A European Silver Medal.

So, probably better to first clear something up. I’m not racing anymore and any social media posts, blogs or videos I put out are no longer based around me as an athlete. My lack of publicly acknowledging this situation probably reveals that I haven’t quite found peace with it yet so I’m doing that now. A medium length, and sometimes successful racing career has come to an end just as it looked like it was going to get going again. In short, I had to decide if I wanted to be an average elite athlete or a good elite coach. There were lots of factors that played in to this decision, family, energy and what I am now willing to sacrifice, but from a professional perspective I knew that I had a shot at becoming a good elite level coach and that racing myself was risking that shot. So decision made and on we go.

Since I’ve been working with Lina progress has been consistent but there were lots of occasions where the journey could have come to an end, failure has often looked as likely as success, but not between us and we both had enough belief to keep going. The last 2 and half years have been an emotional up and down and fortunately it’s not going to come to an end for at least another season, so let the roller-coaster roll on.

Challenge Almere is what we build each season towards. Every year we start building in the off season specifically for the characteristics of this race, and some of the scenarios that played out in Sat race we have been preparing for over 2 years. Although our athlete and coach journey isn’t ending here, for me there have been a lot of targets we have hit and these are projects that have come to an end. The performance that Lina delivered on Sat contained so many specifics that we have been working on for many months all coming together at once, and as these specifics came together we now have to put them to bed and work towards new ones for a Gold medal at the World Championships next year.

These are the main performance targets we needed to hit for Saturdays race:

-Swimming in the group and maximizing speed as well as minimizing energy consumption.
-Producing a hard and consistently paced Bike through changeable wind conditions, that must create an opportunity for the race to come back on the run. Too hard and the run might not be there, too soft and we will run out of road during the run.
-Running a high average pace, maintaining constant pressure, but specifically a fast last 5 to 7k as that’s where the opportunities will be.

When you look at those 3 targets for Swim, Bike and Run you get no idea of the amount of training sessions, planning and months and months of consistency that go in to it. But I will try to break down the performance a little bit starting with the Swim.

-To stay in the pack we needed to develop a higher Threshold (around 2k TT effort) but within this you also need to be able to confidently go over and under this effort, therefore training has to keep this in mind and bounce around either side of that threshold, as well as on it. You need to have a mix of intensities but always with the target effort as a reference point. Go over Threshold and returning to it within the same interval is very useful for this. More specifically for a race start you have to be able to swim 200-300m way over this effort, then drop down to this effort and then down to IM effort for the rest of the Swim. There is a very specific type of effort for the start of the Swim leading in to the main duration of the Swim, and if you don’t train for it specifically things will fall apart and you will Swim alone and potentially start the Bike in a worse physical and mental state.

-Then you need to be able to hold your IM pace whilst being able to surge if you loose feet, but also regain focus and relaxation when you find them again. This again means training at different cadences and different intensities either side of race pace, whilst always knowing where race pace is as a reference. But most importantly you need practical in race trial and error. This year’s Swim was 2 and a half years of trial and error that came right, not suddenly, but just when it was supposed to as part of a steady progression. It required an improved Threshold, improved race pace, improved open water skills and the ability to manage the specific intensities during the Swim start.

This may sound simple, but within your swim training there are very specific areas you have to work in again and again week after week. You then have to go through the emotion of trial and error in races whilst still being able to perform when the draft doesn’t come off, but the truth is that without the draft we could have been looking at another 3rd Place and not the silver medal or better we were aiming for.

The Bike was something we have been building up ever since we started, and for us the Bike represents one side of the sword with the run being the other, the Bike and Run combination is what does the damage. The Bike has to be something that Lina can control through different wind conditions, technical sections and other riders without letting the front of the race get too far away, and making sure that any competition that is riding close to or with Lina is being put under pressure or dropping back. We are looking to create pressure during the Bike and then to turn that pressure in to a magnet that sucks Lina towards the front as the run progresses. The magic of Linas Bike is that it can be competitive with the fastest Bike splits, but in going that fast there is no detraction from the run. I’m sure she could ride faster but all that matters is the finishing time with a Swim, Bike, Run combination.

-Being able to Ride in this way isn’t too dissimilar to what’s needed in the swim. You first have to make sure that the training is creating a higher race pace mainly through work above, at and below Threshold, but within that you have to be able to vary your cadence for long periods to deal with the wind without stressing your Cardiovascular system (during high cadence) or Muscular system (when slightly over geared). This has to be built simultaneously in to the program, so your improvements and progression in race pace is matched by an ability to perform race pace at different cadences, whilst locked in to the TT position constantly and dealing with technical sections. An example session would be: In the TT position 4×20 mins between 70.3 and Threshold effort, with 10 min @ 70rpm and 10 min @ 90rpm. This can be with a 5 or 10 min rest interval.This again is a very specific type of riding, and if you don’t train for the specifics of how you’re going to race you’re just creating holes within your performance that you’re dropping energy in to.

Back to the race, and so far things were looking pretty good. A first successful draft on the Swim which saved time and energy, and this had been followed up with a Bike that was fast and had put Lina in 4th place and within striking distance of 1st and 2nd. But the gaps were big. 24 mins to Sarissa, and around 14 to Yvonne. This was an interesting situation. The Bronze medal was basically safe and the silver was slowly come back towards us however not quickly enough, but Yvonne was putting pressure on Sarissa and as planned this was going to create an opening for us. Things were calm during lap 4 of 6, and then things started to heat up on lap 5. Yvonne was in the lead and given the situation I couldn’t see any way she was going to crack. Sarissa was starting to fade but still looking tough and still with a big lead, Lina was running consistently and slowly taking time back. The gap to Sarissa had reduced to about 16 mins and 15 to Yvonne with around 10k to go. My message to Lina was to stay relaxed and in control (which she was anyway) and then I had the long wait until the next lap.

