So the off-season is over and it is time to get ready for 2013. Despite deciding to have a year off Ironman, I seem to have entered Ironman Texas in May! It should be good fun though (I hope) and I am getting my plan together for the next few months so I can start in much better shape than the previous one!
It is cross-country season at the moment and I am racing the North West Cross Country League at the moment which I will cover in a later post, but I have missed getting caked in mud and racing hard!
For now, here’s a picture which I was sent from IMUK, complete with heavily strapped and splinted arm! What’s even more surprising is I actually look like I’m running well with both feet off the ground! Must have been the first lap….ha!
So after a hectic Christmas/New Year which involved me travelling around most of the country, I left the day job behind for a couple of weeks and jetted off to Alicante airport to try and turn myself into an athlete. At the airport I met up with Nat Banard and we undertook the first challenge of training camp – trying to find the hire car! After much wandering around we eventually found a pick-up place, got away without paying the young driver excess and luckily managed to get both bike boxes and suitcases in the little Polo, even if I did have to take half of my stuff out and cram it into the gaps in the boot.
The adventures continued on the journey down as well; after an easy couple of hours heading down the motorway with the most challenging part being trying not to throw up thanks to travel sickness from the flight, we arrived in Cuevas del Almanzora, the location of Kinetic PB and came a little unstuck. With a dodgy map and directions, it was up to Nat to use her pidgeon Spanish (and rather amusing rowing impressions!) to find the way. Finally, the huge painting of the Indalo on the dam came into sight and we had found it.
The Lodge is the main building of the Kinetic PB resort, built next to a purpose-built rowing lake, which for some unbelievable reason was only built 1k long. Utterly useless for rowing, perfect for open water swimming! The lodge itself consists of a number of dorms which is great for sharing with mates and builds up a great spirit. There is a big bike room, big kitchen, nice balcony overlooking the lake and a massive living area with the obligatory flat screen for watching films when recovering.
After a day of getting over the travelling, the next day was a ride down to Aguilas for some swim practice in the sea. By this point, a lot of the camp had already been out for a week so were feeling the effects, and I got a little overexcited pushing the pace, but riding in shorts and t-shirt, in brilliant sunshine on great roads was too good to miss. After a little cafe stop (where everything is ridiculously cheap!) it was time to test out my new Helix in the sea.
Although it took an age to get on, once it was on it felt amazing compared to my old suit. We swam across the bay, and despite the lack of swimming over the festive period thanks to all the closed pools, I felt pretty good. After getting out and stripping the wetsuit off, I was told that we would be doing some relay races… and there was no way in hell I was getting on a wet wetsuit, so it was skins in the water! Hopefully I didn’t scare too many locals….
On the ride back, we found out about the winds along the coast…made for pretty tough riding! However, I got a run in once home, and add that to 85k on the bike and a sea swim, and Day 1 of training was off to a good start. I kept up the mileage on the bike as the week progressed, though avoiding any mega rides whilst I was still getting fit again. The riding is absolutely incredible, it rarely rains, the roads are good quality and there is a lot of respect from drivers! The locals also are intrigued by cyclists, including one cafe stop where I was mobbed by about 10 locals checking my bike out and asking me countless questions, which put my Spanish to the limit. The views are also just stunning, whether you are riding down the coast with the amazingly clear sea, or in the mountains with perfect, quiet roads and incredible scenery.
As the camp progressed, I began to bring up the intensity and duration of my rides. After a week I ventured out with Joe and Paul on a ‘5 hour’ ride with them to Uleila and around the mountains there. It was tough going and hilly from the off, and after 50k I was dropped for good and had 100k riding solo round the mountains, which was incredible. A ‘rest day’ the day after was supposed to involve a couple of hours easy, but having been joined by Lee, Nat’s boyfriend, on the camp, and me with my riding mojo back, we did get a little excited in parts, especially when we were joined by a couple of local Spanish guys which tempted us to turn the screw and put the hammer down. I was feeling pretty good, and climbing well and we promptly dropped the Spanish pair. However, in our excitement, we also dropped everyone else in the pack, and were faced with some stern words from Nat!
The following day Joe and I headed out with some of the guys from the BTF development squad, who were also staying at Kinetic, for a TT effort. After an easy ride out, the aim was to ride for 25 minutes out, 15 minutes back and then easy back to the start. As soon as we set off it was tough going, straight up a hill and into a massive headwind. Joe, who had kindly given me a 30s headstart soon caught me as I struggled up the hill and it was a long slog of 25 minutes. However as soon as I turned around, I was flying! So quick in fact that I hit the start point again during my effort, despite going for slightly longer to turn around at a roundabout. Average speed out – 25kph, average speed back – 50kph, including some nice sections ticking along nicely at 65k!
