ferroustom

ahhh… the irony….

Ironman Frankfurt – European Championships – 2017 Race Report

Note, if you’ve not already read it, this post explains some of the carnage that’s about to happen.

 

At 3:45 my alarm went off, but I was already up and around. Incidentally guys at Radox, I think I can have you under the trades description act…..

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Feel ready…? Nope

I donned my race gear, stuck a t-shirt over the top and headed down to breakfast which was already jammed with competitors. I noticed that one guy already had his wet suit on. In the hotel. 15k away from the start of the race. 2 hours early.

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Early morning Frankfurt from the window of my nose bleed inducingly high room…

The hotel made the schoolboy error of not ensuring that there would be any bread available at 4am. Eventually when the bakery delivery did arrive, much to the relief of the waiter who was asked, “Where is the bread?!” by at least 20 people in my earshot, it was like a hoard of locusts had descended. I stuffed my face whilst Andy had a small pot of yoghurt.

“You know what mate,” I said to Andy. “Sod getting a bus, let’s just get a taxi. How much can it be, and there’ll be way less mincing involved.”

We decided it was a great idea, an idea only confirmed once we headed out of the hotel. “Will you stop dicking about and get in the taxi!?” shouted Andy as I took this photo.

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Good job we got a taxi…..

As we cruised through suburban Frankfurt I remarked how much more relaxing this was than being on the bus. “It must be a nightmare on there.” I said, “Imagine the tension and adrenaline.”
“Yeah.” chuckled Andy.

It was at that point that Karma had enough and interjected. We drew up to a police cordon. “Road is closed. You must get bus.” they said. Pointing at a distinctly bus shaped object disappearing off into the distance. Andy and I stared at each other and started crunching the numbers.

We had 40 mins to get into transition, load up all the nutrition on the bikes, do a final bit of fettling, hit the portaloos and wetsuit up. The Waldsee was 2k away. How fast could we run if we really gave it the beans?

Fortune then kicked karma in the nuts and intervened in the guise of the grumpy bus driver (from yesterday)’s happy twin brother who appeared out of nowhere and beckoned us and a few other panicking people in the same boat around a corner. There, in a halo of early morning twilight shrouded in the mist of a 80s pop video, was a gleaming, empty bus. We all jumped on. Unfortunately, Mr Happy was also Mr Patient and waited for loads of other people to get on the bus too.

As we were stuck anyway, Andy asked what the weather forecast was. I consulted my phone. “Oh looks like it’s going to be clear. Highs of 32. No rain. Oh look they’ve just taken the water temperature. It’s at 25 now. Bloody glad I didn’t buy a new wetsuit.”

I watched the colour drain from the faces of people around me and then said, “Kidding…..”

We arrived at the Waldsee and rushed into transition. Andy was clearly a bit flustered, but I’m always late for everything, and can regularly be found hopping out of transition late with one leg in a wetsuit, so it was all old hat to me. Nevertheless it was still a bit rushed.

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Transition – time for a cheeky photo….

I strapped a bunch of gels to the top of my bike. Loaded up my pretzels and Nakd bars (the one thing I did remember to bring from the UK) into my new bento box and filled up my bike bottles, one with water and one with lucozade. “Gosh that’s rather unfortunate.” or words to that effect I said as I booted over the lucozade filled bottle spilling it everywhere.

Suddenly the music seemed to edge a little bit louder. “Transition will close in 5 minutes!” came the voice over the loudspeaker. I sucked down a gel, slapped on a bit more of the sunscreen and told Andy I was off to put some stuff in my transition bag.

A helicopter drifted overhead, drones floated backwards and forwards and then a booming announcement came over the loudspeakers. “Transition is now closed. Please LEAVE transition.”

I joined the queue for the portaloos. The helicopter buzzed over the crowds and I thankfully made it into a portaloo. Suitably lightened I headed down to the shore as the music changed to the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. A few people pointed at my tri top. Pirate.

The music stopped. “60 seconds until the start of the male pros…” There was a, “Boom boom. Boom boom.” simulated heartbeat and then suddenly a massive bang and the male pros were off. One minute later it all started again…. “60 seconds until the start of the female pros…. Boom boom. Boom boom…. *BANG*”.

Very shortly after than the age groupers started in a rolling start.

There are pros and cons to a rolling start. In a traditional start everyone goes off at the same time. It’s carnage for the first few hundred meters as all 3000 (or whatever) of you, sprint for the beach and then jostle for position. Of course if you swim like a drowning dalek like me, then you can hang back a bit rather than be swum over by everyone, but basically there’s a bit of carnage involved.

Ironman Melbourne and Frankfurt though have both been rolling starts. These involve a few starting chutes and letting waves of people go every few seconds (usually about 10 at a time). This has the advantage of giving you at least a bit of free water, and as long as you seed yourself correctly you should be swimming with people of the same pace so you can draft, theoretically making it slightly easier. This is all good in theory, but in practice, people swimming in open water don’t always swim in a straight line so they cut each other up. Even when they do swim in a straight line, invariably someone will get water in their goggles, or panic and stop to tread water for a few seconds, so you end up with the equivalent of a massive motorway car pile up.

Apart from a couple of these though the first part of the swim was largely uneventful with the exception of the odd muppet doing breaststroke. Now don’t get me wrong, breaststroke is fine, but not if you’re in densely packed water with 3000 other swimmers. That’s a recipe for cracked ribs.

Fortunately I managed to get past the breast strokers reasonably unscathed, and despite having a bit of a a tussle with a guy in a sailfish wetsuit, (or possibly several guys in sailfish wetsuits – to be honest it’s pretty hard to tell the difference when you’re swimming alongside someone encased from head to toe in neoprene) before long I was at the Australian exit.

I have no idea why it’s called an Australian exit. It involves getting out of the water, running across a bit of beach and diving back in again. I can only assume the reason is that Australian water is so full of things which are trying to bite, sting or otherwise molest you that they’re too scared to be in the water too long. Either that or Australians can only manage a half at a time.

Anyway, I dove back into the water, drafting and being drafted by the guy (or several guys) in the sailfish wetsuit and before long was dragging myself out of the water in a new Ironman swim PB. Considering I’ve only swum 8 times this year, I’m reasonably happy with that!

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Looking marginally better than I felt….

I sauntered into T1 where everyone was mincing around aimlessly. I eventually managed to get a seat, pulled off my wetsuit and stopping only to pull a layer of skin off my feet (which had presumably at some point been a bunch of blisters), donned my bike gear.

I stuffed a bread roll (which I’d stolen from the hotel at breakfast) into my mouth, sucked down a gel, slapped on a load more of the sunscreen I’d bought the day before and ran the bike out of transition, mounting it just after the mount line.

Around 5k into the bike I shot past a fully loaded Cervelo P5 (which at around £10k is worth more than my car). I smirked to myself, but then remembered the taxi karma earlier and got my head down and started peddling.

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Pedal Pedal Pedal……

I spotted the first competitor with a mechanical a few kilometers earlier, and prayed that my bike with its new tyres would hold together.

The roads around Frankfurt were buttery smooth, with a very few exceptions. Exceptions such as ‘The Hell’ where someone had seen fit to put a long cobbled section into the course. “Whhhhattttt thheeee heelllllll issssss thiiiisssssss.” I thought to myself as various body parts vibrated and wobbled uncontrollably.

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What ‘The Hell’…?

I managed to get through the cobbles and heard the sickening mechanical rattle of something coming loose. I stopped, but couldn’t find anything loose or missing, so I started up again.

Not long after that a motorcycle official pulled up next to me. “Get right! No blocking!” she shouted. I pulled over to the right in time to see a screaming triathlete shoot past me. I was about 30k into the bike and I’d just been lapped by Sebastian Kienle, who would go on to only just beat me (by about 6 hours) and be clocked by an official doing 90kph on the bike.

I cruised past a penalty box and tried to remember what they’d said at the briefing. I didn’t think I’d been given a penalty, they’d certainly not showed me a coloured card, but I do remember being told if you are given a penalty and don’t stop at the next booth you’re immediately disqualified. “Sod it, it’s too late now. I can argue the toss later if I have to.” I thought and kept on peddling.

The support on the bike routes was pretty amazing given the heat and as I passed through small villages and hamlets there were people out on the streets with their feet in paddling pools, or sitting in the shade ringing cattle bells and shouting support.

I passed around a bend with a timing mat on it and there were a bunch of presumably drunk supporters screaming. A guy with a microphone shouted. “Go go! ZuperTom we love you.”

Around half way through the first lap I saw the one and only serious bike accident, some poor chap was being stretchered off the course in a neck brace. “Hope that’s not Andy!” I thought to myself and kept on peddling.

At around 80k there is a section of the course called “Heartbreak Hill”. It’s a starts off deceptively easy and gets progressively steeper before levelling out. It’s pretty nasty for a long distance course, but the support there is pretty amazing. I dropped to my lowest gear and span up it, and then the course headed downwards and remained that was throughout the last 10k into Frankfurt, and I’d finished the first lap.

The second lap was pretty much the same as the first one, with the exception that the mercury had risen even further and I could feel the sun burning my shoulders and had begun to slowly cook. I figured as I was sweating so much I should try and drink some electrolytes, so I grabbed some Powergel ISO mix from one of the feed stations. It tasted like cheap orange squash mixed with salt that someone had poured a couple of tablespoons of sand into. Pretty grim stuff.

My attempted to eat my Nakd bars and pretzels weren’t going so well, partially because actually getting at them, wrapped as they were in plastic bags in my new bento box was only slightly more difficult than safe cracking.

I started grabbing bottles of coke and water, dousing myself in a bottle of water every time I went through a feed station and taking advantage of every one with a hosepipe on the course. It did cool me down, but made my pretzels which were almost impossible to get at completely soggy too.

I stared at my bike computer. I could potentially get a 6 hour bike split (as I’d done at Outlaw) if I pushed a bit harder. I pushed a bit harder. I started to feel like I was going to throw up. I stopped pushing harder. I still felt like I was going to throw up. Oh dear.

Soon the second lap was almost done but I was feeling really rubbish. I still felt a bit sick and very hot. I figured I would get back into transition and I could always sit down and recover for a bit – maybe get some water on, but before that I’d have to tackle Heartbreak Hill again. Half way up my left quadricep started to cramp up. “Not here. Please not here!” I thought to myself as a spectator waved a cattle bell whilst someone else screamed, “Go ZuperTOM!”

I switched to the lowest gear I had (and I have a triple groupset) and span up the hill. Mercifully the cramp eased up. I reached the peak and knew that barring a complete mechanical disaster, I was going to finish the bike route.

I saw some bloke sitting next to his bike with his helmet in his hands by the side of the road looking finished. An Ironman race vehicle passed me, spotted the competitor, reversed back and picked him up. I thought about shouting, “It’s all downhill mate, just keep going a bit longer.” but then I realised he might have had a mechanical, could be ill, or it could even have still been his first lap, so I held my tongue and kept going.

I made it into T2, swapped into my running gear and slapped a load of sunscreen that someone had left behind all over myself. I decided not to look at my feet which had now been drenched in from hosepipe water, sweat and minging powerbar isotonic sports drink for over 6 hours. I was feeling really rubbish and massively overheated.