Staying calm in between 6 laps is extremely hard. Its like watching a sports team or individual you support whilst being emotionally invested in a way that’s similar to an exam or test you’ve been studying 12 months for, but you’re not taking the test and you can only watch the exam being marked. Passing the test confirms or denys the belief you had in yourself which creates a significant pressure. It’s hard to stay calm and in control of your thoughts. There are also business repercussions but when things go well or badly, my first thought is always to what I personally could have done differently to change the situation. This weighs heavily and its something I need to change if I’m going to have any longevity in the sport.

By the time lap 5 came around I was drifting in and out of feeling happy with a Bronze and disappointed we didn’t have a silver, but one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years is that you have to try and maintain a neutral mindset. You have a very brief window to interact with your athlete. They might need you and they might not, but either way one thing you cannot do is project how you are feeling on to them without knowing specifically how they are feeling and what the situation is, so I stayed as neutral as I could when the gap came down to about 14 mins. As myself and Lina interacted we were both keeping it as calm and relaxed as you can do in these situations, but that was all about to change and I was about to receive a coaching lesson I had only really learnt from TV coverage to this point. That is the something that makes these races so special in that big things can happen very suddenly, and for this reason you should never settle too early for what you have. Sarissa came past and she was really struggling, she had put in a very fast Swim and a Bike course record but her fighting spirit was now what she needed just to survive.

The gap had come down to 8 mins with one lap to go and as Lina came around the message was delivered loud and clear. “Sarissa is walking. You can catch her. But you’re going to have to go deep, deeper than you’ve ever gone before”. In the previous lap as Lina had closed the gap to Sarissa, I had got a burst of paranoia and popped in to the nearest Bike shop to buy a gel that contained Salt, and Caffeine as well as the necessary Carbs. This gel was delivered with the message and a hard pat on the back, and then a return to the thoughts and realization that as a coach there is only so much you can do in the moment. The previous months and years decide the outcome.

The next 30 mins was pretty excruciating. After my last meeting with Lina I went straight to the bar to pick up 2 beers (not something I would normally do mid race) and then made my way to the finish line and stadium. The time was going so slowly that things were a bit surreal. Possibly the situation mixed with some dehydration followed by very fast rehydration with beer, but either way it was very nerve racking. Yvonne came in getting the finish to a career that any athlete who has achieved what she has achieved deserves. Under 9hrs again, with a winning record of 1 in 3 for all her Long Distance races, former World record holder and fierce competitor who competes with respect and understanding. As she crossed the line and threw her shoes in to the crowd I couldn’t help but feel lucky they didn’t come my way as I know what kind of multi fluid shower running shoes get in an IM. She really is one of the greatest to ever do it and to be a part of this moment was very special.
The time ticked away and I considered getting another beer, but by now my concept of time was so screwed up that I wasn’t sure if I would miss Lina crossing the Line or not. The last Camera Bikes had come in with Yvonne so it was an old school sit in the stadium and wait.

And wait. And wait, until finally Lina came around the corner and I let out the kind of scream/shout reserved only for England, but this one was for Germany and was better than the handful of successes England have exposed me to. This was a very big relief as well as a joy. Months of training and strategy had come off and each small piece of the puzzle contributed. 6th and 5th before we started together and now 4th,3rd and 2nd. Progression like that doesn’t lie and the relief of having your beliefs confirmed, both in Lina and myself, is something that won’t go away for as long as I do this. We both confirmed where we belong. Sarissa crossed the line and it was an emotional time for her and everyone who witnessed her efforts. It was an extremely brave and talented effort that very nearly won the race. As she sat down and felt the emotion of it all, I told her a few times that she will win this race (but hopefully not next year). She is a very talented athlete across all distances and over the following years of her career she has the potential to be one of the best in the sport.

This is of course Linas story. I’m aware of my contribution, but witnessing her hard work, perseverance and talent has been an education for me. To have someone believe your advice and commit fully to it is very fulfilling but it also comes with a lot of pressure, and this has been a year of learning how to deal with that pressure and responsibility. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that you have to trust your athlete and that trying to explain and teach the process you’re going through is very important. I did this subconsciously but I now understand how important this is all the time. There will be times when the only way you can maximize the training program is to make fast and sometimes spontaneous decisions, and even though you can help make some of these as a coach the athlete can make them faster and more instantaneously.

Linas success in Almere this year is in a large part down to her ability to make the right decisions in training at the right time, because she works outside of Triathlon training time is limited and this has been extremely important. The realization for me that I have Linas trust, and that she has learnt and understood my training philosophy is a very important turning point. It means that my role becomes more of a Coach/Consultant type role. There are always going to be situations where an outside perspective is important, and to keep progressing each year takes new ideas and increased motivation so my role remains important. But it is a working relationship that has taken a new shape this year and my personal challenge will be to learn how to adapt and still provide the best help that I can.

Challenge Almere is a very special race. It’s the oldest in Europe and one of the most special. It has real heart and soul and the finish line from 1st Elite to last Age group athlete is very powerful. For us it’s the race that keeps on giving. Linas first race in Almere was a DNF so I’m hoping that is the bad luck in Almere out of the way, because we’ve shown we know how to move up the leader board and with next year being the World Champs over the full Distance it’s a fantastic opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed and it will take luck as well as hard work to get a victory, but to have got to a position where Lina starts as a favorite confirms her previous success, talent, hard work and belief in me. I believe she can win, I know she believes she can win, and with another year of training in the bank we will be very hard to beat.

Setting the bar

Setting the Bar.

As I sit here nursing the first virus of the year I have some time to reflect on how my mindset regarding my targets for the year, has been more up and down than the post Brexit value of the pound. The year started with a furious motivation to take on the world, pick up from where things went wrong back in 2015 and start looking at the very front of the race for my goals and motivation. However the reality of having 2 children and the overwhelming avalanche of germs that will cross your path as a result, came home with a series of sharp coughs. It also reminded me of the spontaneous and random time restraints that, like a baby doing a poo in the bouncer, can explode out of nowhere and take away valuable time that you had banked on.

