am going to start doing every so often, I think I’ve been bitten by the speed bug! It certainly hurts though! I’m a lot more sore than I am after most triathlons! It is nice to wake up late, race and be home by lunch though, certainly makes a change!
So last weekend I headed down south for a job interview, and whilst I was down there I managed to visit my old school, Lambrook, and give a couple of talks to the kids there about triathlons. They actually run a triathlon in the summer there, with the kids swimming a couple of lengths of the school pool, doing a lap of the grounds on their bikes and then running a lap of one of the fields, so when I asked at the start if anyone had done a triathlon before, I got a nice show of hands.
The first talk I gave was to the Pre-Prep, which is 4-6 year olds, in their morning assembly. After a quick five minute presentation, I was inundated with 10 minutes of questions (and quite a few from the teachers!) until they had to go to their lessons, which was a relief after dreading an awkward silence with no one being that interested!
The main talk I gave was on Saturday afternoon, to the main school, with ages ranging from 6-13, and with a turn out of most the school. I took along my bike and wetsuit to talk about and show the kids and started with a quick introduction to the sport, talking through the different distances and then stages, and then talked about my experiences of the sport, racing 2 Ironmans and how I train and prepare for them.
Since the previous talk had overrun, I cut this one short, knowing that the kids would have more experience of the sport so hopefully more questions. I finished my talk after 20 minutes and then opened up for questions, leaving a generous amount of time to fill in my hour slot. Sure enough,, as soon as I finished I had questions galore, and was challenged with some very good and interesting questions. They ranged from the usual ‘what happens when you need to go to the toilet’ and ‘what happens when you fall off and are clipped into your bike’, to the more pressing about ‘what drives you to do this’ and to ‘when do you think you will stop doing triathlons’.
All the kids were extremely attentive and the time flew by with the questions. Even the teachers enjoyed it and had their fair share of questions! Before I knew it, and with still a sea of hands, I was told we had to stop after the next question and my time was up as the kids had to get off to their lessons. A few of the older ones who had lessons with the teachers who were there, stayed behind and got to have a play with my kit and ask more detailed questions as well as the teachers, a few of whom taught me when I was 13 all those years ago!
It was an extrememly enjoyable experience, and so rewarding to see all the kids (and teachers!) so interested in what I had to say, and the feedback I got was that they were talking about it with great enthusiasm afterwards in their lessons. If I have inspired just a few of them to try out the sport or get involved with exercise, then I leave a happy man.
As a final plug, if anyone wants me to come talk at their school, their kid’s school, or their work, just ping me and email (at the top right) and I’ll be happy to sort something out.