I felt so ropey in fact that I decided I would walk to the aid station try and try and grab some cold water. Then I discovered a problem the start of the run coincided with the end of the run – it was a 4 loop run. The run up to the finisher chute was lined with screaming supporters. I grinned grimly, and feeling like I’m about to explode start running.

After a kilometer, I got to the first aid station. There was finally something solid I could eat. I walked through it grabbing water, coke and some oranges segments. I plodded on slowly and when I hit the second feed station mercifully discovered that there were cold sponges and ice.

I stuffed some sponges under my tri top, stuck some ice inside my hat and, despite resembling a badly stuffed sausage crossed with an 80s TV star’s power suit and seeping water from everywhere began to feel a bit more human.

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Take THAT Joan Collins…..

Within about 5km everything was absolutely soaking. Including my shoes. I checked my watch, and did a bit of mental arithmetic. I’d spent about 1:20 on the run, about 6:30. At the very slow pace I was plodding, I could expect about a 6:30 marathon. The cut off time for the race is 15 hours. Given a massive amount of mincing in transition, it could be a bit of a close thing.

I tried to run a bit quicker, and the outsides of my feet hurt, right on the bone connecting my little toe to my foot. I started to panic – on a 17 hour cut off I would definitely manage it, but with only 15 hours?

I looked around and saw that most people around me had at least one, some even two or three armbands, indicating the number of laps they’d run. I cracked out the ibuprofen I was carrying and thought to myself, “I’ll pay for this later, but fuck it I’ll be able to self medicate with alcohol then.”

I sped up and squelched on the ibuprofen mingling with the endorphins. Loads of people spotted the pirate kit and would shout. “Look a pirate. Go Pirate!” or “Come on ZuperTom”

I passed one girls who shouted, “You’re looking great and I love your top.”

As I past the medical tents I saw them start to fill up with people who for one reason or another are dropping out of the race. Mostly they seem to be massively dehydrated as they were attached to drips.

My run splits started to fall as I got faster. On lap 2 I was chatting to a guy who is on for a sub 15 finish, “Yeah I usually do 3:30 marathons.” he explains, “But this is my first one of these and it’s all going a bit wrong.”

Suddenly Andy rocked up and said, “Hurry up you mincer.” He was lap ahead. After a little while we parted ways. “I’ll see you at the finish line mate.” he shouted as I left him trying to eat an entire feed station single handedly.

Eventually clouds began form and mercifully it started to cool a little.

I spotted a couple of supporters in Pirate gear and we ‘arrrr’ed each other – apparently there were two other pirates on the course.

I squelched on and the marathon became a bit of a death struggle. I checked my watch and realise that a sub 13 finish was not going to happen, but my Outlaw finishing time was 13:0..something I can’t remember.

I tried to run/walk, slowing down through aid stations to take on coke. Nobody seems to be drinking the Redbull. I’ve seen Redbull at a couple of events, and I can’t but wonder who is thinking at mile 20 of a marathon. “I know what I need now. I lovely refreshing paper cup of something I only usually consume with vodka in it.”

I passed through the lane control for a final time taking the red band to signify I only have about 3ks left.

Everything hurt, but if I remember thinking, “If run it will be over sooner.” My quads are on fire. I ran/walked the last stretch back to the final bridge and over it. Descending the path the other side was even more painful.

I tried to keep running, but had to make do with a jog. Suddenly there was the finish line. Some chap in front of me was milking the finishing straight, mincing along. “Bitte!” I shouted and give him a shove and in my mind I sprinted over the finishing line like Usain Bolt, but realistically more like a shambling baby giraffe.

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I was greeted by an umm… greeter who told me to stop pansying about and get my medal and she would show me where to go. She pointed out the shower tent (where someone was throwing up into a wheelie bin), the two swimming pools (very large inflatable pools which were probably pretty nice at the beginning of the day, but have had ironman athletes festering in them for the last 4 hours or so) and where to get some food.

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Food you say? GET IN!

I grabbed an open sandwich, powered on my phone and suddenly Andy appeared. Neither of us had brought a change of kit and apparently they wanted us to shower and change before we could have a post race massage. I guess that was fair enough.

Andy had already eaten his entire body weight in grapes and I stuffed another sandwich in my face as we headed toward the pickup point for our bikes and transition bags.

Although Frankfurt has a great finish line being in a city centre this does mean that they have to clear out the areas before the start of the working week. This also meant that we couldn’t buy any finishers kit the next day.

Following only a short but violent portaloo exploit, and, to the sound of ambulances recovering knackered triathletes and their sobbing other halves, I grabbed my bags, and bike and Andy and I dropped off our bikes at the hotel with the comedy name.

We then headed back to our hotel, showered and then hobbled out to get a taxi to take our bags back to the comedy named hotel. Unfortunately when we arrived the guy we were supposed to meet had popped out….. To get a kebab…

Bags finally deposited, we went searching for somewhere that we could still get some real food which wasn’t made solely out of fructose and maltodextrin, finally settling (as we were in Germany) on an Argentinian steak house… where we both had chicken.

After forcing down a beer and what little food we could manage, we hobbled back the 0.4 miles to the hotel.

The next morning at breakfast, I felt really ropey as we tried to force more food down ourselves. I spent most of the day vegging in bed, and watched the Fast and the Furious 8 (spoiler alert, it’s awful). At around 6 we headed out again and following a steak burger for me and a healthy chicken burger for Andy we both started to feel a bit more human, and managed a couple of beers (ok 6).

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Finisher’s bling….

A couple of days later I flew home wearing my race t-shirt and everyone – including airport security (who would only let me through once I’d confirmed I had actually finished), the lounge staff (who told me to go back and have another drink as I attempted to leave), and the air hostesses (who kept force feeding me booze the whole way home) congratulated me on doing the race. What a lovely ending.

So that’s another one done. Only Texas, Florianopolis, and Cape Town left to do and I’ll have the Ironman championship race boxed set (apart from Kona).

I am definitely not doing another one for a while…. Probably… Maybe… Lanzarote you say…….?

Until next time…..

FerrousTom over and out….

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Ironman Frankfurt prep and becoming a pirate…..

Most endurance sports can be a bit of a lonely endeavour. Anyone committing to, say, a marathon or a century ride accepts that they’ll spend a good chunk of time training on their own. Even if you’re in some sort of club, there’s going to be time when you’re kicking your own arse. Long distance triathlon can be even more lonely.

Like many other novice triathletes I read Andy Holgates book, “Can’t swim, can’t bike, can’t run.” and as I’m pretty rubbish at swimming, cycling and running, and only hit the heady heights of mediocrity when you string them together I was inspired.

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At my first iron distance race, Outlaw in Nottingham, there was a pirate feed station, and loads of pirate supporters on the course. These folks were awesome. I signed up to the runner’s world forum pretty much straight afterward.

It was only for Ironman Frankfurt (my 3rd) that I decided to race in Pirate kit. Ironman isn’t particularly spectator friendly, and my family wasn’t coming out to support. I found somone selling a pirate tri top, bought it, a couple of vest tops (thanks Tracy) and a hat.

Racing in club kit can be a double edged sword. On the one hand it’s great when someone recognises it and gives you a shout out. Unfortunately the first time this happened when I was wearing pirate kit was during a park run. I generally use park runs as my long training runs. For the uninitiated (read sensible), ironman training generally peaks at 1-2 hours per day during the week, with 3 hours of running and 6 hours of cycling at the weekend. Anyway depending on the route I take, I can add 7-10k each side, do a 5k as fast as possible and then add the same on the way home – stacking up to a reasonable weekend running set.

It was a pretty warm day, and I’d run around 10k quite quickly to park run. I’m not really a morning person and I was late (as per usual really), so I started running as hard as I could to try and catch the back markers. I hared around the course and decided at around 4k to try and finish the last 1k as fast as I could, so I sped up. Suddenly there was a shout, “Look a pirate! Go Pirate!.” I looked around and realised that the person was shouting at me. I shouted, “Arrr!!!”, stuck my thumb in the air and increased my speed even further.

I shot over the finish line, and then started running home. My legs were really rather sore. As I headed back, I noticed the sympathetic smiles and nods from people going in the other direction. I smiled back, and continued plodding on, my legs continuing to burn.

It was only when I got home and stopped running that I realised that the reason I was getting sympathetic looks was that my pirate t-shirt (which I’d not run with before) had taken the surface off my nipples and I was bleeding pretty profusely. Grim stuff.

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Ouch….

Minor injuries continued to plague me in the run up to Frankfurt. My ankle seized up so badly that it was painful just walking and I decided to go and see a physio. Despite being only about 5 ft 4, she beat the living crap out of me. I continued to see her every 2 weeks as she invented new and interesting ways to hurt me. At one point the big toe on my left foot seized up completely. “You need to get a golf ball and stand on it. It will be painful at first but the pain will ease off.” she said.  I bought some golf balls, which my 4 year old immediately posted down our outside drain.

“So how did the golf ball go?”, she ask the next time I saw her. “Umm it went… welll… ermm…”

“You haven’t done it have you?” she said sticking her fingers in my foot. “Right, well your punishment is needles…” at which point she started sticking acupuncture needles in the bottom of my foot.

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Golf balls. Great at blocking drains

A couple of weeks later as she was beating me up once again she said, “Ah I see the problem here.. Your bone appears to be attached to your muscle.” I swear she said that. I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be the case. Anyway, as she was trying to detach my muscle from my bone she said, “You know, most of my clients are saying to me, when are you giving up work? I feel sorry for you having to sit on the floor whilst you work on me.”

I replied that I didn’t feel a bit sorry for her as every time I see her she beats the living crap out of me and sticks needles in me when I misbehave. She laughed and told me to man up.

The whole physio thing came to a head a couple of weeks before the race. I had rented a ISM saddle from (the now defunct) PedalPedal. Despite promises of protecting your gentleman areas, it wasn’t massively comfortable, especially over longer distances, and I decided to swap back to my original saddle for the race. I swapped over the saddle and did a 3 hour set on my mountain bike down the Thames path, followed by a 2 hour set on my road bike on the turbo trainer. As soon as I went to get off, I felt a problem. I couldn’t get my right leg over the saddle. I started to panic. I only had 2 weeks until race date.

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ISM Saddles – they look weird…..

I couldn’t get an appointment with the Physio until the next week. I attempted to stretch out my IT band and persisted with training and the pain got worse. Eventually I saw her, and she managed to release the pressure.

Soon race day was looming like a loomy thing. I had decided to fly out on the Friday and do the compulsory race briefing in the afternoon, I’d then pack my transition bags and hand them and my bike in on Saturday ready for a relaxing start to the race on Sunday morning.

Andy, who is always way more prepared than I am flew out on the Thursday. His flight was scheduled for 10:00. At around lunch time I sent him a text message asking what the hotel was like. “Dunno.” came the reply, “My flight’s been cancelled.” Oh dear. Eventually Andy flew out about 5 hours later.

Later that evening, I got an email from RaceForce (who I’d used to ship my bike from the UK to Frankfurt) to tell me that due to unforeseen circumstances the race mechanic had had to be flown home and they would be unable to provide mechanical assistance, although there was a full tool set for anyone wishing to use it.