My first two weeks of proper training since 2017 were productive. For one interval Bike session the numbers for the main set were, 5×2 min @ 400 Watts/1 min recovery/10×1 min @ 430 Watts/1 min recovery/1×5 min @ 398 Watts. As a result of this modest above Threshold session my ego started freewheeling towards world domination. The numbers do look good, but the reality of my life situation dictates my potential and not one off training sessions. There is a huge amount of work that needs to be added on top of this session to produce a good IM Bike split.

As I now stare down the barrel of 3-5 days of no training at all and very limited sleep I can start to set the bar for my season with a bigger dose of reality than my ego would like, and I will focus on these main points and how I will personally use them to set my bar for the season. Directly or indirectly I do the same thing with all the athletes I coach and I would recommend everybody does the same.

When I first had a crack at Elite Long Distance racing my goals were (realistically or not) aimed at getting towards the front of races. I had time, talent and the motivation to get there. What I didn’t have was the maturity, knowledge, understanding of the bigger picture or a favorable good luck/bad luck balance, although this was in part due to my choices. Now I have the maturity, I still have the talent, an understanding of the bigger picture and I’m able to put myself in the best position possible to deal with both sides of luck. So trying to calm a brain that wants to dream of glory and fear of failure all within 24hrs, in to something that can set realistic targets for the year, I use these key points to focus on and compare to previous race results and any current goals that come to mind.

1: Physical ability to train and improve

I will be 35 this year and this does have an impact especially in combination with my family life. I can’t train as frequently hard as I used to. I can maintain a similar overall volume but i have to leave more gaps between high intensity sessions. Old injuries require more love and I cannot get away with getting caught up in dick swinging during training. Racing up climbs, pushing Tempo runs to hold someone else’s Tempo or in any way proving your greatness when it means fuck all. There’s no point in going Grey if you don’t wise up. If you’ve had some time in the sport, at this age you do not need as much training as you used to get to your peak level. With accurate fitness building, good recovery and maturity you can reach the same highs that you used to and chisel your way beyond. This will obviously not be the case forever but right now I’m lucky to know without doubt there is more to come from this mind and body. However this time there is no bottomless Well of Testosterone to pick me up off the canvas when I lose my head. Instead the weight of responsibility will press me down and drown me, and by the time I get up it could be all over for my A race and my sex life. Maturity can definitely be an advantage but only if you understand and except your limitations.

2: Time to train and recover

If like me your lucky enough to live with 2 monkeys and a Gorilla, chances are you have less time than you used to. At Elite level everyone seems to be able to train for half the day, with the other half of the day spent preparing Quinoa, lying down whilst watching Netflix and having multiple Baths of varying temperatures. Having worked with a few I now know this isn’t the case, but if you’re a social media stalker it would be easy to think this is the reality. The same could also be said of Age Group athletes putting in over 20hrs per week, going away on training camps and still finding time for more recovery than a Sloth who enjoys a massage. These athletes are extremely fortunate or they are expressing their insecurity by showing you their best side on Instagram. Social media is a fantastic head fuck in this way, and my personal experiences tell me that most athletes don’t always tell the truth online and mind games can start earlier than you think, so don’t get too hung up on 25hr training weeks and chiselled abdominal muscles.

If your time is accurately spent in all relevant Triathlon ways but still limited, talent can bridge this gap. But assuming that to progress up the field you are competing directly with people who have a similar physical talent, work ethic and ability to suffer but more time to train and recover, how can you progress? Im not going to go in to all the usual areas of improvement like equipment choices, nutrition and aerodynamics etc etc. Assuming that all is equal except time to train and recover the only advantage you have is less pressure to produce your best performance more often. This might be interpreted as less pressure to peak multiple times in a season for instance. At Pro level it is a guarantee that athletes will be building and peaking for multiple races, on different courses with different physical and strategical requirements. The same is true of Age Group racing. This is a pressure I personally cannot afford and do not have time for. By peaking for one race in the season you can become the master of that one race. The way you build your engine through the winter can relate very specifically to the course you will be racing on, and having only one peak for one A race can mean that you can say without doubt that no one knows that course, it’s layout and requirements better than you do.

*Print off course maps and relate this to wind directions so you know when to expect choppy water, headwinds and tailwinds. Identify tricky turns and use google maps to identify relevant landmarks.

*Read as many Blogs as you can across all levels of athlete. There is a variety of things that people who are racing at different speeds notice, and it can all be relevant.

*Use social media to ask people who have started the race for guidance and tips. I say started the race because sometimes a DNF can teach more than a podium.

*Memorize aid station locations and aid station content vs how much you need to store on your bike. The more accurate you can be with water/gel consumption vs water/gel collection, the lighter you can make your Bike for longer periods of the race. On climbs or in to headwinds this has lots of value.

*Train your body specifically for the environmental requirements. Training for the heat can be awkward and time consuming but doing it in very small doses, progressively for 6 months can be very effective.

*And most importantly build your engine specifically for the race.

-A Non Wetsuit Swim will mean that the frequency and quality of your sighting technique needs to be very high. But conditioning this and not losing speed is a long process.

-A Bike that has a significant headwind/tailwind combination or any variety of climbing will need a ability to change Cadence and not spike your HR or lose power. If you’re doing 6×5 min intervals @ Threshold why not split them in to 1/2 @ 65-70rpm and 1/2 and 90-95rpm You can apply this principle to any duration or intensity of intervals and make them more specific to your race conditions. It will teach you to be comfortable changing Cadence but it’s very hard and it takes time. If you’re trying to peak for one race it’s time you have and it’s a level of specificity not all of your competitors will be able to go to.