The final big day of riding (which was the next day…) was the Uleila ride again, and despite being completely trashed from the start and having many thoughts about turning around, I manned up (our motto of the camp!) and rode all 155k and didn’t feel too bad, I could certainly hold on with everyone on the climbs if I had to. At least I managed to have an easier hour on my final full day there.
Around all this cycling we had to fit some swimming and running in! Initially the plan was to swim mornings, but as the camp progressed and we wanted more sleep, it got pushed back to the afternoons. With a lake to swim in (though admittedly a little chilly at this time of year!), a pool in the town with exclusive use during the day and the sea down the road, you are spoilt for choice. The aim of the camp was to pick my swimming back up to a decent level, and I certainly think I have achieved it. Lots of technique work, and a concerted effort to sort my bilateral breathing and tumble turning out have paid of masively, and I am almost back to swimming near my best. Once I get around to joining a swim club, I have high hopes of smashing some PBs this season.
With all the cycling and swimming, running can take a hit, but it is really not difficult to motivate yourself out there. There is a track around the lake, which is perfect for interval sets, or you can run futher down the river bed to a couple of smaller running tracks to train on, whilst the river bed gives you a nice place to run down for an easy run or some strides. However it is the surrounding area where the real running is at, and it is an awesome place to get strong, because it is really not flat! Just behind the dam by the lake is the beautiful national park, and a favourite run of ours was a 4k climb up the national park and loop back round through a small village and orange groves for a perfect 10k loop. You can also run up to the mast by the top of the dam, a brutal 10k climb, but with stunning views once you get up there (though I must admit I am told this, my legs were too trashed from all the riding to be running that hilly for that long). The other amazing run to do is the Caveman run, which takes you past the amazing ancient caves, through a river bed and over the hills to yet more amazing views. It is a proper off-road run, climbing up rocks as big as you, running down hills so steep you can’t stop and taking your pick of the paths through the overgrowth. Stunning.
The final highlight of the camp was Rob’s birthday, midway through my time there. The day started with a 4k sea swim out to an island and back, though mine got slightly cut short because as I was nearing the island I met Rob and Vicky coming the other way, trying to avoid a school of jellyfish… I went back with Vicky as she was suffering from mild hypothermia, to be caught up by Rob again minutes later as he was forced to turn around again due to all the jellies! The afternoon was a series of mini-triathlons, involving a kayak, hill-climb or lap around the lake on the bike and a hill-run or out and back down the lake. Oh, and it was old-school kit, so speedos only! Apologies to the locals that went past me on the bike, they looked slightly shocked! Despite my best efforts to ruin the race for my team with my utterly shocking kayak skills (seriously, I was paddling one way, and going the other, rumour is that Oli has a video of this… I’ll stick to the day sport!), I pulled it out of the bag in the reverse triathlon to secure the win. I almost managed to get away without getting chucked in the lake after everyone threw Rob in, but to no avail, at least it was just about warmer than I was expecting!
Apologies for the length but there was too much to write about! A big thanks to Oli for letting us stay, it is a fantastic facility and its popularity will only snowball. I left the UK as an overweight, pale office worker and returned as a skinny(ish!), tanned athelte, finally feeling fit again and with my motivation back.
2012 should be a good year.
So as I sit behind a desk with the old familiar ache in the legs, it is safe to say that I am slowly getting back into a routine of exercise. The fitness is slowly on the way up, and my weight is slowly on the way down, although my recovery speed has got some catching up to do!
The biggest boost to my training has been finally getting around to replacing my battered commuter bike, which was beyond saving, so that I can cycle into work. This gives me a good hour/hour and a half of riding each day, with a mixture of battling into the winds, easy spinning and a few lumps to get over. Now having a single speed bike, I can’t hide behind an easy gear when the going gets tough, you have to deal with it! Hopefully this will get some strength back in the legs. The prevailing wind also works out quite well for me, as I tend to ride to work into it, and can have a hand getting home if I’m knackered. My feel for the bike is almost back at least.
The other two sports are coming along at a mixed rate. Running is getting back to it, though my technique has gone out the window and I seem determined to hit the ground with my heel with as much force as possible, and I am really having to concentrate on it to stop. I am definitely looking forward to some drills in January! Swimming is ticking along, and the swims I do are starting to feel better. The main problem is now that I am cycling in, I can’t take my swim kit in as well so I swim when I don’t cycle in. Thankfully I have 2 pools close to me, so can go to those in the evenings, and it may even be time to bite the bullet and drag my lazy self out of bed in the morning to get a swim in before work. At least I am slowly getting back into the athlete bed times.
The diet is at least going well. I have completely cut the rubbish out finally, and my treats usually revolve around cereal bars before/after training. Couple this with training again, and in the 3 weeks between ‘weigh-ins’ I have lost 5 kilos! A few kilos more and I will be back into a happy range.