As  my mechanical skills consist of if it’s not moving and it should be, apply more lube and then hit it with a hammer, if it is moving and it shouldn’t be stick it together with electrical tape, this was about as useful to me as a legged man at an arse kicking competition. The room where the bikes were being stored was number 404. I was pretty sure I’d arrive there and find it missing (geek joke).

I’d decided that I’d take a bunch of stuff with me, and as I’d left it so late to book a flight the difference between economy and business once I’d factored in the checked baggage was about £50. I did some quick calculations and I figured I’d be able to drink that, so I stumped up the extra cash.

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time and checked in to the lounge. It was only 10am, and given that I was on the way to an endurance event I figured getting plastered was a bad idea, so I went to grab a coke. Unfortunately the soft drink dispensers were out of order, so Lufthansa had opened up the first class lounge. I grabbed a couple of soft drinks, and pausing only for a first class dump (in every sense of the word) made my way to the flight.

As we taxied down the runway I looked out of the window and saw this in the Virgin Airways hanger. I have no idea what it is, but I would have been pretty upset if that had been my plane!

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Andy’s plane….

Andy and I had been checking the weather reports pretty intensively in the days before the event, and the forecast was always warm the few days before, and then thunderstorms or rain on the actual day.

I got off the plane, headed to baggage collection and started sweating. It was really hot. There were loads of these bikes all over the airport. I was tempted to don my helmet and have a practice ride, but it was a bit too warm.

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Airport bike – I could always have used one of these at a push….

After recovering my luggage, I hopped aboard the S-bahn and sweated my way into Frankfurt, and dumped my bags in the room. I met up with Andy and we headed down to register and pick up our bikes.

The sun was blazing and we tried to stay in the shade and drink lots of water as the commentator tried to explain the various rules and penalties to us, signing off with, “No I do not know what the weather will be like and no I do not know what the water temperature will be. Unofficially it was 24 this morning.”

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Race briefing in the baking sun at the finishing chute….

I should probably explain that when the water temperature reaches 24.5 degrees, all wetsuits are banned for age group athletes. For most of us this is a bad thing. In additional to being almost impossible to drown whilst wearing a wetsuit, swimming in one makes you faster.

We grabbed our registration packs and headed to pick up our bikes from the amusingly named hotel where they were being stored.

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Seriously……

We headed back to the hotel and started fettling. It was at this point that I realised that I’d left my bento box (which sits on the top of your bike and holds all your food) at home. Luckily this wasn’t so much of a problem as I’d also left all the food I’d bought for the race at home. And my sunglasses. And my P20 (extremely waterproof high factor sunscreen).

I wandered back to the Ironman Expo and looked at a couple of pairs of sunglasses. I tried on a pair. “They look really cool….” gushed the sales assistant sashaying over. I looked at the price tag, 230 Euros. I put them back. Every single pair I looked at was north of 200 Euros, so I picked up a cheap bento box (I got a red one because red stuff makes you go faster – fact), and headed back to the hotel.

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Just to prove there was a race on….

I checked over my tyres and noticed they were covered in small tears and rips, so I swapped them over with the two spares I had remembered to bring. They say never use anything new on race day. I was looking at:

  • New sunscreen – if I could find some
  • New sun glasses if I could find some which were cheaper than my mortgage payments
  • New nutrition – if I could find some
  • New tyres
  • New bento box

What could POSSIBLY go wrong.

I stuffed my face, had a pint and went to bed.

On Saturday, following a quick breakfast Andy and I took our newly stuffed T2 bags containing everything we would need on the run to the race HQ and handed them in. “Do you think we should take our bikes too?”, asked Andy. “Nah, the shuttle bus is bound to go from somewhere else, probably the official race hotel. They do on race day” I replied, indicating the Intercontinental over the road from where we were staying.

We dumped our bags and as we were leaving transition asked the security guard who pointed to a sign he was standing right next to which said. “This way to bike shuttle.” We rushed back to the hotel, grabbed our bikes and headed back to transition.

After a bit of mincing we managed to get on a transport bus over to the Waldsee where the swim would start. They really rammed us in there.

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Bikes on a bus…..

The bus driver was possibly the most grumpy driver I’ve ever met. As we drove down the road towards it people were wandering along the path next to it, and he would periodically shout, “ACHTUNG ACHTUNG! HALLO!!!!” and roar past them. Eventually we made it to the entrance and fought our way through the crowds trying to get back to the dulcet tones out our driver shouting. “PAUSE! NEIN! PAUSE!” as people tried at first to get on the bus and then ask in various languages when he was returning.

We set up our bikes in transition and had a quick swim to check out the water temperature. Triathlon rules state that wetsuits are banned for age group athletes when the water temperature exceeds 24.5. The water was currently a balmy 24, and we were sweating profusely. A non-wetsuit swim was looking increasingly likely.

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The Waldsee….

After an epic swim of… um 98m, we got out of the lake and got the first bus back. I went out looking for some sort of nutrition to replace the stuff I’d left in the UK and ended up with a bag of pretzels.

Suddenly the heavens opened and the predicted thunderstorms materialised in all their glory. 4 spots of rain. The skies cleared again.

I found a chemist and, finding a picture of some P20 on my phone, in my best broken German said, “Haben Sie das?”. The chemist rapid fired back some German which I think translated as, “You can’t buy that stuff here, it’s prescription only.”

“Gracias.” I said walking out the door, thinking “Gracias? That’s Spanish you twat!”.

As I left the shop I heard the chemist explaining the medical side effects of some drug to an American. I am, however, British, male and stupid, so I found the next chemist and bought something which looked like a close approximation of P20.

p20

P20 left…. definitely not P20 right…

I headed back to the hotel with my stuff and Andy and I stuffed down a massive meal of penne pasta, tomato and chicken and headed to bed, agreeing to meet for breakfast at the ungodly hour of 4am.

As I set my alarm, I noticed Ironman had sent an email saying, “The weather conditions are set to be extremely hot on the day of the race. Please make sure that you spend the previous day out of the sun, drink plenty of water and rest up.”

I looked at my watch which told me that with all the mincing, swimming and shopping I’d done I’d done around 13km of walking, most of which had been done in the middle of the day in the heat. Oh dear..

We’re all going on an ummm… Easter holiday….

In which I get hideously lost and do a bike ride in Tenerife.

So an Easter holiday. Some sun in Tenerife. What could possibly go wrong? Well for starters it’s way too easy to stack on weight on holiday. Despite the best of intentions I always seem to cave to the temptation of steak, chips, a cheeky beer or 2 at lunch time, ice cream etc. In order to try and stave that off at least a little, I took some running gear with me and stashed my helmet and bike shoes too. The Canary Islands seem to be a mecca for winter training so I figured as we were going with the inlaws, I’d take advantage of the free babysitting, rent a bike, and try and get a long ride in.

The first couple of days, I ventured out for a run along the seafront. Tenerife is a volcanic island which means that after you leave the bits which have been paved over, you quickly end up in amongst massive boulders, primitive steps and loose footings. Within a couple of kilometeres of the hotel as I hopped down the rough hewn outcrops masquerading as stairs, I spotted a small bunch of flowers tied together in a plastic water bottle. I hoped it wasn’t a memorial to some poor soul who’d fallen down a ravine or something.

My sense of direction is pretty bad. Once I was on a road trip in Europe and when I stopped to ask for directions, not only was I going the wrong way, I was on the wrong road….. In the wrong country. Seriously I get lost very easily.

In addition to getting lost easily, I’m pretty accident prone. When the Mrs and I did our round the world trip 10 years ago I managed to hospitalise or seriously damage myself on every continent:

  • sea kayaking accident in Malawi leading to septicemia
  • concussion caused by accidentally headbutting the exposed value on a steel radiator in New Zealand
  • some horrific stomach infection/parasite thing in S. America
  • and perhaps most disturbingly in China:
    • “I think you may have hepititis, come back in 5 days.” *panic*
    • “Oh actually it’s just a food intolerance, and by the way you have a fatty liver.”

I decided that I’d probably better look for a road to run on instead.

I spotted a track which was sport of a golf course in the near distance, so I plodded towards that hopping between boulders. I hopped over a final boulder ready to join the road, to discover that there was a massive ravine blocking my way. Clearly the golf course owners wanted to keep out the riff raff. I retraced my steps hopping over the boulders and grass, wondering how many venomous snakes live on Tenerife and how long I’d survive after being bitten and found my way back to the road. Fortunately my GPS watch has a built in ‘remember this position’ navigation setting, so I could find my way back.

The next day my bike was delivered. I had a cunning plan. Everyone I’ve spoken to about cycling on Tenerife talks about El Tiede. I mentioned to the guy who dropped off my bike that I was doing a triathlon and he said when he was training for triathlons he cycled up El Tiede three times a week. “It’s hard to do this.” he said. Alarm bells didn’t start ringing. He mentioned that his PB times were 4:30 for a half Ironman, and 10 ish for a full Ironman. I was pretty impressed. For an amateur that is pretty quick. Alarm bells still didn’t start to ring.

I asked a friend, Greg, in the UK who’s really into his cycling if he had any insights into cycling in Tenerife and he said he’d mention it to the members of his bike club. He sent me a bunch of Strava maps back along with the comment, “Apparently the slow route up is pretty hard, and that’s coming from a strong cyclist.” Alarm bells still didn’t start to ring.

I popped out to check out the bike and did a quick 35k along the coastal roads. I didn’t have my bike computer so I practiced a bit of zen navigation working on the assumption that even if I didn’t know where I was going someone else probably would. I seemed to be significantly quicker than the other guys on bikes, and I felt strong and despite getting a bit lost I headed back brimming with confidence for my big ride the following day.

Feeling virtuous I decided to have a beer at lunchtime. After all I’d finished my bike ride. Then I had another. Then I sat around and watch Trolls for the billionth time with the kids and before long it was time for dinner, preceded by another couple of small beers. You can’t have dinner on holiday without wine so I had some of that, and piled a bunch of spaghetti on my plate.

At around 10 o’clock in, to quote Brian Blessed, “A really very advanced state of refreshment”, I realised that I hadn’t actually plotted a route on my bike computer yet, so, slightly the worse for wear, I plugged what I thought matched one of Greg’s friend’s rides into my computer.

I noticed that all the rides were about 70k. Alarm bells didn’t start ringing. My training plans says I should be doing a long Z1-Z2 ride of around 4 hours. I usually hit about 30km/hour on my own bike, so I figured I’d be conservative and do the El Tiede run and then add an extra 30k on the end.

I woke up about 6:30, but decided that as the Mrs and kids were off to the seaside with the inlaws and I didn’t need to be back, I’d have a lie in. I got out of bed around 9:00 and by 9:30 I was ready to roll. I loaded up my frozen gatorade bottles, grabbed my gels, powered on my bike computer and set off.

I headed out of the hotel, along the road I’d taken previously, and looked up at the massive hills in the centre of Tenerife. Alarm bells didn’t start ringing, BUT I did start to wonder how much climbing was involved. I continued up and up and up. And up. AND UP. AND UP. After about 30 mins I had to stop and get off the bike and push it a bit. My heart rate was all over the place and the climbs ranged from hard to ridiculous. A guy with a dog was running down the hill towards me. “Is hard yes? Nearly at the top.” he lied.