-If the run will be hot maybe consider a pre-planned run/walk strategy. This is very good for maintaining hydration levels and allowing some cooling at aid stations. But to feel comfortable doing it you will need to be very practiced in the scheduling as well as your walking technique. It’s challenging to walk quickly through an aid station when extremely thirsty and drink on the move, without looking like a drunk Nazi storm trooper hunting for a top up. This can be developed by improving walking technique during warm downs (5 mins per week) and the occasional long run (1 per month). Doing fast hill walking (7-7.5kph + 7-10 %) on the Treadmill during warm downs seems to be the shortest and most effective way I have seen. There will also be some crossover to your IM run technique and your ability to use your arms and hips more efficiently.

3:The Competition:

I will be racing against a much deeper Pro field than when I first had a crack back in 2014. Elite Ironman racing has changed very quickly. Over the last 4 years the fields have become much deeper with the usual suspects in the top 5, but from 5th to 10th and sometimes 15th place, there are now far more athletes competing right up until the finish line. This isn’t being driven by Prize money because that is something that hasn’t changed, but whatever the driver is the Pro ranks are now swollen with lots of talent and as i set my bar for the season, the competition is something I and all athletes should be aware of. If you’re having a good race but are nowhere near your predetermined goal it’s very easy to slip in to a negative mindset, even though it should be a positive one. If you’re racing for a position you need to know realistically where a good performance could place you in the field. Know your competition and know where you could be. My last race in 2017 got me 14th place. This was on my lowest ever training load and highest ever stress load. Even with strong competition my goal this year is to see how deep i can get in the top 10 at IM Zurich.

4:Forgetting your goals.

The last thing that I feel is important in setting the bar is to forget about the bar as quickly as fucking possible. My personal point of view is that these goals can be a major distraction, and actually an important skill is to learn is how to quickly remove these thoughts when they creep in. Once they are established they offer little value and in my opinion lots of distractions. Everybody knows how to truthfully measure their fitness and even the most positive mindset cannot blind you to a slower running treadmill, or a climb that feels like it’s one step from the grave. And when you get in to the repetitive grind of building race fitness, you know when you’re venturing in to uncharted waters of fitness, or at least when you’re able to confidently wear that Tri suit again. You don’t need these goals floating around your head and creating distractions, or at worst leading you on a social media journey of envy, fear and panic training.

It’s important to honestly and accurately establish what you want from the season, and then to forget it and get on with using your time efficiently and effectively while fighting your children, your wife and the avalanche of germs, cooking and moral questions that come your way on an hourly basis. Dedicating your only free time so that you can become very good at exhausting yourself in half a day is a strange thing in many people’s eyes, but it is important to accurately understand your reasons for doing it. However strange it all is my wife knows it brings me happiness so she excepts it with a grimace, but it’s also good to have someone’s perspective from outside the bubble. And actually if you are lucky enough to have family, friends and distractions from the world of Triathlon and Ironman, my gut feeling is that regardless of the time restraints this a secret weapon someone who is all in will never have.

Still being chased by the dream

Hopefully this will be the first of many more regular Blogs, but trying to work out exactly what I should focus my writing on has been a bit more difficult than expected. Now i have a a bit more clarity on where I am and what I’m doing, I believe the experiences I’ve had and will continue to have provide an interesting look at what it’s like to be living, training, Coaching and racing at a high level in the Centre of Europe. Im from the UK, I live in Germany, my work is based in Switzerland and I also train and race in France. I believe I live in The Triathlon Base outside of the US. Brett Sutton and Lubos Bilek (the best Coach of male Pro athletes at this time and cosch to Sebastian Kienle) are based here, and as a result many of the best male and female Long Distance Pro’s are also based here. This means the quality of athletes who have been produced by or passed through this region is totally disproportionate to anywhere else. I will leave you to count the number of Ironman World Championships this region has produced or helped produced, but Daniela Ryf, Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle, Patrick Lange, Norman Stadler, Thomas Helriegel as well as many, many Ironman Champions have all conditioned themselves in the environment here at some point. On top of the vast amount of talent based here, there is also a vast number of races. IM Frankfurt, Zurich, Challenge Roth, 70.3 Switzerland, 70.3 Kraichgau, 70.3 Luxemburg, Challenge Heilbronn and Challenge Davos are all within driving distance, and if don’t mind sitting in the car for 6hrs there’s plenty more Ironman or Challenge branded races on offer. To put in perspective I live on a large hill on the edge of the Black Forest. It’s green and remote, but a chap who lives on my hill is a Kona Age Group World Champion and that tells you all you need to know about the depth of talent here. There is something about this region and fortunately for me I’ve landed in the centre of it.

The last two years have been a mix of real life experiences coping with a move abroad and the birth of a second Child, but this has also been mixed with a deeper immersion in to the world of Triathlon yet strangely with almost no racing. When we first decided to leave a very established and comfortable life to move to Central Europe, it was on the back of a lot of hope. There was the obvious, real life hope of being able to build a safe and comfortable set up again, but with almost no guaranteed income to look forward to and a finite amount of savings that were quickly running out. For me a big part of the hope that enabled me to take such a large risk was that I would be able to chase deeper in to the Triathlon dream in this region. This came way down the list of priorities in comparison to establishing an income through Coaching and Personal Training, building a life, having a second Child and all the necessities that come with that. But it’s true to say that I would never have moved here without the possibility of being able to chase deeper in to the dream. Triathlon is something that will always remain with me and something my life is focused on.

