Outlaw Race report.

Firstly I want to say sorry for how negative my latest blogs have been. I am a positive person, and even though I have had my fair share of things going wrong this year I still see Triathlon in a very positive light, and reading Dean Edwards blog (3rd place at the Outlaw) I realise more than ever how many people work hard and deserve success, and regardless of what happens in my race what happens in other people’s is just as important.

I was well rested after LCW. I had kept my swimming frequency up and in the final week before the race I did long, specific Bike and Swim race pace efforts with some shorter ones on the bike. My mindset going in was very balanced and I had spent the 2 weeks before meditating regularly and spending each day controlling my emotions, and balancing them out with the ebbs and flows of the real world. The best training ground for mental control. My default mindset this year has been emotional. Fighting and pushing to create a good headspace whilst constantly battling negative, tired thoughts. Getting the training in and recovering from it this year, as any new father will know has been very hard. And although it’s toughened me up it had also crates this default fight setting, even when it wasn’t entirely necessary. I knew physically I was in good enough shape (not my best shape) but good enough to put together a strong balanced race. Since my Son was born I have been averaging about 15hrs a week of training, last year I was squeezing out closer to 20 with volume and intensity. But I have tried to make gains in other areas and although I knew my run speed and bike Strength/Endurance had been neglected slightly, I knew I had trained specifically to Swim well, Bike conservatively and then do what I had to on the run, but more importantly I knew my mind was in a place to push my body more than it could take, and that’s when I’ve had my best results.

The race.
The Swim went entirely to plan and exactly as I had visualised. I went off just over IM pace and settled on to some feet that felt like a good pace. When those feet felt to slow I moved forward to find some quicker feet, and I did this 3 more times until I found a chap who I couldn’t swim past. I settled on to his feet and was aware he was drifting a bit, but his pace was good so I stayed there making sure I maintained a good stroke and didn’t waste any energy by losing focus. If Im sounding like this was all very calculated, that’s because it was. I have trained my swim this year in a way that enables me to surge with control to find good feet, swim efficiently whilst sighting or swim a relaxed (in calm conditions) 3.8k TT. I know what I can do and what I can’t and in that sense I feel like a more rounded Swimmer and triathlete. I came out in a very relaxed 57 flat.

T1 was quick and I got on the bike and immediately settled in to a pace I could hold to the end. No initial surge and no dramatic thoughts. This is my pace and this is what I will hold! Deep down I knew that I was lacking strength endurance for the end of the ride so I had to pace the Bike well. Karl Alexander and another rider came past after 5 mins which surprised me a bit, as I would have assumed he would have swum quicker than me. I had no watch so although I felt I had a good swim I wasn’t completely sure, but seeing Karl come past made me realise my game plan was on track. I confidently let them go knowing I would see them later. I had no power meter, but I could tell that my legs felt good so I just found a rhythm and held it. I’ve never ridden a fast flat section of road for more than 10k. In London there isn’t that luxury, but it felt very good to be comfortably be averaging over 38k kph, and a nice change from the hill reps of risk of Death that accompanies a ride to Surrey out from London. I was on my own for about 120k until Simon came past, and my Back problems were starting to annoy me a fair bit so it was nice to have some company and forget about the old friend that is my Lower Back pain. We rode well together for the next 40k, and I had only 1 hiccup when I got cut off by a car at a roundabout and had to put a 5 min gradual surge in to catch him back up. My slight lack of strength endurance was kicking in and I was having to work a little harder than I would have liked, but I was on course for something either side of 4.45 without having to break the bank. Then it struck! The road was flat, the sun was out and the birds were singing, but the gradual thudding followed by nothing but thudding felt all too familiar.

It’s hard to express fully how I felt. I had sadly visualised dealing with this moment in my meditations, and I have had far too much practice at dealing with them in real life this year, but I honestly thought that on this new set of wheels, on a dry day and on flat roads there was absolutely no chance I would be yet again getting my hands greasy. At first I felt angry and let out a pretty manly scream, then I just re-focused and got on with it. I can change a puncture on these wheels in 3 mins. I’ve practiced at home and at the Etonman I did it in 5. I took a bit longer this time as I only had one inner tube and I was being safe. It took me around 7 mins. The moment I got on the bike I was expecting another puncture as that’s been the pattern, and I rode the next 20k nursing the bike round the course but at the same time surging and pushing to get back in the race. My head was all over the shop trying to keep it together. The back tyre was slowly deflating throughout the last 20k, and when I picked my bike up after the race it had gone down completely. All of this as well as my mental state meant I burnt a lot of matches. At the side of the road I had seen people ride past me who I had past hours earlier, and as the clock ticked past 4.55 and I excepted the 10 min loss, my annoyance was replaced by anger. Just so people don’t think I’m a dumb ass, I just want to add that I ride at 120psi and I do keep an eye on the road. I had a bad puncture at IM Arizona in 2014 and that was because my head was down staring at my power meter, but other than that these punctures are a manufacturing issue of some kind. I have a pair of Zipps ready for IM Wales.