Eventually the climb I was on receded to only ‘insane’ and I managed to get on the bike again and start peddling without falling off. I was starting to get a little bit concerned now. I stopped near a scenic bin to finish the bottle of gatorade which didn’t fit in my bike bottles and dump a gel wrapper. The bin didn’t have any bottom, so it fell on the floor. It did have a nice view though:

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The view from the bins…..

I looked at my watch. I’d been going about and hour and covered a mighty…… 10k. Over the next hour or although the climbs weren’t quite as insane as the first hour – probably the Tenerifians (is that even a word?) thinking well that’s sorted the men from the boys – were still soul crushingly hard. At around 2 hours I was considering giving up, but I soldiered on and finally arrived at a bike stop full of Italians loudly comparing the razor sharpness of their tan lines and drinking tiny coffees.

I was almost out of gatorade and sick of the taste of gels, so in my best Spanish said, “Dos aguas y tiennes sandwiches?”, the waitress passed me a menu and pointed. “Una sandwich con queso y jamon.” I said, chuffed to bits with myself.

IMG_1486 (1)

Here it is folks, the world’s flattest sarnie…

“Four Euros,” she replied, “You can sit over there. I’ll bring it when it’s done.” I sloped off. Clearly my Spanish so was amazing she thought I didn’t need any more practice. After some time the worlds flattest sandwich arrived. Seriously. It looked like an elephant had sat on it.

Given I’d only managed about 22k in 2 hours and I had a 100k ride planned, I decided to check out how much further the top of El Tiede was. I’m not sure what I expect El Tiede to be, maybe something like a cross between Leith Hill and Box Hill in the UK, but a bit bigger. The first hit on the search was Wikipedia, and I quote:

Mount Teide is a volcano on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain. Its 3,718-metre (12,198 ft) summit is the highest point in Spain and the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic.”

So quite a bit bigger than Box Hill.

It’s fair to say that alarm bells didn’t so much start ringing as smashing into each other in a monsterous cacophany of horrendousness. I’d spent over 2 hours grinding uphill constantly, and I probably had at least a couple of hundred meters to go. At least*.

Suitably refreshed by a sandwich so flat it would have qualified for cheap postage through one of those stupid things the post office are using now, I hopped on my bike and started grinding up the hills. Gradually the terrain around me started changing from volcanic rock to slightly more lush greenery, and a canopy of trees provided a little shade.

The gradient stretched up and up and up ahead of me. Periodically when my legs started to burn too much or my heart rate spiked too high I would get off the bike and push it for a bit. Depressingly my speed didn’t fall considerably. Eventually after what felt like the billionth switchback, I figured that I wasn’t going to make it and decided to turn back, stopped my bike computer and hit – return to start.

It’s fair to say that I’m rubbish at hills. I can sometimes grind my way up them, I’ve had a triple groupset (that means 3 cogs on the front) put on my bike specifically for this. This hill was a particularly stupidly big one. Where I really suck though is going down again. I am reasonably happy to hammer along on the flat, or slight decline, but as soon as the hills drop away and my speed increases, I start to get twitchy bum very quickly. All that being said, what goes up, of course must come down, and I did. Very quickly indeed. As the road surfaces were largely great on the way up and the traffic very light, I decided to try and practice a bit. The majority of steering when it comes to bikes is done by leaning rather than moving the front wheel.

Nathan, my ex-colleague and occasional coach, regularly asks if I’ve crashed recently as I do. He did hospitalise himself for 6 months after falling off a mountain during a race once, and has gone on to win the Cotswold 226 thanks largely to his cycling skills, so I guess he’s entitled. I figured that I’d channel him a bit and try and maintain some speed downhill. This worked remarkably well for a bit (until I started chickening out at about 50kph), and then my bike computer decided that it fancied a bit of a giggle.

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Sunny Tenerife…. by the sea….

Despite the (mostly) lovely roads I’d been up on the way, it decided that I should take the most direct way down the mountain, and after some admittedly lovely roads, with wide sweeping bends, it took me down what could possibly double as a ski run. That had been bombed out. The surface, which started off as bad, and got worse and worse and worse as it dropped away in front of me.

I closed my eyes and held on for dear life. Then I realised having my eyes closed probably didn’t help, so I opened them and turned into Mr Tourettes as my family jewels bounced repeatedly off the seat and top tube. I don’t recall the exact phrasing but it was something like, “SHIIIIIT FUCK BASTARD AAAAH BASTARD AAAAH SHIT AAAAH…. FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK”.

Mercifully the tarmac smoothed out. Less mercifully it got steeper. “Ohhhhhhh fuuuuuuuuuckkkk!” I shouted as I spotted possibly the worst thing you can see whilst hammering down hill at 50kph. A speed bump. In the middle of nowhere, someone had stuck a  sleeping policeman at the bottom of the hill!

As I became airborne I reflected on the fact that the wheels were really were holding out very well indeed.

Me after hitting the speed bump – if it had happened at night…. and I had an alien on the bars (artists impression)

I ground to a halt with wheel rims which were now as hot as the Mount Doom in Mordor. Seriously, hours of my life could have been saved by Frodo just cycling down El Tiede and then pressing that ring on the rims of his hire bike. Probably wouldn’t have made so much at the box office though.

My bike rims – an artists impression

In any case I made it back without dying and then uploaded ride to Strava. Just in case you think I’m whining unnecessarily (and lets face it I usually do), here’s the elevation map:

2017-04-14 17_29_32-Aborted attempt at El Tiede _ Ride _ Strava.png

Anyway, my glutes, hamstrings and calves are on fire, so I’m off to rehydrate with a malty beverage, so until next time.

FerrousTom over and ouch.

*If you’re still reading this drivel, I’d covered 1687m in elevation, so I had about another 2000m to climb! El Tiede is, then, as Greg has subsequently suggested, brutal.

A quick catch up….

In which I check if this thing is still on….

OK, time to come clean. After IM Melbourne in 2015 I didn’t do a lot, and although I started off 2016 with the best of intentions, I didn’t really get into training in any sort of way. I even let Jez persuade me to drop the distance in at the Hever Triathlon festival from half iron to Olympic. Andy on the other hand did Ironman (70.3) Mallorca. After my rear derailleur snapped off my bike at the Chantilly Gauntlet and I DNFd in spectacular style Andy and Jez took great delight in asking me when I was actually going to complete a half Ironman. So it was with great delight that I congratulated Andy by saying, “Nice one mate… and by one I mean half.”

As I take great pleasure in reminding him at every opportunity, despite beating me at every distance up to and including iron, Andy has still not completed a ‘proper’ Ironman. Being possibly the most competitive man on the planet, Andy insisted that we sign up for an Ironman branded event.

As I said, in a previous blog post, although Outlaw was spectacular, the level of support and pomp and circumstance at Ironman Melbourne was really something else. In addition to the extra support, Ironman print your name and country on your race number, so that in addition to the challenge of trying not to punch supporters who keep shouting, “Nearly there!” at mile one of the run, you also have to stifle the urge to scream, “JUST BUGGER OFF!” when you’re around mile 20, your legs have given up, you’re dehydrated and feel like you’re near death and people say things like, “Looking strong there Tom – you’re from the UK fancy some of this beer mate?”

Anyway, the race we settled on is Ironman Frankfurt. It happens to be the European Championships and as Jez has pointed out to me, that’s 2 out of 6, (the others being N. America, S. America, Africa and the worlds in Kona) may as well go for the boxed set. I should point out that the only way I’m ever likely to race at Kona is if the entire field at Frankfurt is killed in a freak canal based tsunami, or possibly if I am still alive at 90 and the rest of the field has died of old age.

Having signed up for Frankfurt I decided to start training. I was working in Reigate at the time and would park in the National Trust car park at the top of Reigate hill and either mountain bike or run down and then back up again in the evening. Occasionally I’d go for a run at lunch with some colleagues. All was going well until winter started to draw in and I got a cough, which steadfastly refused to bugger off. Last time I had a cough like this, and continued to train I developed bronchitis, so I decided to rest up and wait the cough out. Unfortunately it took a long time to clear and before I knew it it was Christmas.

Weighing in at a mighty 97kg, I decided I needed to do something quickly to get my weight down and my fitness up, so I signed up with a personal trainer, Matt. The plan, he explained, is that up to 3 of us would train 3 times per week at 6:30. It subsequently turned out that there would only be 2 of us (and Simon – the other trainee) would occasionally have to take a week off to travel with work. Nowhere to hide then. In addition to that I started a new job in Hammersmith so I could either cycle to work (about 25k each way through Richmond and Bushy parks) or drive to Richmond bridge, park up and run in (about 12k each way).

Frosty deer in Richmond Park

Slightly warmer deer in Bushy Park

This has been great in terms of giving me some structured training, but also means that I tend to wake up at 6:30 regardless of whether my alarm has gone off or not. Even including the almost epic amount of mincing I do before getting out of the house, I’ve still managed to get some decent weekend training sessions in both on Zwift on my new turbo trainer and occasionally on the road.

Box Hill – just in case you forgot what it looks like Jez….

I’ve now started another new contract, but this time in Ealing, but there’s no secure bike parking, so I think I’ll have to buy something cheap that I won’t care is nicked. I think I’ll also need to sign up with a gym that’s a bit closer to work as I’ve been swimming a massive 3 times so far this year.

All this extra training has come at a bit of a cost though. My left ankle has been getting increasingly uncomfortable, so I decided to go and see a physio. I made an appointment and was met by a 5ft 5 Latvian women. Having poked and prodded she suggested that my hip was slightly out of alignment and my ankle has next to no flexibility. Apparently the biggest problem though is that my calf muscle is too tight. She asked if I would be OK with needles, and I said that I’d prefer not to have acupuncture again. “You big men are always the same.”, she chuckled, and then went on to tell me about the time she was giving a 6ft 5 rugby player acupuncture. When he stood up after having had the treatment he saw the needle and passed out. “It was OK though,” she explained, “I managed to get a pillow under his head before he hit the floor.”

Following on from our brief introduction she beat the living crap out of me for an hour. I’ve been back to see her a few times when the discomfort is too great, and it still hurts even though I’ve resorted to taking neurofen and paracetamol before I go. On the last occasion as she was pressing so hard on my calf I’m pretty sure she was massaging bone, she said, “Ah I think this is the problem. Your muscle is attached to your bone here.” She then resorted to trying to detach it. I was pretty sure that muscles were supposed to be attached to bones, but as I was clinging the massage table so hard my fingernails needed to be removed afterwards with pliers I didn’t contradict her.

On April 10th, I stepped on the scales to reveal I’d dropped to 91.5kg a massive drop of 5.5kg (probably more than that of fat as I’m now considerably stronger than when I started my PT sessions). Unfortunately it was then time to go on holiday. I suspect I’ll be quite substantially heavier when I return.

But until next time…..

FerrousTom over and out.

Boing….. In which spring has sprung.

Daffodils are blooming, and the weather has (until today) been taking a turn for the better. It’s almost time for the open water venues to open. It must be spring. Normally I would be beginning to ramp up the training for some ridiculous event or other. Potential candidates this year were Ironman Maastrict (which apparently contains the only hills in the whole of Holland and also reportedly cattle grids) and The London to Brighton Ultra 100k marathon.