The culmination of all of this was last weekend in Manchester. The Saturday saw me race cross-country in the afternoon, and despite a dismal performance, I had great fun! I was massively off the pace, and well below my usual performance, but really enjoyed it and it was nice racing again. In the evening, I headed down to the velodrome for a Man Tri session, and was completely dead! But a good, solid double session day was perfrect for catapulting me back into training. To top it all off, I cycled home from the station when I got back to London in torrential rain with a big smile on my face.
The last step to getting fully fit will be my winter camp in the new year. I am tagging along with a few of the elite athletes from the club to Kinetic PB in Spain for 11 days of getting hammered! It looks like it is going to turn into a very professional camp, with one of the guys going threatening to bring his video-camera and accupuncture needles, both of which I will hopefully get some use out of! I certainly know my technique needs a lot of work on, in all sports. It should be good fun though, and will be exactly what I need to set up a decent 2012 season.
Wow it’s been a long time! So long, my blog has even forgotten who I am! It’s been two months since Challenge Henley, and a skim read of my report from the race, and it is plain and obvious how burnt I was from just my feelings leading up to the race, let alone the race itself. My motivation was non-existent, which given the season I had, and stacked racing, is hardly surprising. My recovery was far from ideal between the races, and I think Henley was one too far, giving me my worst relative performance in the sport, but still I take a lot of satisfaction from toughing it out and finishing (although maybe I’m just a tight bugger who wanted my finisher medal and t-shirt after paying for it!). The season review will be another post and I will look back and see what I can take from it. This post is more in the present and immediate future.
So two months down the line, where do I stand. I have from extremely fit and in shape for Liverpool and Roth, to the best shape of my life but a little fatigued at IMUK, to knackered a little heavier but in the kind of shape where I can rock up and finish an Ironman to overweight, out of shape, extremely unfit but not fatigued. My motivation to train is also slowly starting to return, and I (almost) look forward to doing turbo sessions!
I am now fully into the working lifestyle, and although pulling stupid hours in the last few weeks, am settled in and can now concentrate on making time for sport again and getting back into the routine of training, which is by far the hardest thing to do after such a long off-season. Not that I’ve been completely sat of my butt for the last 2 months, I have done some exercise so it’s not completely alien to me, but a routine was. Though after 5 years of barely having any proper time off, it’s been great having a social life for once!
So the focus leading up to Christmas is in two parts:
- Routine exercise
I am in the process of replacing my old faithful commuter, which has just about seen one too many potholes on the streets of Manchester, as is pretty much knackered beyond saving. So it’s time for a new bike (with many more planned!). Once I have a rideable bike again, I can start cycling into work which, depending on whichever office I’m in that day, should be a good hour and a half a day, which as I get back into the swing of things should be perfect and I can chuck a longer bike in at the weekend once I work out how to get out of London on my bike!
Running is fine as I can run anywhere, and all the offices I work at have showers which means I can run before or after work, at lunch or even to and from work if I want a long mileage day!
Swimming is going to be the interesting one. Thankfully London appears to actually be on top of this and I can get a ‘Swim London’ pass for £30 a month which gives me access to every pool in a public leisure centre in London, and they all seem fairly good with fitness swimming. Whilst this makes it easy to swim (and I will make the most of this), I do need to find a club of some sort to swim with, especially after the benefits I know it will give me. So any suggestions for a decent swim/tri club in London with a decent masters program will be much appreciated! I just wish they would open up the Olympic park for use, there is a world-class pool velodrome and track a mile from my house which I can’t use!
So after two months of beer and a London lifestyle has meant my weight has ballooned. Returning up to Manchester for the end of season party, I must have looked completely different, especially after all the ‘London appears to be treating you well!’ comments 😉 So it is time to reign it in, and I am going to start this completely revolutionary diet called the ‘Eat Healthily and Exercise’ diet. If it goes well, I may even right a book….
Anyway, I now clock the scales at around the 83 kg mark, which given I raced Liverpool at around 69 means FATTY! Though to be honest, even I am struggling to see where 14 kilos has gone, but I am certainly no longer the skinny little runt I was a few months ago. The diet is simple: cut the crap, get the nutrients in, eat lots of decent meat and keep hydrated. Couple this with some regular training and it should fall off.
I am looking forward to the process of regaining my fitness again and getting back into the shape. I have two camps planned next year, a week and a half at Kinetic PB, what looks like an awesome new facility in the south of Spain, at the start of January to put the icing on the cake and kick myself back into proper shape, and then the ‘beast’ Man Tri training camp in Malaga over Easter to set my season up nicely, I just need to enter some races next!