T2 went well, other than the fact I dismounted about 3m too early and then had to re-mount to reach the line. Definitely not ITU standard, and it caused my quite a funky cramp in my right quad. I started the run angry and definitely went off too fast. I was quickly up to 3rd but then dropped back to 4th when Joe came past. When he did all the anger I had kept at bay due to the puncture came out and my thoughts on cycle that would eventually be my downfall. The fact was that I needed a podium at this race to renew my Pro License for next season because of how the last year went for me. The other fact is that I would have been 10 mins up the road in 2nd place chasing Kit and this made regaining self control very hard. If this was my first or second puncture then maybe I could have done it, but this one really sucked the shit out my arse and spat it back in my mouth. The next 15-20k was spent desperately trying not to quit. That was all I can recall. I was so angry that I basically dropped to training pace and just about managed to keep moving. But even at this speed I could feel the gap coming down. Joe in 3rd was moving away, but he was catching Simon in 2nd. Then I saw Simon in 3rd walk and have a drink across the lake and I knew that Joe would get him but also that I would soon enough. I relaxed my mind and regained control for the first time since the puncture. My thoughts eventually became positive and when I caught Simon my thoughts became too positive, and once again I lost control. Hope and Fear represent 2 parts of the same problem. Both aren’t real and both will prevent you from following the very real process you have to follow to maximise your potential, but this was the trend since the puncture. I went past Simon and started visualising the Podium and basically relaxed, and I mean really visualising. I even allowed myself to feel pride that I had come back from the puncture. I gave myself a pat on the back when actually what I was doing was stabbing myself in the same location. I caught a glimpse of a runner looking strong across the river, but as he hadn’t been mentioned by either the film crew or Simon and I assumed he must have been a relay runner. Then with about 12k to go whilst in a deep period of relaxed hope I felt someone behind me, and strangely I felt him stay there, and then I knew without looking it wax the chap I had seen, he was in the race and he was going to pass me. He did and he looked strong. We exchanged words as he left and all the anger and sadness I felt after the puncture came back 100 times stronger. I knew I should have been nowhere near this situation and I just couldn’t get my head straight. He slowly disappeared up the road, and looking back now the saddest thought I have is that if I hadn’t started hoping and dreaming, even after the puncture I could have made a better race of it at this point. 100m became 400m which became about 800m. The motorbike pulled up next to me and I told them I wasn’t third anymore and that they should drive up to third which they did. As they left I felt very sad that this was happening again, and I knew that crossing the line 4th on this day wouldn’t have been enough for me. Then I had a very real conversation with myself which at times was probably out loud. ‘Do you want to leave this race not knowing, and do you want to finish 3rd or 4th’. I think I pictured my son at one point!! All very dramatic and once again hoping when I should have been processing. Emotionally and physically I wasn’t in a good place, but I knew what I had to do and I went for it.

Looking back I wasn’t running quick at any point during the marathon, and this is because my head was in tatters. The extra gear I found I had at this point I had all along, but this was with about 8k to go and I was right on the edge. I pushed and pushed and I knew I was going at an effort level I would usually finish an IM with, but my theory was that I could get to 10-15m behind Dean and sit there, recover and then with 1k to go push again. This was a theory I have never even been close to testing. I was getting closer to him with each meter but I was also drifting in to the red at the same speed, but I was closing fast. In hindsight too fast. He stopped to take a drink and I didn’t. I could now see his stride was changing and his shoulders were rising. I must have looked like a drunk Quasimodo at this point, so although it sounds like things were going my way in reality I was cashing a cheque my body couldn’t handle. From around an 800m gap I got to 100m. 75m. 50m and maybe, just maybe if I had the experience I could have stayed there and recovered, but over the next 500m I barely got any closer. I felt like a hungry Bear chasing a Gazelle, which would obviously never happen in the wild but given our respective sizes and running styles that’s probably as close as it gets. I closed the gap to about 10m with about 4K to go just before we hit the finish chute and crowd, but by this point I was already delirious. The conversations in my head were so erratic that I can’t remember them, my body was fucked and I lost all perception of where I was and what I was doing. My brain started to shut down first, I stopped and took a sip of coke because I could feel it coming, took another 4 steps, looked up and could see Dean 10m away and then went down. Not like a felled Tree, more of a drunk Twat. I went out and then opened my eyes to be surrounded by the medical team, who very quickly found my bag, gave me my asthma inhaler, put me in a wheelchair and monitored my Blood Pressure, Heart rate and Blood Sugar. I drifted in and out of feeling like I was going to faint or be sick for the next 10 mins. I’m pretty sure there were some tears in there as well although they were well hidden by the retching, and I considered going out and walking to the end. Not sure what the rules are on that! The medical team were great and considering how I must have smelt they were very jovial, but obviously this wasn’t how I had pictured this race turning out.