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Daffodils at Hampton Court Palace….. Nice….

“Why do you say ‘normally’?” I hear somebody ask in a disinterested tone. Well unfortunately I’ve succumbed to the triumvirate (that means three things Jez) of illness, injury and apathy. After spectacularly damaging myself coming off my mountain bike last year, I decided to take it easy (after running a cheeky half marathon that is). This basically meant that I didn’t book any events over the winter (I had planned on at least the Winter Ballbuster and Portsmouth Marathon), and with no fear of a looming event it became easier and easier to do nothing, leaving me with a body shape resembling an ageing Buddha. With hair.

Around the middle of February I decided that I was beginning to resemble Mr Creosote a little too much, and it was time to start training, so I started running again. Unfortunately this is when illness and injury kicked in. Being ill is not so bad, at least you get some occasional semblance of sympathy, especially when your long suffering other half gets it and is bedridden for a couple of days. Injury on the other hand, especially injuries like knackered ankles/knees/hamstrings aren’t usually visible and garner as much sympathy as a Prime Minister being hounded for tax avoidance.

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Mr Creosote… svelte….

My legs were getting increasingly painful to the point that is was uncomfortable to even hobble up the stairs, and so I decided to spend some money and go and see a physiotherapist and get the underlying issue of my ankle/knee/ITB sorted, rather than just a one off fix for the symptoms.

It’s always a bit odd meeting a new sports professional. I’ve never been really comfortable with it since the first time I had a massage on a holiday in Dubai. “Just get undressed and get under the towel.” Said the campest man I’ve ever met. “I’ll be back in a minute.” I’d never had a massage before, so I started to panic. Pants on or off? In the end I went for on (which if you’re considering a massage was the right answer!) and swiftly draped the towel over my backside. The massage guy came back in shortly after, gave a heavy sigh and reorientated the towel so it covered my body rather than just my backside.

It could have been worse, though. Before all this ridiculous triathlon business, my wife and I took a career break for a year and went travelling around the world. We met a couple in Thailand who’d had just had a massage. Whilst the wife was looking very chilled and relaxed, the husband was looking very uncomfortable indeed.

Apparently the place they were at used Tiger Balm instead of massage oil. The husband was enjoying the experience and the smell was apparently quite soothing. The soothing effect was lessened when the masseuse caught the end of his gentleman parts. The brave chap managed to last almost a minute as the heat increased from a tingle, through eye watering to, and this is a direct quote, ‘Feeling like it has been sandpapered, covered in a lemon juice and salt reduction and then grilled on Satan’s barbecue’, before he had to make his excuses which consisted of “Hnnngggg… Arggghhhh….” and leave to immerse himself in ice cold water for an hour or so.

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Tiger balm… feel the burn….

Anyway. Physios. I was told not to do any running at all for the first week. After the second week I was told that I could do park run as long as I took it easy. Unfortunately I’m an idiot, and I arrived late, so I did it as fast as I could, followed by a karate grading the next day, and it took a good 3 days before my body recovered.
On my next visit, the physio suggested acupuncture. I was a bit sceptical as generally sticking bits of metal into other people is generally the reserve of pirates and other nefarious characters, but as by this point I was walking like I’d just done the grand national on the back of an elephant, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

An acupuncture professional….

I was wrong. The actual needle going in isn’t sore, neither is the slightly strange tingling sensation as the muscle releases. What is very uncomfortable is when a muscle which was very tight suddenly releases. The best way I could describe it was the time I was having a shower in a hostel in Chile when I inadvertently brushed an exposed mains wire.

In any case, my injuries seem to be on the mend, and I’m now allowed to run again. I’ve decided I’m not going to do any Iron distance races this year, but Jez has decided he wants to do the Hever Half this year, so I may end up doing that. I have, however, decided to do the Frankfurt Ironman next year. It’s another championship event (Europe obviously), so assuming that I manage to complete it, that’ll be 2 out of 6, the others being North America (Texas – USA), South America (Florianopolis – Brasil), Africa (Cape Town – South Africa) and the world championships in Kona.

Each of the rest of these events has their own unique challenges. According to a mate who’s done it, Texas was like competing in a steam room and Brasil has it’s own logistical challenges. As for South Africa, in addition to being very early in the season (necessitating being doing hours of bike training in the UK winter as with Melbourne), the practice swim last year was apparently curtailed due to a shark in the water. That being said, IM South Africa would likely be my best shot at getting to Kona. Kona is a qualification only event, so realistically the only way I’m likely to get there is if I enter IM South Africa and the rest of the competitors in my age groups are eaten.

In any case, I’ve just had a SMS from Jez saying he wants to do Ironman Frankfurt, so it looks like I should start booking some events in preparation.

Yoga, Crashing, Exploding, and a couple of half marathons….

The Hever Castle triathlon marked the end of the UK triathlon season (OK if you’re being pedantic there were probably one or two outliers, but nothing big), and as I’ve had no targets I’ve not been doing a great deal since.

Training.... or not...

Training…. or not…

In an attempt to mix it up a bit, I decided to listen to what my sport massage lady said and do a bit more stretching. I opted for yoga. I’ve never done anything like yoga before, so I had no idea what to expect as I burst through the studio doors at my local David Lloyd to find I was the only chap in a room full of spandex clad women.

I bustled to the back of the room so no one would see the carnage that would ensue as someone who’s pre and post race stretching amounts to putting on his socks attempts to bend his body into shapes that would make a contortionist’s eyes boggle.

“Now then ladies and gentleman…” began the instructor before making us twist our bodies into some very odd positions. The class ended up with me trying to suppress my giggles as she told us to, “Feel the brown energy flowing through my chakras.” before asking us to imagine we were in a little boat heading out to sea, like we were Iggle Piggle from the Night Garden.

Iggle Piggle - Vinyasa yoga master (probably)....

Iggle Piggle – Vinyasa yoga master (probably)….

More seriously, much of yoga it seems, is an extension of the stretching I do at karate, so figuring that this can only help, the next week I decided to try a different club and a longer lesson. This class was lead by the most bendy man on the planet. Fortunately I wasn’t the only bloke this time, but it was much much harder as he took us from plank to half press up to side plank and back again and again. Sweat started dripping off me, and my core muscles which are only usually worked really hard after a particularly heavy Sunday lunch, began to scream at me.

At one point the instructor handed me a foam brick and said, “You might need this.” I’m not sure what for, as I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have hurt him that much even if I’d managed to score a direct hit on his head.

Not much use as an offensive weapon....

Not much use as an offensive weapon….

The downside to doing increasingly ridiculous endurance events is that once you’ve finished one, people ask you what’s next. This has lead to me looking for more new and innovative ways to injure and generally damage myself events next year.

So far I’ve found two possibilities. Andy has decided that he wants to do a ‘real’ Ironman. That is a branded event. Having done IM Melbourne myself this year, I can see the attraction. To that end he’s trying to persuade me to do Ironman Maastricht with him. This has the positives that:

  1. It’s Holland, and therefore reasonably flat
  2. It’s Europe and therefore likely not to be tropically hot with fauna and flora which aren’t going to try and eat/kill/molest you (locals excepted) and…
  3. It’s not too far away, so mincing can be kept to a minimum
  4. It’s not sold out

The second possibility was suggested by Oren, a guy I do karate with. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point he’s so thin he weighs about the same as my road bike, and is pretty close to breaking 20 mins for a 5k, and approaching 1:30 for a half marathon (so quite fit then). He’s suggested that we look at the the London to Brighton race.

I know what you’re thinking. Loads of people do that every year, and hardly anyone breaks, but he’s not talking about the London to Brighton bike ride, he’s talking about the London to Brighton Ultramarathon. Yes really, 100km of running. That’s roughly two and a third marathons back to back.

I’m currently considering whether to do either or both of these events, they’re around 4 weeks apart, so I’m not sure doing both is possible, and/or sensible.

In any case, in order to see how much fitness I’ve lost I decided to enter a half marathon. The race in question was the River Thames Half Marathon. I entered this because, apart from being on at the right time, I could walk to the start line from my house in around 10 minutes. Even accounting for the fact that I’m pathologically incapable to leave the house without at least 30 minutes of hardcore mincing, I should be able to make that start line with a few minutes to spare.

It was a chilly start to the morning, so I opted for a gilet (a running jacket with no arms), compression shorts and a running hat. I arranged to meet Oren (from Karate) as we’d both registered at the last minute and after a bit of chatting we dumped our bags and headed to the start line, optimistically (for me anyway) picking the 1:30-2:00 timing lane.

Gilet - not a razor......

Gilet – not a razor……

It’s been ages since I attempted a half marathon. I usually pace races at either as hard as possible (anything up to 10k running and sprint triathlon) or zone 2 max for a marathon or Ironman. I decided to just go on feel and see how it panned out.

As it turns out, I went off way too fast, somewhere around my 10k pace, clocking the first 7k in under 5 mins/km. My pace then slowly decreased until I exploded at around 14k, and had to slow right down. My heart rate was surging out of the top of Z4, and I was overheating. I stuffed my hat in my back pocket to try and cool off a bit. Someone passed me and helpfully pointed out that I’d dropped it a few hundred meters back, so I ran back and picked it up, stuffed it inside my top and kept running.

Every so often I would have to stop and walk to let my heart rate drop a little which explains why my heart rate did this:

Z4 - it's where the pain is at...

Z4 – it’s where the pain is at…

…and I looked like I was going to have a coronary. If you really want to see that picture it’s here.

After what seemed like an eternity I spotted the finish line and decided to try for a sprint finish, managing to overtake another running with centimetres to spare, and only just holding my breakfast down.  I was knackered. I checked my Garmin which told me I’d finished in a time of 1:54:56, under two hours, but not by much, and way slower than I had done earlier in the year. I met up with Oren had a quick chat and hobbled home, stuffing my face with the kitkat that the organisers had put in the goodie bag, and marvelling at whatever genius had thought to combine the medal with a bottle opener.

A medal and a bottle opener.... Genius....

A medal AND a bottle opener…. Genius….

In the hope that I’d just overcooked it a bit, I decided to give the half marathon. The following Sunday was the Luton marathon which I’d done last year. It’s local to my in laws which meant a lift to the start line and someone to help babysitting the kids. Following a  particularly painful karate session on the Monday where the Sensei, on seeing Oren and I hobble in announced, “Today we’ll be doing lots of kicking.”, and a day off on Tuesday, I signed up.

I usually do some sort of training on Wednesday night, and following the pain and suffering from the yoga the week before, I decided to meet a mate, Vic, for a pootle about on our mountain bikes around Bushy park, checking out the deer who would honk occasionally to announce their presence in the darkness.

Everything went fine, and as Vic headed off home, I decided that I’d take a circuitous route back home via the thames path I’d run down on Sunday. I decided to cycle as fast as I could to get the heart pumping, and, stopping only briefly to let a massive stag with very pointy antlers cross in front of me, I headed out of Kingston gate, cycled up the road to Kingston bridge and started giving it the beans down the bike path.