I’m fortunate in that I Coach a good number of athletes, and I’m able to consistently learn and develop from the experiences I have Coaching them. Regardless of the level Im coaching at I get equally as much satisfaction from an athletes success, but Elite racing can be an easier story to tell. The journey that myself and Lina Kristin-Schink went on to get to the podium in Challenge Almere was extremely challenging. Without all the years of bad luck and bad decisions I had myself as an athlete, I’m not sure I would have had the minerals to hold it all together. 2017 finished with a 4th place at Challenge Almere after about 4 months of working together, and this was a significant improvement on previous performances so 2018 looked sweet going in to the Winter. Then the first and only Coaching mistake was made watching Kona and getting a semi at the thought of being part of the race next year. We both felt the same pull to the race, but it went against the racing strategy I had planned for next year, and it was my responsibility that we ended up chasing and risking. I believe this has been the graveyard of many Elite and Age Group athletes. It’s a fast track to spending money, rushing your preparation and picking up early season fatigue. But still we got sucked in and before I knew it instead of building on last season safely, we were planning a racing and travel strategy that looked like a Tube map super imposed on a map of the earth. Africa, Europe, Africa, Europe Australia, Europe, maybe Asia, Europe, Kona!! All starting in Jan and running until Oct. Fortunately the new Elite qualification system doesn’t allow for this kind of slow burn suicide anymore.

The first race in Africa resulted in a finish but with a costly mechanical, the second in South Africa ended with physical issues and a DNF, back to Europe for a good performance, but this was quickly followed by another Physical issue and DNF, and before you know it you are out of peaks and not only are you definitely not going to Kona but you’re so deep in expenses, disappointment and fatigue that you’re wondering if you should continue in the sport at all. This left us with Challenge Almere as the last option to not only save the season but possibly the Career of a very talented athlete, with a passion for the sport who had made real progress in training. In 12 month things had from positive to almost hopeless. From a Coaching perspective I was accepting responsibility for where we were and that put even more pressure on me personally as we worked out how to turn it around.

So how do you handle this kind of pressure in unfamiliar circumstances? As well as the financial commitment I have to my athletes, that is no comparison to the pressure I have in wanting them to succeed personally, and also as a justification of my Coaching Philosophy. A philosophy I have manufactured from research and experiences, but one that in the details i believe is unique to me. At Elite level your Philosophy is tested to the limit, you really cannot miss anything. Most Elite athletes are Coached and some by more established Coaches than me, and if your shit doesn’t work you will find out very quickly. So regardless of the progress being made in training, if you can’t transfer it to a race and in the process your athlete gets burnt out and then you lose them, you have failed. The reality of this as a Coach is that you may not get another opportunity with an Elite athlete to test your Philosophy and knowledge at the highest level. Before Lina my Path had crossed with only one other athlete with Elite potential, and we had success but that doesn’t mean your paths will cross with the Elite side of sport again. You need some luck in finding the right people at the right time.

On top of this pressure the practical reality was that we had peaked for an important, local Ironman that finished in a DNF. It was the second peak of the year and there was a lot of fatigue and motivation issues to negotiate if we were to get ready for another race 6 weeks away. Holding a peak and losing fatigue at the end of the season is a very difficult balance and it required daily adaptations to the program, as well as a training structure that was at times very conservative, and at times overly challenging. It was an experiment for me and it was an experiment under pressure. In situations like this I believe one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not to doubt yourself. The main point is that you have to trust in the progress you’ve made and established, so if you’re trying to coach or train within unfamiliar circumstances you need to detach whether or not you’re fit, from whether or not you are ready to race. For a period of time fitness is actually quite easy to sustain without the same training load you used to build it, but keeping yourself psychologically fit is a lot harder. Take it for granted that you’re fit and then focus your energy on nursing yourself towards the start line, with a goal of being mentally ready to deliver that one big effort. Recover too much and you lose the fight, overdo it and you lose the edge. This is obvious, but to a backdrop of two main peaks, lots of disappointment, quite a bit of fatigue and career defining pressure it is far from easy to keep that perspective. The right decisions can only be made by having a daily dialogue with yourself and your athlete, using as much information as possible and again never questioning your fitness only your ability to use it.

So this daily dialogue revolved around questions of fatigue and motivation without much training volume, but with just enough intensity to keep the body and mind ready to attempt a session that would maintain the fitness level, but also challenging enough to wire up the Brain for a race. And when it was clear that there was an opportunity to train hard the session had to be very challenging and very specific. One session we did at the Track was over 21k in total, with a build in pace over 5 sets of 3 intervals (15 intervals) as 2k/1600m/1200m. The intervals built from a hard Ironman effort (30 sec rest) to just over 70.3 effort (45 sec rest), then the final interval just over 10k effort (1 min rest), then repeating and having to recover during that first interval at Ironman effort before building up again. Each interval was completed on avg within an accuracy of 3 seconds. It required lots of focus, pacing control and fight. This was a session we had never done before, it was hot and for Lina it was very difficult to count laps and intervals so being able to switch off and fight was the only option outside of quitting the session. We argued a bit, she shouted at me, I made her do more the whole time feeling guilty and genuinely unsure if she was able to do it and as a result the race itself in Almere. Im sure a failure in this session would have been a scar that would have carried over to the race. In my mind this one session revealed the state of her fitness, but also the state of her mind. She wasn’t completely fresh, but she was fit and she was still fighting. It was such a hard session and there was so much anger coming out, that I believe in a way this cleared the air emotionally and physically, and because of the outcome it proved to us both that all we had to do was not overtrain and use the occasional key session to stay sharp. Although a certain amount of fatigue remained we knew the mental and physical fitness was there. I felt as much pressure watching that training session as I have watching races. For me it felt like that was the race and a failure there would have been impossible to come back from. Even after this session it was still a daily mix of questions and answers to find a route to the start line, but by communicating as often as possible and being flexible with the program we got to the start line confident.

What is a key session in this situation when you’re trying to minimise the amount of hard training you do? I would say around 85-90% of Threshold, in intervals of 15-20 mins for around 120-140% of the total time you use when measuring your Threshold. So on the Bike it was roughly 80 mins of effort with a 3/1 or 2/1 work/rest ration. You get that mix of speed (relative to Ironman) and endurance. For holding fitness I believe this is a very useful session. Adding in a smaller number of race effort intervals at the end is also useful, because you carry over fatigue from the main set and it’s less time consuming and draining than doing them as part of a long endurance ride. It also removes the need (in the short term) to do a top end session to maintain your top end, which I believe is important on the Bike all the way through an Ironman build up, especially on hilly or windy courses.