Writing a blog on the race makes it sound as if things were evolving obviously, but I can only be clear in Hindsight. Up until the puncture things were challenging but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I knew physically and mentally where I was and that’s how it was playing out. I have no problem in dealing with unforeseen circumstances but my 5th puncture in 4 races hit me extremely hard and I wasn’t able to respond in the best way. If that was my first or even my second unforeseen circumstance this year things may have been different, but that Well was nearly dry by this point. The top 3 deserve their podium and everyone who finishes deserves their success. Everyone has to work through problems to achieve their goals, and I’m fully aware people have to work through much harder problems than me. At the front of the field your goals become very specific, and this makes the margins between success and failure much smaller which in turn means you lose an element of the freedom you have when you start. My personal challenge now is to get that freedom back whilst still aiming high. Over the last 6 months this sport has given me a lot to deal with and a lot to learn from, and above everything else this sport gives you for that I am most grateful. If you dedicate your life properly to this sport you learn how to dedicate yourself properly to life, and there can be no better lesson than that.

Onwards, upwards and hopefully with air in the tyres.

LCW What a month part 2

What a month Part 2:

Well, those of you who follow my progress will know how these two races went. But that’s not to say these races haven’t been extremely powerful learning experiences. This 2 week period would define the belly of my season, and the truth is that it has but not in any of the ways I expected. You dream of the success and you fear the possibility of not being good enough, but just as in life what you don’t expect are all the variables in the middle.

I was training hard 2 or 3 days closer to LCW than I would have liked, but trying to peak for 2 races like this is difficult and you have to slightly prioritise one and I had opted for the Outlaw. Due to the real world it’s been over 2 years since I had finished and Iron Distance race, and I needed a podium at the Outlaw to confirm my Pro licences for next year. But LCW is closer to my heart than any other race and I was fully prepared to sacrifice the Outlaw for a win at LCW if the situation came up. Having done a talk and some interviews I had revealed to myself how I felt. I don’t plan what to say and quite often I find speaking publicly or blogging actually reveals my inner thoughts, so after getting it all out I felt ready and was excited about getting in to the bay.

The swim.
I was quite calm before the swim, and the look of the bay seemed to match my feelings, but as the hooter went off that quickly switched to chaos and tension. I stayed calm enough and found open water within a 5 mins. I knew I couldn’t prepare for a rolling sea, but I also knew that I was swimming well enough to manage my emotions through this situation, and my sighting technique and regularity was firmly ingrained so I had done what I could in training and that gave me calm.

I’m not sure how the swim felt for everyone else, but for me things seemed to change dramatically after the first buoy. The sky seemed darker and the waves seemed higher, but this could have been my impression given how different this was to the calm lakes I swim in. I tried to battle it for about 10 seconds before deciding to bend rather than break. I relaxed and tried to adapt and learn with the conditions, which actually made me smile. I embraced the challenge and excepted I was doing my best and other than the cramp in my Calfs which came and went for the next 2.5k (5 hr drive+not enough stretching+not enough taper) I generally enjoyed it I swam the first lap in 29 mins and the cramp riddled second lap in 34 mins.