The path wasn’t lit, but I have a very powerful front headlight for my bike. It was by the light of this powerful headlight that I noticed the tarmac suddenly change orientation and get closer and closer to my face as my brain tried to process the fact that I was now sliding down the tow path using various body parts to decelerate rapidly. I managed to keep my head off the ground for most of the slide only slamming my helmet into the floor once, resulting in a bright white flash.

As soon as I stopped skidding uncontrollably across the tarmac, I jumped up to attempt to style it out, staggered around, fell over again, and then started to check myself over for broken bones and other assorting injuries. Fortunately I was wearing a soft shell jacket and a pair of bibshorts which seemed to have taken the brunt of the friction. I have no idea what caused the bike to go down. I don’t remember hitting anything, the front forks seem OK, there are no broken spokes which could have caused the wheels to deform.

I clambered back onto my bike and continued along the path. My shoulders were sore where I’d been trying to keep my head from hitting the floor, I must have slid on my right side, because my right elbow was sore, and my right thigh was throbbing like a throbby thing. My left shin must have hit a pedal with considerable force too as it felt like it was bruising up nicely.

Eventually I got home, staggered in, and in a rare show of sympathy, my wife helped me out of my bibshorts and handed my a bottle of dettol to pour into the bath. Normal service was swiftly resumed when she said, “Where are the life insurance documents? For next time…..”

A bit sore.....

A bit sore…..

The next morning my leg had bruised up a bit.

Quite a bit more sore.....

Quite a bit more sore…..

There were mixed reactions the following evening where my eight year old son winced when he saw it, and my five year old daughter who was dressed up as a devil to go to her school disco, poked it with her trident. My two year old, completely oblivious, ran head first at it and nutted it until I collapsed in a heap weeping. 

As I’m an idiot, I decided to do the Luton half marathon anyway. Rather than go by feel this time, I decided to try for 5:15/km in the first half and attempt a negative split (i.e. do the 2nd half faster than the first half).

I’ve mentioned before I did the Luton half marathon last year. Unfortunately last year the people setting the course up made a mistake and the course was set up short, so it was unlikely that I was going to get close to my time.

Race day started with a minimum of mincing, and the nicest portaloos I’ve ever seen at a race (flushing, real toilet paper and didn’t smell – they even had hot water to wash your hands!). The course started with a 400m lap around an athletics track followed by going down a big hill. I gave up on trying to keep my speed at 5:15/km and just freewheeled my legs down to the bottom before we entered the scenic grounds of Luton Hoo.

Luton Hoo - impressive

Luton Hoo – still impressive

I have previously done an event at Luton Hoo, the Jensen Button Triathlon, which has since moved to Derby, and the grounds are really nice. I didn’t, however, remember quite how lumpy the grounds were, and keeping my pacing was proving pretty problematic, but I did my best.

Eventually after around 13km we emerged into Luton again and started an out and back loop to finally finish in St George’s Square. It wasn’t exactly the most scenic end to a race I’ve ever done, but I crossed the line and looked at my watch, which read “1:49:52”. Five minutes quicker than the race I’d done the week before.

'Love' is a bit of a strong word......

‘Love’ is a bit of a strong word……

Crucially it was also only three seconds slower than last year. A race that was 400 metres shorter, and only just over a minute slower than my personal best which was not only flatter, but I did it when I was better trained, and without a leg that looks like it’s been badly stuffed with beetroot.

Anyway, enough of this drivel, I’m off to the walk in centre to get checked out, so until next time…..

FerrousTom over and out….

Update: I’ve just been to the walk in centre. I explained that I’d fallen off my bike and after the nurse poked around a bit, I mentioned that I did a marathon on Sunday. “You’re an idiot.” she said.

I’ve been told I’m not allowed to do any training for at least a week. I don’t think I can describe the look she gave me when I suggested I could rest up after doing Karate this evening…. Oh well….

Hever Castle Olympic 2015 and that wet suit…..

Following on from racing at Thames Turbo race 4, Jez started banging on about doing another triathlon before the end of the year. I mentioned to him that I was going to do the Hever Castle (half iron) Gauntlet and he should man up and do that with me.

After much whining, Jez persuaded me to downgrade from the (half iron distance) Gauntlet race to the Olympic distance race. To be honest I didn’t need too much persuading. Since I started the season early on at Melbourne, I didn’t really get an off season, and training has started to feel more of a chore recently. So much so that the long bike rides just haven’t really been happening. The failure at Vachery had given my confidence a bit of a knock too. The choice came down to 3 hours of fun, or 7 hours of pain. A bit of nagging with Jez pushed me over the edge, and I downgraded.

On the day before the race, Jez started panicking as per usual. The handy hints started at around 8am on Saturday when I asked if he was going to wear a jacket for the bike as it was a bit nippy.

“For the bike? No. Man up you mincer! (I’ll take one just in case though). Listen have you got a spare box I can put my stuff in? I am WOEFULLY unprepared for this triathlon!”

Jez then paniced for a bit that he couldn’t find his wetsuit. Would the photo I’ve been waiting literally years to get not happen yet again?

Jez, it should be explained, bought a wetsuit unseen, without trying it on before the first open water triathlon he’d ever done. In fact the first time he tried it on was in transition on the the first ever Hever Castle triathlon that Jez, Andy and I did together. It would have fit perfectly if he was about a foot taller.

Fortunately Jez found his wetsuit, and sent this picture of it on his manly duvet cover.

The beast - Jez's wetsuit

The beast – Jez’s wetsuit

“Are there any other essentials I need to take? My mind’s gone blank. Should I bother cleaning my bike? Probably not…..”

I thought back to the Thames Turbo race we’d done a few weeks ago. Whilst we were getting stuff ready the day before, Jez mentioned that his rear brake wasn’t working very well. Andy and I looked at it. What was left of the brake pad may as well have not been there. Andy (who is way more mechanically competent than me) managed to get it close enough to provide at least partial braking.

“It is quite a hilly bike course. Did you get your brakes fixed?”, I asked.

“Brakes are for pansies.” came back the response.

A little while later my phone bleeped again and it seemed Jez was ready.

“I’m there…. All packed I think. Race belt – check. Goggles – check. Thinning self confidence (border line idiotic arrogance) – check.”

“Ivan Lendl. Czech.” I replied.

Jez ignored my razor sharp quip.

“It looks like it’s going to be quite warm tomorrow morning. Excellent. Except in the water of course. Are you going to have some wine tonight? It’s not even 6pm and I’ve just had one.”

“I’m just cracking open a beer.” I replied.

Raddler - not red wine....

Raddler – not red wine….

“Have some wine. Have some wine. Have some wine.”

I started gathering my stuff together.

Katie, my wife, appeared with a glass of red wine. “Jez says you have to have this.” she said.

I finished gathering my stuff and sat down. As I took the first sip (gulp) of wine there was a flash and a click from beside me. Katie had taken a picture and sent it to Jez as evidence. Except she hadn’t. Unfortunately Katie has just started work following maternity leave, and her new boss is a bloke called Jaz, (which is naturally next to Jez in her phone contacts list).

In her surreptitious attempt at comedy, Katie had inadvertently sent a picture of me drinking wine to her new boss with no context at all. She sent a panicky follow up message about how that picture was not meant for him, whilst Jez suggested that maybe her boss thought we were into swinging or something.

swinger

Me…. not a swinger….

There was a 30 minute toe curling period of ‘Oh my god what have I done?’ during which I obviously ripped the piss mercilessly, before he replied, “It’s OK, have a good evening.”

After a while I went to bed, and after about 5 hours sleep, got up again. I’d packed all my stuff by the door so as to be able to get out with an absolute minimum of mincing, and so, after only an hour, I was ready to go.

The skies were clear and the morning was pretty awesome. As long as the weather stayed like this it would be a good race.

Sunrise on the way to Hever - see if you can spot the lonely horse

Sunrise on the way to Hever – see if you can spot the lonely horse

I got to within about 2 miles of the carpark and everything ground to a halt. Jez started sending me messages. His enthusiasm had temporarily waned.


“Why the f*ck am I doing this?”

“It’s f*cking hill round here….”

“I thought I’d seen this field for the last f*cking time three years ago!!!”

“Just so you know, we’re never getting out of this field.”

“My 1.4l Corsa is never going to get out of this field.”

“Hurry up I’m getting cold.”

As I finally turned into the car park I saw what Jez had been banging on about. The rain earlier in the week had caused the fields which were acting as car parks into a bog. The traffic jam had been caused by the marshals only letting a single car at a time in. Apparently so many people had got stuck the day before that they needed to employ tractors to pull people out.

Mud.... and Jez...

Mud…. and Jez…

I slid around the car park, and parked up, impressed at the size of the marshal’s cojones when he didn’t move as a 2 tonne people carrier slid slowly towards him.

I got out, grabbed my stuff and met up with a gibbering Jez. We wandered down to registration and because that’s what you do, we registered. “Don’t worry.” we were told, “All of the waves are starting late because of the car parking issues.”

We minced down through transition and racked our bikes. It was at this point that Jez had his first kit problem. His goggles fell apart. Once I had stopped laughing, I offered to lend him some money to go and buy some new ones from one of the stalls which I figured must be selling emergency kit. After a bit of faffing around he announced that it was OK, because he’d fixed them.

Panic over we donned our wetsuits and wandered down towards the start line. I decided to use the facilities so to speak. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point to anyone who doesn’t already know that it’s pretty much impossible to use the toilet with your legs encased in neoprene. Furthermore, it’s not actually possible to roll your wetsuit down past your knees inside a portaloo.

I struggled on valiantly, and then waited for Jez to finish reading war and peace or whatever he was doing in the portaloo. He exploded out of the door announcing to everyone within earshot, “That right there, that’s the consistency of fear.”

Loads lightened, as it were, we meandered down towards the start line. As we got close, we heard over the tannoy. “Any remaining wave 5 competitors to the start immediately.” Jez and I immediately began running towards the start line. After a hundred meters or so, I realised that I was on the spectator’s side of the barriers, so turned around and ran back and arrived just as they were finishing the swim briefing.

I figured that I was never going to be leading the race so I just soaked up the atmosphere and before too long we were standing on the pontoon.

“Looks cold.” Jez said.

“Need a hand in?” I offered. He backed away from the edge.

“You’re brave.” I said to guy standing next to me. “Wearing a shortie wetsuit in that.”

“Yeah, it’s my first triathlon.” He said, “I haven’t seen anyone else wearing a shortie.”

We jumped in, and an icy cold blast of water sloshed into my wet suit. Apparently the water temperature had been measured at 14 degrees. Maybe in the shallow part of the moat. We floated around like hippos for a bit. The guy in the shortie was no wear to be seen. He’d probably frozen and sunk. There was a  “3……. 2…….. 1…….” and a horn blared. We were off.

Within a couple of seconds I realised my school boy error. When you’re swimming in open water, it’s always advisable to put your face in the water for a little while. It helps you acclimatise, stops you panicking and numbs some of the inevitable icy fingers of death which you feel. I hadn’t done this and had to alternate between breaststroke and crawl until I got used to the cold. After a while I looked up. I was still on course and surprisingly (as I’m rubbish at swimming) wasn’t last. We continued on past a few luminous orange buoys and then turned into a river. Directionally speaking, I don’t mean in some transcendental, hallucinogenic zen way.