Even though getting to the start line ready to get on the podium was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever been involved in, watching the race itself was almost too much to control. When you’re aiming for a very specific target within a race there is only success and a lesson for next time if it doesn’t work out, and I really couldn’t be bothered with another lesson. As the race came together and the outcome started to take shape, it boiled down to one very specific race dynamic. Debbie Greig was having a very strong race in 3rd place and was just over 9 mins ahead as the race settled in to the run. Lina was 5th or 6th. It was a 6 lap run course so Lina would need to take back 1.35 each lap to get on the podium. For the first 3 laps she took 1.30 which would have meant that at the same rate it would have come down to a sprint finish. I was confident that Debbie would slow down on lap 4 but she didn’t, and lap 4 was also a reduction of 1.30. By now staying calm was only achieved by playing Bob Marley on my I Phone, and trying not to focus on the reality that this could end up in a sprint finish, or worse another lesson that I wouldn’t have an opportunity to learn from and respond to. Your athlete comes past and you try to connect emotionally and say the right thing, but other than that all you can do is time the splits and wait, and wait, and wait and hope. For all athletes who’ve never supported another athlete you’re invested in during a race, it is fucking hard. Moments of boredom and moments of anxiety mixed in with an irrational amount of Tracker refreshing.

Lap 5 was make or break, and on Lap 5 Debbie finally cracked after a seriously good fight, Lina moved in to 3rd and as I had hoped in calmer moments she had a genuine shot at 2nd place. As the race continued with the podium in the bank it was obvious that she was closing quickly on Els Visser in 2nd, but at the finish line Els was a minute up the road. On another day it would have been another step up on the podium, but the feeling as she crossed the line with exactly what she came for was very sweet. I feel the same way about everybody I coach, but after such a hard season and with so much at stake this was a real Buzz. Other than the Podium, the overall time improvements and the PB for Bike and Run, what really mattered here was how motivating it becomes when you take a step forward and set your sights on a new target that was previously out of reach. So close to second and with a performance much closer to Yvonne Van Vlerken in 1st, the next logical progression is upwards to the last two steps. Moving forward thats what we aim for now and that’s as exciting as anything I’ve done as an athlete. This one race really was make or Break, I believe that Track session really did make the difference at a key part of the race, it came down to the run and a 3.08 marathon to crack Debbie. Regardless of the positive outcome what really matters in this experience are the confirmations, of the Coaching relationship, the Talent within the athlete and that for me my Coaching philosophy holds up at the highest level. The main truth in Coaching is that you’re only as good as the people you work with, and that if you apply yourself you can try to maximize that, but so much of it based on communication and not magic training sessions. I am fortunate to work with some very committed Athletes that make things much easier for me, and on top of that I’m lucky to work with a   Talented and extremely hard working Elite athlete who allows me to develop as a Coach. I’m sure next year Lina can take a step or two up the podium.

Outside of this race the mistakes made and as a result the lessons learned are:
•That every race has value, should be appreciated and should not be a box to tick.
•Kona can make and ruin your love for the Sport. Kona is great to Watch but it highlights the Sport as a whole and not only what happens on the Island.
•A decision you make in the off season, especially if its aligned with unrealistic goals can drain you financially and physically, this sport should give more than it takes.
•Being flexible with your training and comfortable with that is extremely important, your body is not a spreadsheet and you can trust that if you don’t fill in a box the outcome can still be optimal.
•When you have built a certain level of physical and mental fitness, what really matters is your ability to use it so if you’re in unfamiliar circumstances and doubting yourself, except that you are fit, don’t question it, and focus on the easiest way of maintaining it whilst getting ready to use it.

As I wrote in my last Blog over a year ago, I managed to squeeze in (barely) enough training and energy for one race since moving here. Fortunately this went well and it enabled me to race again in the Pro field for 2019, however approaching Elite racing will be very different this time compared to my previous hit and miss attempts in 2014/15/16. I’m lucky that I’ve signed to race for a team next year, and the support they give me means I will have every opportunity to produce my best as I experience Elite racing again. I will write a Blog about my own racing next, and I will go in to detail about the racing scene here in Switzerland, as well as the races I will be aiming for and how I will prepare for them. Being based in Central Europe around so many races and talented Athletes, but also living and training in 3 countries and Triathlon cultures, I hope provides me with an interesting insight in to Triathlon. As a working father of two young kids trying to hang in the Elite field using lots of corner cutting, creative training and flexibility hopefully should make for some interesting




IM Zurich

Ironman Zurich race report.
Where it started, where it could turn around or where it could end

So where to start??