The bike.
Having not made the top 10 I wasn’t starting off the ramp this year and tactically this was a much better situation for me. I find chasing is much easier than being chased, especially as time comes down or as you pick people off. The gap between Ollie’s start and mine was about 9 mins which was conveniently the same time gap that we had during the race. Markus I knew very little about, but judging by his appearance on the Bike at the start his goal was the go very fast, and as he had 2 mins on me the plan was to catch Ollie and then work hard to catch Markus which would have put us all very close together. I don’t remember cycling on many days where weather has been so bad in so many ways. Cold, wet, windy and misty, but I was still very much up for the challenge. In hindsight I clearly went off too hard, I wasn’t sure what Ollie was doing up the road, but I knew that if I caught him the worst case scenario would be that I would have to follow him home, and although there isn’t much pride in that, there would have been a good chance of the win as a result. I caught Ollie after an hour which was much quicker than I thought it would’ve been. It turns out he had time for a piss and a bit of sight seeing while I was burning the full box of matches as well as the lighter fluid to get to him. As soon as we linked up we were taking hard turns on the front, whilst dealing with some challenging weather. On one of the coastal runs my deep section front wheel literally got blown out from under me. After the shit has been washed off my saddle by the rain I started to find the my turns were shorter, and hanging on to Ollie was becoming harder. On each descent I would lose 20m and then put in a surge to link up again. At this point I excepted that I was going to have to aim to stay with Ollie and give up my pulls on the front. I have recovered from these situations before though, and although I was concerned about things I hadn’t given up. At this point I thought it would be polite to let Ollie know I was struggling a bit as I was preparing him for the fact I wouldn’t be coming through for a pull anytime soon. I may be a bit alternative but I’m also a Gentlemen! About 3 mins after this, on a pretty bumpy descent I felt the all to familiar vibrations and rumble of a flat. I’m ashamed to say that my first thought was thank God I don’t have to risk my face following Ollie down anymore hills, but this was quickly followed by a very familiar, hollow, angry sadness. Anyone who’s followed my progress this year will know punctures are a standard occurrence for me during races, so I have multiple options for repairing. Fast/risky but back in the race, slow/careful but get to the end, or somewhere in the middle of the two. I went for option 3, but the spark had gone and I also knew deep down that any chance of linking up with Ollie again had gone as well. I kept riding as I knew things could turn around, but just before the run back in to Tenby the back end started to bounce around again and I knew that I had yet another double puncture on my hands. I stopped by the food station in the car park and started to change it, but I knew deep down the right call was to switch my focus to the Outlaw. LCW means a lot to me and this hurt me deeply, but I had about 3 Mars bars, thanked out loud to all Gods of all faiths that this had happened so close to Tenby and not out on a wet, lonely, Pembrokeshire B road because I was so cold my manhood had retreated behind my bladder. That goes out to anyone who saw me waking back through Tenby in full length cycling kit. Normally things look a bit more manly than that.

As I nursed the reality of losing another goal to a puncture I actually found I got over it rather quickly. I love Tenby, I love LCW and I still had a nice long training run to look forward to tomorrow.

The Run:
This run actually became one of the most magical experiences I’ve had whilst racing or exercising. My time in Tenby has always been magical but highly pressured and with those shackles off the run was like a journey down memory lane. Each part of that run course contains a place where Ive discovered something new about myself, and travelling at training pace I got the chance to take it all in and look back fondly. There were a lot of people supporting me who knew my name and gave me encouragement, and it made me realise that hopefully I’ve had a positive influence here as well. Running with Michelle who won the women’s marathon was also very enlightening and incredibly motivating. She was strong and a very worthy winner. This sport contains so many quality athletes at all levels, and people walk through walls to get out there and push themselves, and being able to hear their stories is the main thing that will stay with me when everything else has gone.

Well done to Markus and Ollie. This year even without the puncture I wouldn’t have won. I would have needed different conditions in the swim and a few more days tapering to have seriously challenged. But to have had the experience I had was better than winning. LCW and Tenby has been very defining for me and an event and place I will never forget.

Outlaw to follow shortly.

What a month Part 1.

As my wife regularly tells me, I don’t race enough. So rather than challenge her theory gradually I decided to stack 4 weeks of June and July with 4 races. The first was Shepperton open water 3k, the second was Eatonman middle distance, the third was the Boskman middle/Long distance and the 4th was Long Course Weekend.

Shepperton open water 3k.

The truth is that I find swimming difficult! My approach to cycling and running doesn’t transfer to swimming, and learning to get it right requires turning off all my natural instincts and (for this season) learning new ones. Nearly all my off season swimming has been technique and drills, with April onwards incorporating some fitness and race specific work. This meant come race day I felt ready for 3k of open water drills! I had spent some time in open water 3 days before, but out of the two wetsuit sizes Zone 3 had sent me I opted for the smaller one for this session, and I’m not gonna lie, I felt like a Pepperami stuck half way while making its way out of the sheath. By the end of the 4K training session my shoulders were in pieces and the speed wasn’t great either, all of which put me in a questionable mindset.