The river had been dredged, so the channel through it was pretty narrow and swimming became more difficult as everyone was squashed together. I eased off a bit and went with the flow. Eventually I exited the river, began the stagger towards transition. They had carpeted the path, but there were definitely stones underneath the carpet. Fortunately I had no feeling in my face, hands or feet, so the stones didn’t bother me too much.

Anyway, back in transition, I ran around until I found my bike. Unfortunately the organisers hadn’t labelled both ends of the racks with wave numbers, and my slightly disorientated brain got confused. Jez appeared. Apparently his goggles had lasted nearly 10 meters before falling to bits.

I pried off my wetsuit, put on my biking jacket, socks and shoes, helmet and grabbed my bike. I started running out of transition and became acutely aware of someone right behind me. I turned and my bike fell over. I was about to apologise for blocking another competitor who wasn’t as much of a klutz as I am, when I realised it was a TV cameraman, going for a mole’s eye view a competitor leaving transition, so yeah, look out for that one!

I turned around again, picked up my bike and ran off. I crossed the bike mount like, went a little further and hopped on my bike. Unfortunately I’d made another school boy error and not left the bike in an easy gear. Undeterred I flicked the gears to a more appropriate one to start with and put some power down on to the pedals. My chain fell off the front cog, wrapped itself around the crank and because I was clipped into my pedals and completely off balance, I very slowly squeltched through some mud at the side of the road before crashing into a barrier.

I unclipped, put the chain back on the big ring, and with the race director’s words, “Be careful going out on to the route and coming back as there are 4 sleeping policemen, and 2 are big enough to take a grown man off a horse…..” ringing through my mind  set off again.

The bike route was fairly uneventful. There were a couple of hills, but I seemed to steam up them pretty easily. I had no real idea how to pace an Olympic distance race as I haven’t done one for ages, either focussing on Ironman where you need to go slow and steady, or sprints where you just go nuts out the whole way (metaphorically speaking. If you do that and get arrested, don’t come whining to me).

I made a conscious decision not to push too hard on the bike course, as I didn’t want to run out of energy on the run, and before very long I was heading back into transition. I dumped my bike jacket, bike, and helmet and put on my run shoes. I hadn’t been sure whether to wear normal racing shoes or trail shoes. Given the state of the car park I figured better safe than sorry and opted for the trail shoes, after all they’d not gotten an outing at Xterra.

The beginning of the Hever Castle run is up an incline called ‘Shite Lane’. It’s actually called that, it’s not just what everyone thinks as they crawl slowly up it. Once I got to the top of that I was pretty glad I’d gone with the trail shoes. Pretty much the whole run was off road, and the deep lugs on the trail shoes really bit into the muddy parts, so I didn’t slide around at all.

Something had happened to my Garmin during the swim and it had shut off after 16 minutes, so I had no idea how fast I’d been going, or what my overall time was likely to be. My goal on races is always to complete, but I usually have a stretch goal too. Ideally I wanted to beat Andy’s time from last time we did the race (3:04:36), but secretly I also wanted to go sub 3 hours.

I didn’t feel great on the first lap of the run. I guess that could be due to not having the same I normally eat before racing (I’d already had spaghetti bolognese for 3 out of the 4 meals in the couple of days before the race). It could have been due to eating too many gels, the lovely lake water which I’d swallowed, or, and this is most likely, that I’m just a pansy. In any case I plodded on as fast as I could, and before long I was starting the second lap of the race.

I’d not seen Jez since getting out of the water, and I knew he would be a bit slower on the bike, and would likely be running a bit slower than me, so I decided to try and see if I could lap him on the run. I didn’t see him at all, but kept the pressure on myself to try and catch him up. Suddenly the finish line appeared and I decided to go for a sprint finish. Unfortunately this has resulted in finish line pictures looking like I’m a constipated gerbil.

I scoffed some fruit and then went to the timing tent to see where I’d come. I’d done it. Sub 3 hours! 2:57:14 to be exact. Approximately 21 minutes faster than last time. I found out Jez’s number and punched it in. He had only just started the run.

In the end Jez crossed the line in 3:58:29. When I found him in transition, he told me that he’d got a puncture. “Could have been really bad actually.”, he said, “My brakes weren’t working right either. Anyway I changed my inner tube and this pump ripped the valve off it.”

It turns out that Jez hadn’t bothered changing his extremely cheap bike pump. The bike pump that knackered my inner tube when I got a flat on the way up to Luton with him months ago.  

“Anyway,” said Jez, “I walked back to the marshal and asked them to call the failure bus, but just before it arrived someone pulled up in a Range Rover and handed the marshal something saying another competitor had dropped it. Turns out it was a replacement tube, CO2 canister and inflator!”

Jez started working out how fast he’d have been without the stop, and I pointed out that his run might have been a bit slower given that he’d had a 45 minute rest during the bike leg. I have to hand it to him though he finished.

We had a cheeky pint, packed up our stuff and managed to make it out of the carpark without recourse to one of the many tractors which were prowling around like predatory lions, towing unsuspecting BMWs out of the fields.

So that’s it then. The end of the season. I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing next. Jez has already said (during a flood of endorphins) that he wants to do all of the Castle series next year, but Andy is talking about wanting to do a ‘real’ Ironman, as I’m currently the only one with that achievement.

There is one thing you can be sure of though, I will continue to post this drivel here as no one at home is really interested…..

So until the next time….

FerrousTom over and out…..

Oh almost forgot. Here’s a picture of Jez in his well fitting wetsuit.

Jez in a very well fitting wetsuit.....

Jez in a very well fitting wetsuit….. rocking the roll up look.

...except for the turn ups....

…except for the turn ups….

An interesting take on the difference between ultra running and Ironman…..

Warning, this link contains the occasional rude word:

In which I have a stab at Xterra UK…..

….or, more appropriately, “Excuses excuses excuses.”

It’s been a while since I blogged, but I’ve been pestered by quite literally ones of people to post something (thanks Mike). Apparently I’m far funnier here than I am in real life (thanks Mike), so sit back and try not to fall asleep as I dribble aimlessly into cyberspace once more…….

I’ve never done an off road triathlon before (unless you count the mechanical and subsequent crash I had at the Chantilly triathlon). In fact I’ve never really done much off road cycling before, but I fancied a go, so I signed up for the Xterra UK off road triathlon.

XTERRA_X_Flag_Logo

In order to get more used to the mountain bike which had been glaring at me from the back of my shed since I bought it, I hit the trails at Swinley forest a couple of times, the trails around Richmond and Bushy parks and used it to cycle to work a few times.

Xterra England is based at the Vachery Estate near Guilford. It’s a private estate, so there was no chance of having a go on the course in the run up to the event, but I’d checked the course profile, and the organisers said it was perhaps on a par with a mountain bike blue/green run. Although I’m not fantastically fast, I reckoned I could get around the course inside the cut off (4 hours to do the swim and 2 x 15 kilometer laps of the bike course) before heading out on the run.

Unlike most triathlons which take start so early even that most people haven’t even gone to bed yet, the Xterra race started at the crack of noon, and so it was that I loaded up my bike on top of my car and headed out at the relatively sane time of 8am pausing only briefly to consider buying a rear mounted bike carrier and swear as the bike fell off the top of the car onto my head.

In the week or so preceding the race the weather was awful, periodically bucketing it down, as only a UK summer can. It had clearly been raining heavily overnight at Vachery. I knew this as I entered car park (well I say car park, I mean grassy field) and, despite driving a people carrier weight nearly 2 tonnes,  immediately began to slide sideways.

Car parks...... muddy......

Car parks…… muddy……

I wandered down to transition safe in the knowledge that I’d bought some trail shoes, so I wouldn’t be slipping anywhere.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much fettling going on in a car park as I saw at Xterra. One bloke had a cigarette lighter powered pressure washer and was washing (and polishing) his bike. Others were changing tyres, countless people were fiddling with gears, multitools and spanners and two French blokes were having a nap in their pickup truck.

I registered and began my pre-race mincing. I watched the sprint racers go off, and the first few come into transition and then went to sit down for a bit. As soon as the last sprint racer was out of transition, it was opened again to let the rest of us rack. There were a lot of pro racers. It turns out that this year Xterra England was doubling up as the European championships.

The queue for transition....

The queue for transition….

As I wandered in to transition, a hazy sun came out and the day began to heat up a little, and I decided to put some tinted lenses in my cycling glasses. I noted the excessive amount of Ironman finisher’s gear people were wearing. This was clearly a race for seasoned triathletes (and me). I stuck up a conversation a guy racking next to me, and we both commented on the fact that it was taking a long time for the first guys to get back from their 15k loop.

Eventually it was nearly time to start, so we all started heading toward the swim start. As it was still pretty warm I only pulled my wetsuit up around my midriff, and just as we were about to get in the water, I realised that my goggles, which had been stuffed inside the arm had disappeared. After a panicked 3 minute run around in circles, I discovered some kind soul had found them on the floor and was walking around with them. I pulled up my wetsuit and headed towards the water.

There was a hoot and the pros went off. Shortly after that the first wave of age groupers (including me) entered the water. I swam out to the start buoy. Suddenly there was a quiet hoot from the crowd. I looked to my left and right. Some people had started swimming.

“Was that the start?” I asked a guy floating next to me.

“No. I don’t think so.” came the reply.

I looked at the safety boat. A marshall was just shaking his head. More people were setting off.

“Well they ain’t gonna get everyone back.” said another guy and began swimming.

I set off and managed a whole 10 metres before stopping to empty the water out of my googles which had begun to leak badly. This was not going well. I tightened my goggles to eyeball popping tension and started swimming again, realising with a sinking heart that I was now last.

As I passed the far point of the swim I was passed by the fastest swimmers of the next wave, but I’d managed to gain some time on some of the others in my wave. As I looked up to sight, I realised that the guy next to me was also wearing a garish orange hat, signaling that he was also in my wave. We began the tried and trusted method of drafting off each other and everyone else, and there was some punchery as we vied for 2nd to last spot.

I got to the swim exit, staggered out and headed for transition. After wrestling with my wetsuit for a few minutes, which clung to me like a deranged octopus, I managed to get my socks and bike shoes on, clipped up my helmet, and exited transition. I passed the mount line and started pedaling.

At this point it all started going very wrong. The bike course turned off into a little wood land path and I realised within a very short period of time that the tinted lenses in my sunglasses had been a really. The path was shaded, so with the sunglasses on I couldn’t really see very much. I took them off and hooked them over my number belt. I skittered on.

Over the course of the next kilometer I fell off around 5 or 6 times. Even with the nobbly tyres I had on my mountain bike, the mud was so thick that it caked around the wheels, effectively creating slicks for me to race on. There was virtually no grip, and whenever I turned the back end of my bike would slide out.

My bike.... after it had dried out a bit.....

My bike…. after it had dried out a bit…..

Eventually I made it onto some grass, and was able to get a little bit of speed up. This was mercilessly cut short though and back through the woodland we went. I suspect that big chunks of the course would have been passable if it hadn’t rained so much over the preceding week, but the rain had turned what was once presumably hard packed trails into bogs.

What made matters worse was that the rules stated that if you were going to be passed by a faster rider you needed to move out of their way. Given that this was a 2 lap course, and I had been one of the last out of the water, this happened quite frequently.

