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 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.