When it comes to swimming my confidence can come and go quickly, especially as my improvements in the pool don’t always match what happens in open water, but I have created more of a baseline understanding of my swim this year. I know how my stroke should feel, I know what starts to fall apart and when it will, I know my pacing and open water (Lake) technique is solid and most importantly all of this is for less effort and HR due to a more efficient technique and more realistic goals. But, in the past and without doubt there always seems to be a significant difficult patch I have in all swims that outweighs what I go through in Bike and Run. A mixture of fear and a loss of focus that can drag on and really impact my time and overall mindset.

After starting the race well and with confidence, this patch came hard at about 2k. My shoulders were still very painful from from my Pepperami experience and the burn was really kicking in. For about 300m I tried really hard to convince myself to get out the water, and during this time I probably slowed a bit as the dark place I went to was pretty dark. ‘You’re never gonna work this swimming thing out, so what’s the point in being here, how can you be an Elite Triathlete when you can’t swim etc’. But then I reasoned with myself. I knew this Wetsuit fit well, that it was a very good suit and I also knew that I was swimming well, and most importantly I knew all I could do was hold my own pace with a technique and relaxation that was as efficient as it could be, and at the end of the day when it comes to pacing that is all that matters! It was in fact such a dark place I went to that getting through it was a bit of a Eureka moment, and it feels now like I have a very different mindset and feel about swimming. I almost enjoy it! When I got out the water my shoulders were in pieces due to my Pepperami training swim and the race itself, but I knew I had got through something important, and what I had found wasn’t confidence but an understanding that makes all future ups and downs less extreme and more manageable.

3rd Place 46mins.

Eatonman middle distance.
Gonna sum this one up quickly. Felt fresh and happy before and during the race, first out the water and on to the bike, 5 min lead after 50k and on course for a 2.20 bike split, double puncture, flapjack, another flapjack, drove home, mild depression.

Boskman middle/long distance.

Unlike the previous race at Eaton 2 weeks earlier, for this race I certainly wasn’t fresh. I had 3 weeks of hard work in my legs and not just 1, including a marathon 5 days earlier with efforts that totalled 1hr over race pace. I had also biked hard on the Friday before the race with some long,,overgeared efforts on the TT bike and turbo. Physical tiredness is manageable, but what I hadn’t planned for was 3 nights of very little, broken sleep due to Prince loud mouth in the other room. On top of that I chose to experiment with 4 hours of driving to a from registration the day before, followed by 2 hours sleep and then a 2hr drive to the race start the following morning that kicked off at 5.30

As I packed my bike In to the car I was aware that not only were people still out for many there was plenty more still to be drunk. I set off and realised two things straight away, firstly that my lower back was fucked from the previous day’s driving, and secondly that I was as close to being asleep as you can be whilst being awake. As I weaved across the motorway trying not to die and wondering why I had chosen this self harming approach to racing, I tried desperately to motivate myself and get myself up for it. It wasn’t working. I was nervous enough to make life harder for two service station toilet attendants, but not the real nerves and adrenaline that come when you’re ready for battle. This carried on right up up until the race start, when I found myself so dozy that I was completing a warm up swim going the wrong way away from the start when the hooter went off. I quickly tried to catch the leader and was on course to reach his feet when someone cut me off. Due to basically being asleep during the race briefing, and the fact we appeared to be swimming down the Amazon, I had no idea if I was swimming towards the finish or out to sea so I trusted the feet I was on and decided to refine my drafting skills. As someone learning the dark arts of swimming it’s only recently I’ve truly appreciated the huge benefit to be had from drafting. I briefly felt ashamed that it felt so easy, but then quickly realised I had no idea where or who I was so just kept at it.

This all sounds like I was very conscious and talkative during the swim, but I was, and the overriding theme of this race is that it didn’t stop. I never found a rhythm at any point and I was unable to switch my head off for more than a minute or two. I was talking in my head debating and planning and thinking throughout, and unlike physical tiredness which you can push through, this mental tiredness which was causing me to chatter non-stop was much harder to push through. I came out of the water in 2nd and transitioned well. I then found a good rhythm on the bike which for me is a big gear around 70-75rpm and 310-320 watts, but even though the rhythm was good the feeling was not. Almost an instant lactic build up and what felt like riding on damaged legs. They were damaged of course after 3 heavy weeks of training, and this tied in to a heavy mind made it very miserable. After 10 mins on the bike I had rode up to 1st but I felt so tired and was having to spin a much smaller gear at around 85-90rpm to get any kind of discomfit free momentum. I was so tired in that I wanted to fall asleep in the aero position and I actually tested my head on my forearms once or twice, but because I had reached the lead I was motivated enough to stick at it. The chap who I overtook wasn’t going away, and I knew nothing about him other than that he was riding well and he was keeping an honest distance. By this point I was having a 4 way conversation in my head that bounced from-I want to sleep, to my back is fucked, to you’re in the lead this is great, to shit I have to drive home afterwards. It was very bizarre and quite uncomfortable to be in the lead of a race and so demotivated, but that’s what was going on so I got on with it. The lower back pain that kicked in around 80k was very sharp! I always have sharp lower back pain on the bike due to previous injuries, and especially if I’m not tapered and a bit tight, but this was like someone was pissing in some fresh road rash, not nice at all and tied in with everything else the whole experience was very gruelling.