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written a blog or really engaged much on Social media, and this is partly due to three things. Firstly I really wasn’t sure what I wanted or was able to get from Triathlon. Last year playing the Pro game took a lot of love I had for the sport and to be honest I didn’t know why I was doing it. The second reason is that Brexit made Facebook a pretty ugly place to be (partly my own fault) and I was happy to step back a bit from Social media as my own life changed direction.
The main thing that held me back from typing regularly was our move to Germany. Moving is stressful enough, but changing countries in the way we chose to do it, with a thin safety net, and a child is on a level I’ve never been to before, which is possibly why in March I ended up bed ridden with fever and burn out 2 weeks before the Zurich marathon. We moved to the German border with France and Switzerland, and although eventually training and living in 3 countries has been beyond special in so many ways, getting used to 3 countries was beyond stressful.
To be honest there was no real training for the first 4 months. I entered 3 races and my run of DNSs carried on to a number that when added to my DNFs is about as much as the pound has fallen against the Euro since Brexit. Remain!!! There’s too much I could write about how difficult (real life difficult and not Triathlon difficult) the move was, but this is a Triathlon blog and not a moan so I will leave that to the imagination. But all I will say is that I got sick really badly 4 times (proper cold here in Winter) and had my first dose of actual bed ridden Burn out.
But life did settle down, and when it did what I was left with was a look at Triathlon training paradise. This region of Germany has produced Norman Stadler, Sebastian Kienle and the current coach of Kienle, Ronnie Schildknecht and 5th Place in Kona 2016 Andi Böchere. They are based where I work in Zurich which is also a training paradise, but back
to where I live in Germany where I am a 20min ride from a mountain at 1200m another at 1400m is a 2hr ride, the Grand Ballon (the only uncategorised climb to be used in this part of France during the Tour) is part of a 5hr ride, and you can find a gradient, type of climb or hours of Flat in France that
cover every base. I live at the top of a 700m, 10 min climb which leads to km upon km of designated cycle lanes or clear roads.
When I run, I run in trails and don’t see one person for 3hrs and I’m yet to run the same route twice. Enough gloating! But all this woke up my love for training and as time and energy became available, I looked at the calendar and realised I still had 3 months I could use to get fit for an Ironman, and the obvious choice was Zurich. I knew that I didn’t have time to get to a level where I would feel comfortable racing at Elite level, but I knew I could compete well so I went for an Age Group entry, and I nearly shat my pants when I looked at the price. Are you fucking kidding me!!! Nearly £800! All the love I had found nearly ran away with the Credit Card as I considered the cost. This is an aspect of the Sport I hate. It’s selective about who it lets in and that’s not what sports about. But I did it, and in doing it I knew that if this race didn’t work out it would be the last time I waste this amount of money again.
As I started training what I couldn’t believe was how quickly the environment was bringing me on. It was fun to train hard, and even though my time was limited I could push, and that tied in with how well I planned for this block meant that momentum was coming quickly enough for my confidence to grow with my love. When I say how well planned I was, I’m referring to the hours of research I did across all sports to put together a very specific periodised plan that was going to maximise very little volume. Every aspect I could control I did and every limit I knew I could reach I did, and 1 month out from the race I knew I was in the game. 2kg lighter than at any time before, Key sessions for bike and run were very similar to 2015 when they were at their highest, but this was tied in to the fact than although in 2016 my bike and run were lacking, i learnt to Swim. I invested the time and I learnt to Swim, and on top of that most of my work time was spent next to Lake Zurich, which is not a bad spot for a paddle. I was also training in a very choppy 50m pool that required regular overtaking and my stroke was adapting to this above the water, whilst maintaining last years below the water improvement. So although I wasn’t fitter, with all these things together I knew I could be competitive and more rounded athlete.
The build up to the race was smooth because I was able to stay in Zurich thanks to Lina. Thanks Lina!! And I felt good and able to push the negatives away quickly when they came in to my head. But Zurich is an emotional race for me. It’s the place that I finished my first IM and it’s also the place I DNFd by choice for the first time, and although that’s something I’ve only repeated twice since, it did start off a string of race performances that were very up and down for the next 3 years based on the mindset it created. When I stepped off the course that day I definitely lost something and my wife says the same. In the past I would only have quit if a shit covered leg fell off, and I wouldn’t have thought too much about trying to carry on either, but that day things changed.
So this race was where it started, where it could turn around or where it could end, and because of this everything was done to prepare, I went to depths of preparation that only my Maths GCSE second repeat had seen before, and because of that I felt relaxed. Please, please, please no mechanical. Please no fucking mechanical!!! No fucking mechanical!!!!