The past 6 weeks since IMUK have been a rather busy affair! The week after I spent recovering and beginning to pack up my life in a suitcase once more (having only moved a month earlier!) for the move down south. I then started my new job, being put up in a hotel for the week, before carting all my stuff off to my dads. I have since moved house again(!) and am hopefully settled in London and in the same house for more than a few weeks.
Work has been a bit of a shock to the system, although not a complete shock thankfully, with memories of my placement year still reasonably fresh. But having lived the life of a student and then full athlete having to work full time (imagine that!) was certainly a significant change! I soon settled in, and while I never fully got used to spending 2 and a half hours a day cramped on a train, which is now down to an hour after my most recent move, I began to feel my active self rear its head. I don’t like sitting still, I am a total fidget, and sitting behind a desk all day really does not sit well with me, so I started running at lunch. After a few seriously horrible sessions, thanks to doing nothing for a few weeks after cramming together 2 IMs, I decided I needed a carrot to motivate me. With the Maidenhead Half Marathon filling up the local paper for the last few weeks, and it being on my doorstep, I decided to enter, and had 2 weeks to recover some sort of shape.
This was Friday morning, and about an hour later I got a text of Chris Weeks asking if I was doing Challenge Henley. It had been in the back of my mind ever since IMUK, ever since Chris said he was doing it as we both had unfinished business after that race. Although I had a solid day, I didn’t have that top end speed, and know I can run quicker than that. And frankly, finishing my season in July is tough, as I did it after Switzerland and it was another 10 months until I raced again. So anyway, I text back saying ‘Nah probably not, gonna see how I feel after the weekend, but not looking likely’. I then see a tweet saying entries are about to close (even though that later got extended) and next thing I know, I’m stood in a sandwich shop in central London entering the race on my phone! So Chris, I blame you for the pain I will be in at the weekend, and also for making me double up at IMUK… ha!
So Challenge Henley will be my 3rd Iron-distance race in 10 weeks – and I am scared! Even at IMUK, I could feel the fatigue wasn’t too bad, and with a 3 week gap, I wasn’t going to lose much fitness. With a 7 week gap, especially after such after 2 IMs, I have finally had a chance to let the fatigue and exhaustion, and I am tired. And not the ‘I need a lie-in’ tired. I feel physically spent, and am carrying around constantly knackered legs. The main reason for this is my recovery post-IMUK – or lack of. If I had planned Henley a bit further out I could have planned a bit better, but I have let things slip. Mentally I am out of the game in terms of discipline and have lost focus on my training, which has been impacted by work, commuting, moving house and burst water pipes. My diet has also fallen completely by the way side. Having Ben & Jerrys on special offer the week after IMUK really did me no good, and adjusting to the long hours with free access to unlimited bad foods, and a week on hotel buffets has seen my gut ever-expanding, and I am certainly carrying around more than a few extra kilos than I would like. I am certainly looking forward to having some proper time off, recovery properly and enjoying a bit of a social life and a chance to recharge the batteries, especially the mental ones.
Having said all of that, I am fired up for Henley, even though it has yet to sink in that I will be toeing the start line once more in a few days time. I am not expecting to break any records, or post a decent time, but I am looking for a good end-of-season blow out, and I want to leave absolutely everything on the line.
There have been flashes of good form in training though. My cycling doesn’t seem to have slowed down, and I certainly feel the best I have in the pool for a long time, well before Roth. I am just hopeful that the body will come through, and the endurance is still there.
Despite a niggling calf issue, I know my running form is good, as evidenced by Maidenhead Half Marathon. I entered the race with low expectations, and not having run with my Garmin since IMUK, had no idea of the speeds I was running. The race plan was set off hard and then settle into an easy rhythm, and try to come home under 1:40 and as close to 1:30 as possible. I slightly exceeded that, by hammering it and crossing the line with a massive PB of 1:25, placing myself 45th out of some 2000 runners. I put myself close to the front, and set off hard. Despite a slight organisational error, where you run a short loop back to the start and half the runners were still waiting to start by the time we came back round, forcing us off course for a bit, we reeled off the first km in about 3:35, and then the next kilometre passed by in 3:50. At this point I was still in contact with the front group, but knew if I kept this up I wouldn’t last 10k so slowed down. However, I only settled down to around 4:10 pace, which felt REALLY comfortable, and just held this until I ramped it up again with 5k, with a final k flat out. Doing 2 IMs close together, gives you one hell of a base! I just hope it is there come Sunday! This has at least given me a target of breaking 1:20 next season for a half, which I should be able to do, fresh, trained and at race weight!
These final few days before Henley will be spent trying to get the body moving again and making sure all those neuro-muscular pathways are still active, as well as trying to sort out my calf issue, before coming up with some sort of race plan. At least Sunday will be ‘fun’, I appear to know about half the field racing! So make sure you give me a shout when you see me struggling!