I was in the lead though, and that together with how beautiful the New Forest was looking made me see the positives and as we took turns on the front the end of the bike came around soon enough. We transitioned smoothly enough and even though I had been giving myself a pep talk for what seemed like 4 hours, I was still shocked at how quickly my competitor ran off the bike. Pep talking is no substitute for focusing it seems. I had a lead after the 500m due to a Superman in a phone box transition, but I could here the hoofs getting closer behind me and after 1k I was trying to hang on to his race belt like a baby reaching for a boob. I was way outside of a pace I could manage psychologically, and normally in the situation I can find some strength or competitiveness to hang on which can lead to a fight back when I get stronger later in the race. But because of the mental fatigue I just couldn’t dig in, and because of the non stop self talk that had been going on since the start this was becoming a live discussion in my head during this very close race. Very bizarre and incredibly frustrating given that I had been in a head to head for the win over the last 4 and a half hours, and this should have been an exciting and stimulating time.

I buckled after about 3k and had to let him go. He was pulling ahead of me on downhills and he was handling the rough trails much better, and I was using the up hills to pull him back which was grinding me down. I calmed myself and settled in to a rhythm I could hold which was something around IM pace. With that finally I got some peace in my head, and the constant chatter had some longer breaks in it which meant I could find some energy. For the next 1k I watched him drift off to about 400m ahead. We were now running on roads and I was starting to feel like I had some control which to my surprise meant the gap was coming down, down to about 200m. Then we hit the trails again and the gap went back up to 300m, then after the trails and back on to the roads I closed it to 100m. Although I was calm and controlled now, I was also very aware I just didn’t have another gear in me. He was so close but I just couldn’t switch off enough to hurt myself that little bit more, and what was worse I was conscience of this so the conversation in my mind was kicking off again. Why can’t you push through, what’s wrong with you, but I am pushing!!, no you’re not you disgrace, shit I’ve got to drive home in 30 mins. After a long steep climb I came round a blind corner with 4K to go and to my surprise he was about 10m in front of me. I was hurting in so many ways, but in non of the right ways, and I just couldn’t dig deeper or fight in a way I normally would to link up with him. Over the next 3k the gap would grow to 30m, then drop back to 10m, but I never had the feeling I was going to win and in the end I got what I deserved and came second by 15 seconds. Will who won the race, is a former Domestic and European Age Group Champion over Olympic and Middle distance and a very very strong athlete. In the UK there are so many strong athletes that to win races or finish well you cannot be too deeply fatigued. Some Pro Athletes can rock up and do that, but I’m not at that level and for me to be fresh I need a long taper. At least 2 weeks of very light work with quality sessions keeping my weakest leg (swimming) sharp. These experiences are harsh but necessary, and although this was more gruelling and less enjoyable than I’d like I did gain a lot from it. But never again will I do that much driving to and from a race.

After this race I was absolutely shattered. It is a tough distance to race from start to finish and the fact we were side by side for over 5 hours made it even more tricky, but because I was so mentally and physically tired going in to the start, after I had finished the 2hr drive home I was completely gone. Sadly I didn’t have much of a positive vibe post race and although I can look back fondly on how I dug in, the whole experience still feels more like a punishment than a positive experience. Having to constantly be aware of every second and discomfort for nearly 6hrs, whilst questioning why you can’t get motivated enough to fight for the win leaves you feeling very drained. The mixture of enjoyment and the challenge is an important balance to get right. This sport takes so much from you and it can take too much if you let it, but it can also give you much more than you bargained for and the positive influence can last a lifetime. Having just had a child I’m having to learn that balance all over again. Mistakes that I’m correcting from last years experiences don’t necessarily apply anymore, or if they do they have a new form. Last year I wasn’t able to race as much as I wanted and I also trained with more volume and less specificity, this year recovery has been sporadic and because of racing more and training with a bit more intensity this balance has meant very deep and random fatigue.