Eventually my pedals and cleats became so clogged with mud that it wasn’t even possible to clip in. I stopped found a stick and cleaned them out. Two or three stops later they were fully clogged again. I was really not enjoying myself.

Shoes.... clogged....

Shoes…. clogged….

Pedals.... not much better....

Pedals…. not much better….

Every time I stopped unexpectedly, the frame would crash into my left knee and my right ankle would crack on the right crank arm of my mountain bike. Every so often I would get to a section of grass, or a part of the course that wasn’t thick mud and gain a bit of confidence which would be knocked out of me swiftly as I hit a very muddy section again and would completely lose the ability to steer and stay upright.

I turned a corner and someone was lying on the floor having hit what looked like a hose and slid off their bike. Someone was already helping her, so I grinded my teeth and kept going. After a few hundred metres she came hurtling past me. “This is awful, I’ve got no grip! I reckon I’m going to give up!” I shouted, “Got to finish a lap first though!” came back the answer.

I finished up my first lap, and pushed my bike into transition and gave up. Garmin tells me that it took me 2:08 to do the first lap. To put that in perspective, the last half marathon (which is 6 kilometers more) I did took me 1:48 on foot.

I would like to think that I’d have been able to complete the course if it hadn’t rained, but there were some very technical sections, and I’m not 100% sure I could have done. I think I’ll stick to more basic mountain biking and road triathlons in the future.

…. but that’s not the end of this post because of Jez…..

Jez..... pensive.....

Jez….. pensive…..

A couple of weeks prior to Xterra, Jez decided that he was going to come out of retirement and do the final Thames Turbo race of the season, and because I’m an idiot I said I’d do it with him… the day after Xterra.

Unlike Xterra, the Thames Turbo race starts early. Very early. It’s pool based which means that people go off at 10-15 second intervals, and the first person is in the water at around 6:30. Given the early start, and the fact he lives close to Brighton, Jez was staying overnight at my place.

I got back home from Xterra feeling pretty fed up and got a call from Jez to say that he and Andy and their long suffering other halfs were in the pub down the road. I told him to head over so we could eat the Sunday roast my wife had lovingly prepared.

Everyone arrived and after a bit of ribbing about getting a DNF, Jez decided it would be a great idea to start drinking red wine. I told him I was sticking to beer, which was fine until he looked at the bottle and discovered that it was Foster’s Radler 0%, at which point he virtually forced me at gunpoint to drink red wine.

Raddler... 0.00% - not even trace.....

Raddler… 0.0% – not even trace…..

Jez’s plan, I discovered later, was the get us both plastered and then beat me by being better at having a hangover than I was. Sneaky.

We compared start numbers, Jez was off in position number 17 and I was off in position 323. I asked Jez why he was in the elite wave who were going off first. Jez started to panic. A lot.

At around 10:30pm, Jez had been conspicuously absent for half an hour (it turns out he’d sloped off to bed), so I went to bed, leaving Andy and the girls to demolish the remaining wine between them.

My alarm went off at 5am and I wondered, not for the first time, why I put myself through this. To cut down on the possibility of something going wrong we’d decided to cycle there. Andy was a bit dubious. As he pointed out, when we’ve done the race before we’re nearly always the last people rushing into transition, and that’s when we drive.

Predictably there was  an almost biblical amount of mincing before Jez and I were ready to head out. We hopped on our bikes and headed toward the pool and it started to rain. Unfortunately my sun glasses had fallen off my race belt at some point on the Xterra course, so I was getting a fair amount of spray in the face as we decided the agreement we had to take it easy was basically being a wimp, and stupidly raced each other towards Hampton pool.

Hampton transition....

Thames Turbo transition – slightly less intimidating than Xterra….

We arrived in the nick of time, racked all our stuff and listened to the race briefing. “We’ve just been informed of some pop up roadworks. In order to make the racing fair, everyone must dismount at the roadworks, walk through, and then remount on the other side. In both directions. No excuses. No exceptions. If you do not do this you will be disqualified.”

Contrary to the ribbing that we’d given him, Jez wasn’t in the elite wave. He was, however, number 17. Given that I was 323, that gave me (and Andy who turned up to spectate) ample time to shout words of encouragement (such as “GO ON JEZ” and “Hurry up you loser!”) at both ends of the pool. Soon Jez was out of the pool and I managed to get this fantastic photo of him.

Jez.... part fish....

Jez…. part fish…. or not….. Yeah I know I really should be a professional photographer…..

Fortunately I managed to get a better one as he left transition.

Jez.... the athlete.....

Jez…. the athlete…..

As the rain got heavier, I asked Andy if he had any sunglasses in his car I could borrow. “I’ve got these.” he said, pulling a battered pair of ray bans which looked like they’d provide as much eye cover as a gnat’s g-string from his pocket. “They’re a bit loose, and they might fall off, but you can borrow them if you like.”  It began to clear up a bit, so I politely declined.

After an age, it was my time to get in the water. “At least it’s stopped raining.” said Andy with a cheery smile. It started to rain again. Hard.

The swim went by quickly. I even managed to overtake a few people, and before long I was dragging myself out of the water and into transition. I hopped on my bike and started hammering down the road, slowly picking off cyclist after cyclist. I tried to get down on the new aerobars I’d bought after crashing my bike previously, but the position didn’t feel right. I guess that whole don’t try anything new on race day advice should be heeded after all.

I managed to get back to transition without being overtaken by any of the elites, (who it turns out actually start after us normal mortals), to the dulcet tones of Jez shouting, “Come on mate! I’ve been finished for hours.”

I dumped my bike, and put on my running shoes which were so waterlogged by this point that they felt like they had been forged of steel by dwarves in the mines of Moria, and squeltched out on the run.

A short time later I performed a squeltchy  sprint finish across the line (whilst enduring a constant torrent of abuse from Jez for taking so long), knocking 30 seconds off my previous run time. My swim time was within 2 seconds of the last race, and although I dropped a couple of minutes on the bike, I suspect that had the roadworks not been there I would have had a PB even given the awful conditions.

Anyway, this post is already far too long, so until next time…. 
FerrousTom over and out.

Post Ironman blues, a crash and some races…..

So post Ironman blues are a thing apparently. Once you’ve done your big event, and you’ve not got anything else to train for, it’s really easy to lapse into the doldrums and stop training, whilst simultaneously trying to eat your own body weight in junk food every day and leave you feeling a bit like……

Following on from Ironman Melbourne, I did very little training in April or May, but in June I started a new job. As fortune would have it, depending on the route I take, its between 16 and 20km each way, and there are showers in the office, so it’s perfectly achievable to cycle every day (except for Mondays when I take the kids to Karate).

I’ve even managed a couple of lunchtime runs, and longer ones at the weekend, and a top 20 finish at the Doncaster parkrun, whilst visiting my folks.

I say a top 20 finish, because it sounds better than I came 20th (out of a field of under 500, and when I say under 500, I mean 87).

Swimming has pretty much fallen by the wayside, which I really need to sort out because after being asked, “So what’s your next race then?” several hundred times, I’ve finally entered some races.

The first race is the Xterra UK championships. I’ve never done an Xterra race before, which basically consists of a shortish (1.5k) swim, 30k mountain bike course (which I’ve never done before) and a 10k trail run (again not something I’m fabulously au fait with). What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll tell you what could go wrong. In an effort to not be last I’ve popped down to Swinley Forest where there are some proper mountain bike trails a couple of times. After an initial fear of everything I had a word with myself and decided to try and not be overtaken on every lap by a 6 year old on a bmx.

Things started going well, and I even managed to take a couple of banked corners really fast, then I started getting a little over confident. It’s amazing how when you stop being petrified you can nearly stack your bike on every single obstacle whilst simultaneously narrowly avoid launching yourself over the top every a banked corner into a tree.

How to take a banked corner… I’m usually found somewhere over the top heading at break neck speed towards a tree… (nicked from BikeRadar).

The second race I’ve entered is the Hever Castle Half. This was a bit of a nemesis the year before last, and I only really entered it to shut up Jez and Andy who kept asking me when I was going to do a half ironman, following a disastrous mechanical at Chantilly which saw me DNF and both of the finish. Jez came last and the organisers were clearing up the course when he crossed the line but even so, he kept giving me gyp about it. Fortunately according to the official results I beat both Andy and Jez, so I’m having that as a win.

Chantilly results.... proof I won.....

Chantilly results…. proof I won…..

Anyway in an effort to up the training somewhat, I decided to cycle up to the in-laws last weekend whilst my wife took the kids and the land anchor in the car. I plotted a course, and without the intervention of Jez and his magical mystery tour skills from last time, it promised to be a lovely ride. It was a balmy 30 degrees when I set off, traffic was light and all was well with the world. Until I reached Chobham.

“*Beep* *Beep* *BEEP*”, went my Mio. Wrong turn. Oh well, I’ll turn around in the driveway of this farm. So I need to….

The front end of my bike started to judder and then suddenly the ground was rushing up at me. It seems that for no apparent reason someone had put a raised curb in the entrance to the farm. I’d probably not have noticed it in a car. To be fair I didn’t notice it on my bike before I was launched off it.

Ouch.... the irony of wearing Gore bike gear is not lost....

Ouch…. the irony of wearing Gore bike gear is not lost….

minced2

I appear to be auditioning for the next series of walking dead…..

I sat on the floor, under my bike a little dazed for a few of minutes as the first couple of cars cruised past, seemingly blissfully unaware of my plight. The third car stopped, the driver hopped out, helped me out of the road and checked I was OK.

“Thanks for stopping.” I said, and he explained to me that he’d just got clip in pedals and done the comedy slow motion collapse that all cyclists have when they get them for the first time and forget about them at a junction. For the uninitiated, it goes something like…..

“Ahhh. Red light, time to pull up and have a quick drink. Oh wait. My feet are clipped in. I just need to… Oh no, that’s the wrong foot. Argh! I can’t get any leverage to get the other foot out and I’m going to…. Wait.. I think I’ve got it… No… That’s not it….. This is going to hurt….. *crunch*”

The most embarrassing time this happened to me was at the bottom of a particularly steep hill near the river in Richmond. In order to get some power down, I pushed really hard on the pedals, completely forgetting about Newton’s 3rd law. As I pushed hard down on the pedals, I pulled back on the handlebars for leverage, and slowly back flipped down the hill, completely unable to unclip.

Richmond riverside, the perfect place for a backflip on your bike…..

Anyway, in the end I called my wife (who fortunately hadn’t left yet) to come and pick me up.

112k planned, 23k cycled. Bugger!

To top it off, my cuts have meant I’ve not been able to cycle, run or do Karate since. Swimming in open water is a DEFINITE no-no unless I want Weil’s disease, and I can’t see the local pool being too impressed if I hop in and the water all turns pink around me, so that’s out too.

So that’s it then. 7 weeks until my next event, and I’m not currently able to train. On the plus side I’m using this time to carbo-load to ensure that I’ll definitely not run out of energy. Carbs and salt and plenty of liquids (to avoid dehydration) and sugar. Well I say that. Chips and beer basically (and when I say basically, I mean actually).

Until next time…..
FerrousTom over and out.

Update…. I decided to have a go at park run on Saturday and twisted my ankle…. DOH!