The most deep and confusing shift, and one that I’m still trying to confront, is that having a son means that nothing else matters in comparison. This doesn’t mean I don’t still have a burning desire to succeed, but it does mean that when things don’t go right in racing or if fatigue builds up too much the negative feelings I have are much stronger because of the time and energy I’ve sacrificed. Going in to my two main races of the year LCW and The Outlaw, it’s worth trying to highlight my mindset, and this year my ups and downs have looked like this.

*Meander marathon-Undertrained but fulfilling experience.
*IM Lanzarote-Noro Virus, DNS, Gutted.
*Shepperton Open Water 3k-Challenging and fulfilling.
*Etonman middle-1st on the bike, felt great, Double puncture, DNF, gutted.
*Boskman-Extremely fatigued, very draining, 2nd, wiped out.

In trying to simplify how this year has gone I think it’s possible to get an idea of how scrambled my mind is. Lots of experiences but as many positives as negatives, and no clear indicators of my form outside of training. The numbers in training are very good, my baseline sessions that tell me where I am are:

*8×5 mins zone 5 watts with 5 easy between-currently Avg 353 watts.
*3hr run with 10 mins above IM pace every 20 mins.
*3x750m on 11.15 Open water,Wetsuit, with 750m easy between each rep.

And when I turn my ego and anxieties off I can see what is possible, but the reality since the Boskman is that LCW and the Outlaw are 2 steps in to the Unknown.

Long Course Weekend 2015


As I sit here listening to Classic FM it’s hard not to feel some pride at how this race went. I definitely came to Tenby this year thinking I could spoil the Oliver Simon show, and I honestly believed that with a good swim I would be able to steal it on the run. But the reason I am so proud of this result is simply because my plan failed so early and I managed to fight as hard as I could and prove to myself that I am a good athlete. This may sound silly given performances of the past, but the doubt remains regardless of whether it’s your first race or whether your defending a win. Anyone who knows me well will know that this fear and doubt is a strong if not healthy motivation, and although I have had good results in the past at Elite level I still find the going tough and I still have a lot I need to do before I can feel totally confident at that level. It’s even harder to feel confident when you’re racing someone who is the pride of the community, and on day 3 when I closed the overall gap during the run and it was announced over the loud speaker, my wife told me she saw a child close to tears! All of those things considered when I got back to the hotel after the swim on day 1 I was feeling very down, and without the support of my wife it’s hard to imagine I would have been willing to bury myself on the bike in the way I did. To sum the swim up in one word I would say “shit”. For sure there were things I could have done to prepare better. I hadn’t swum in open water enough and my sighting technique and rhythm was very poor. I found myself way offline on quite a few occasions and definitely covered more water than I needed to. Dealing with the extra chop is something I’m not used to and something I can’t practice in London, but with improved sighting the damage could have been limited. I had invested a huge amount of time on my swimming and to come away with such a poor time was very grounding.

I woke up the next morning knowing I was going to be chased for over 5 hours by two of the UK’s best, but I had prepared very specifically for this in training. I knew I could go hard for the first 3 hours at around 310-315watts, attack the first loop and then hang on during the second. Last year I was caught before the end of the first loop and then it was impossible to break away. I knew if I could build a gap before the second loop then anyone behind would start to fade and hopefully I could push on to the finish. What I couldn’t have prepared for is how hard mentally it was being chased. If you’re like me then you’ve always wondered what it feels like to be in a breakaway during a bike race, and I can assure you it’s bloody horrific. It’s very hard to lose the image of the people behind you, and on the start of the second loop I went through a really dark patch where I kept thinking they were just round the corner. I want to add its a real shame that Gareth had a mechanical early on in the bike. We rode together for about 20 mins and I think if we had stuck together the race overall would have been much closer in the end, as he is strong rider and will be a threat overall next year. The invitation for a joint ride next year is here Gareth! Straight after I finished my first really big effort and was transitioning to a lower power for the ride home my mind was on the way out. I was very tired from the long effort over the power I would normally ride and mentally I was worn down by the guys behind me. I found a holding pattern to deal with it but I definitely slowed down a bit too much here just trying to hold it together mentally and next year that won’t happen. Getting back was a big relief, and for a big guy like me having to attack those climbs takes an awful lot of watts so I was pretty cooked at the end. I trained very specifically and very hard for this course, but it is seriously brutal. You never find any rhythm towards the end and as you get more tired it keeps chucking different gradients at you. But deep down I would take that over almost any other type of ride going, and I love everything Pembrokeshire and Tenby have to offer including the climbs.

Olly is a one of the UK’s best Long Distance athletes and he is very good in all 3 disciples which makes him even harder to beat. On top of that it wasn’t that close last year and I’m sure we both knew that. I certainly did. He gets in front with his swim which is one of the best anywhere and then he has to stalk me to win. ‘He is in his home town and now he just has to follow me to win’ were the thoughts that made up the bulk of my conversation to myself on the second day, and if anyone asks me what’s harder than an Ironman about doing it over three days I would say that it’s switching off. But fortunately Tenby provides plenty of ways and it’s part of the reason this event is such a success.

As the run started my only goal was to hit my marathon pace and stay with it for as long as possible. I had fleeting thoughts of a break at the very end but to be honest I wasn’t feeling very confident about how I was going to get rid of Olly. I don’t run with a GPS watch and in the end that really helped me as it wouldn’t be too long until I was running so far over marathon pace halfway through the marathon, that mentally it would have been very hard to cope with that reality. As Olly stalked me during the first 2k all I could think of was that he looked strong, I didn’t feel strong, that there was a camera in my face, my legs felt terrible and that I needed a piss. If I had had a GPS giving me more bad news it might have tipped me over the edge but as things flattened out a bit two things happened. Firstly my legs warmed up after the first climb, and secondly the piss situation was resolved subtly. This was very hard with a camera in my face, and I’m as proud of resolving that off camera whilst on the move as I am of my overall performance. Suddenly I started running a step in front of Olly and then all of a sudden I thought why not make it a couple of steps, and then all of a sudden I briefly thought that in 10k we are going to be climbing relentlessly until the end, and if you don’t go hard now you ain’t gonna to want to later. So I went. I went at just over half marathon pace for about 6k then backed off to just over marathon pace until we hit the first climbs. I’m not going to lie after a couple of the big climbs I started to shit my pants a bit. I’ve never run a marathon in this way before so it it was all new, and as I tried to find a rhythm in the climbs and get my heart rate down I realised all I could do was survive the climbs and then if I could push during the flatter section at the end I would. But my legs were on the way out and on the downhills I really felt my size. As a bigger guy this course is more suited to someone else, but I love it and in the same way as the bike it’s a discomfort that I don’t look on badly. It’s a a great natural challenge and all you can do is mange it as best you can. Olly said he had closed the gap and saw me going up the last climb and to be honest I was very much on the way in to a black hole at this point, but something happened once I was over the last climb and it was a bit of a blur from then until the end when I ran up to Gareth at, and I think I refereed to him as my angel for always being there when I needed him. This probably sounded more erotic than I meant it to given I could barely speak at this point so I kind of whispered it, and given that he ran away from me about 5 mins later there is a good chance he took it that way. Gareth I’m happily married with a child, sorry mate no love here! Naturally I am a strong runner, not a naturally fast one and for that last 2-3k my strength enabled me to pick up the pace and move away again from Olly, even though my legs were done and the tank was now empty and had probably fallen off completely on the last climb somewhere. The relief of the red carpet was something that will live with me forever but my legs and head were completely gone. The footage shows me crossing the line and collapsing, but I would like to point out that I stopped my watch just before collapsing. The sign of a pro who’s learning well. Olly trotted across the line to steal the show once again, but there is no shame in coming second to an athlete of his quality in his home town. I would like to think that with the amount I have improved on the bike and run Olly considers me a threat next year. I will have to swim better but I get the feeling next year will be very close and not just between me and Olly. He deserved his win this year and he is also a good bloke so I will forgive his cool demeanour. Wales has a lot of good athletes who will want to be in the show next year and I’m sure they will. One of them is Richard Gardiner and I am very proud that I ran within 5 minutes of a Marathon runner with his quality. Looking at what’s he’s achieved I now know what a top athlete he is and it was a pleasure to be in the same ball park as him.

In hindsight this Long Course Weekend was a pretty accurate reflection of where my training was at that time. But for me it was also a reflection of how mentally tough I can be on occasion. Not always but some of the time. Physically it was hard, but there were lots of occasions where mentally I was tested in ways that I haven’t been before and I came through them and managed to up my physical performance to deal with them. This course and event takes you to those places naturally!! I love this event and I love Tenby. Activity Wales Events manage to do something very rare, and that is combine a brutal event whilst making every athlete who crosses the line feel special. The format is also more entertaining on TV and I also think it’s a way of getting lots of people to try their hand in different ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if in time it takes off as a mainstream format in multiple places. Next year I want to come back and do better, and for me this event tests lots of areas where I struggle so it’s a great personal discovery. I will focus my training towards being in the right shape to getting the tittle back, but even if I don’t I know I will have a great time trying.