At 5am having got to transition in the top 3, and done my 20th transition walk through I wetsuited up 30 mins before the start, to stretch, loosen up, view the course from the water, get in the pen exactly where I wanted all in time to
feel I had the right kind of adrenaline. I pulled my googles down as my wave got closer, and all my adrenaline nearly ran down my inner leg as my googles had completely fogged over resting on my head. Try cleaning googles on dry land with no water and material other than neoprene and sand, but as the Swim kicked off it was difficult to make peace with the collection of Mucus that slowly sloshed from one side of my vision to the other. All that prep and planning but perfection was still out of reach! The swim wasn’t too hectic. The Age Group wave starts make for a much calmer strategic approach, and my strategy was based around holding my race Pace but surging to get good looking feet if they came past. That’s what I trained for and that’s what I got, no surprise in that really. I knew my gears and I used them pretty well and a high 58 min swim without much stress or energy wasted was pretty close to what I wanted. I surged and caught about 6 different sets of feet throughout the Swim, and I stayed focused and calm throughout and these were my only Swim targets before the race. I’m not racing with a watch these days, but i knew when I left the water it was a good swim because I remained focused, and I knew I was in shape to ride well given the way I’d swam and that was all that mattered.
The 20 practice walk throughs I had done in T1 meant it went well, I wear a long sleeve over top and that took some time to put on but transition was clean and unsurprisingly I got what I trained for. I hadn’t had time for too much long riding, but I knew I had built the engine well enough to hold a good pace on this course and deal with the climbs, but due to recent race experiences I was focused if not confident. Within 5 mins I was in a Pace line of about 5 athletes which I pushed to the front of as the Pace felt easy at the back, and I lead the group for a while before looking round and seeing them all there and a tad close to each other if you ask me. So I chose to play the game and not let my ego get the better of me. I slowed up and let the train come through before legally joining the back. The truth is that at times some of the guys in front were riding wheel to wheel and at times even around 10m I was riding so easy that I would drift in to the draft zone, soft peddle, sit up, put the breaks on, read the paper and generally do whatever I wanted. Then the group would accelerate away and I would have to put in surges well over race Pace. My guess would be that I was going between 220 and 325 Watts constantly whilst trying to stay legal. The refs weren’t interested in giving out cards, and as I was riding legally I would watch the refs ride past me, stop and watch the group riding wheel to wheel in front which would cause the group to drift back to legal distance and create another big surge. There was a lot of seen drafting and no penalties until one guy, who basically had his head inside the rider in fronts arse pad got carded.
Fortunately I expected all this as from what I’ve heard it’s basically the norm now at Ironman Age Group races, so mentally I was prepared and I excepted that the best thing to do was to stay smart, as legal as possible, and to make sure that if anyone did break off the front I could bridge to them and ride at a faster pace than I was. The whole ride was a mix of these surges and that mixed in with all the climbing in Zurich, meant that my overall avg power was lower than I wanted but it was full of surges which I’m sure in the end took something off of my run. In the end the bike was 5-10 mins slower than I expected. 4 years earlier and less fit I rode a 4.56, but I excepted it for what it was and I had managed to stay focused enough to remain at the front of the group as it really started to break up around 140k. On top of that I was accurate with all my Carbs (around 87g per hr) and although a little behind with my water intake, I was aware of this and could respond to it quickly on the run.
As the run started it was 28 degrees and the sun was out, but I live in this climate now and I have spent many days training in the low to mid 30s. But I was low on water, and what training in the heat has taught me is that I need to be hydrated to hold pace and things can turn ugly pretty quickly if I’m not. On top of that the mental black hole I went to at the start of the run was a big shock. During the taper as reality began to dawn, I managed to hide well what the stress and pressure of this race meant to me, but the truth was that with so much going wrong last year and the cost of it emotionally and financially for me and my family, there was no room for error at this race. When you have a family to provide for Triathlon is a luxury if you’re at my level. Last year I got close to breaking even, but not close enough to justify being tired and miserable for large parts of the year. If I didn’t finish I knew I wouldn’t do another Long Distance race like this. These events are a choice, the time and energy cost is a choice, there is no real suffering in it, just a very personal, measurable way to test your work ethic and fight. I love the self discovery, the planning, the individuality and the adventure of Ironman but it is very hard on your wallet and body, not always healthy and extremely dominating. Despite this I love the sport, it will define the things I feel proudest of during this time of my life, and I will be involved in it long after I’ve stopped racing. My racing goals remain very important to me, and the pressure of what this race meant to me hit me like the stink of the Porterloos cooking in the heat.
I wanted to quit after 5k of the run, I felt like I was running well and not great, but the real problem was in my head. I just couldn’t stop wanting to quit. This dragged on for the first 20k almost non stop and it was draining. I thought I was stronger than that, and this also became part of the problem as well. Looking back a big part of this mental battle was that for me, when I stepped off the race course in 2014, around 20k funnily enough, I lost something. The reasons I stepped off were because I had lost the respect I had for the sport, my ego had grown after some wins, and in doing this I opened up a can of shit so large and full of worms I fell in and lost sight of the exit. This tied in to my slight dehydration actually gave me a way out as I started a run/walk strategy very early. To get my water and sanity in I walked each aid station from the third one I came to, making sure I got a lot of water in the mouth not on the face as well as a good amount on my head to keep my core temperature down. I would walk for about 15 sec per aid station, and breaking the run down in this way gave me small makable targets that freed my brain up. I also managed to engage all the meditation and visualization I’ve been practicing, my wife also showed up with my boy at the end of the 2nd lap and all of this together meant my head cleared completely. I kept taking a gel every 20 mins and managed to get my hydration level right and then it just flowed. It was uncomfortable and I still had to feel the doubt creep in and out of my head, but I was in control and I knew I would finish strong.
I had an idea in my head I was in top 15 but I obviously wasn’t sure given the looped course, and by this point I had one gear and I knew I was using it and pushing it as hard as I could, but my head was so clear for the last 1/2 marathon when I look back now it’s a bit wierd. I wasn’t confident, but I wasn’t afraid and I was acting very logically with my choices and decisions. The last lap was riddled with cramps which probably cost me 2-3 mins. There were 2 reasons for the cramps and both are linked to fitness. I had the ability to run the last 10k quicker and I was until I cramped, and this is down to the fact I had built the engine with high intensity sessions without quite enough long runs to support the effort I was producing. The cramps maybe cost me 2-3 places but I don’t care. This result is my best result in an Ironman and on my least amount of training, and when I crossed the line and collapsed I felt that, turned around and screamed. Not something I’ve done before.

Swim-2.5 per week. 6-8k
Bike-3 per week-190k
Run-3 per week-50k

When I look back, from start to finish I made two bad decisions, I didn’t drink enough on the bike, and I left my googles on top of my head for too long, but that was it and they were both corrected quickly. Every decision to surge on the Swim or the bike, how much water to be carrying up the climbs, my pre race meal, my gearing on the bike, my choice of kit, which surges to follow, right down to the 10 seconds I counted out each time I stopped to stretch my Hamstring cramps in the last 5k. I prepared for everything better than I ever had before and I got away with less training. Writing this now 9 days on I am still totally fucked, which is new. My body has healed but my hormones and stores are all over the shop. This took more out of me than anything I’ve done before and it’s only writing this, in hindsight I can allow myself to see what it meant. I love this sport, I love racing and I’m not ready to give it up yet. This gives me the chance to race again, set another goal and that will be all I focus on. I think I’ve found the right formula for me and with more smart volume I can compete in the top 10, and from there see which other goals I can reach with the years and energy I have left. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this race it’s that the opportunity to do 1 Ironman is very special, it’s a luxury, it’s an opportunity and although it’s wrapped up and packaged in a nice way for us to pay up asap, it’s worth making sure you’re not just prepared physically, but that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

IM Argentina in Dec it is then!


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.

Lessons of DNS and DNF

You spend months visualising a race and training specifically for it, those thoughts provide the motivation and fear of failure to get the work done and make the best decisions you can. The emotional investment outweighs the financial one for both you and your family, but the cost of both together is high, especially when your investment doesn’t pay off. As a Neo Pro what I need are the results and experience of Elite racing as well as rewarding my sponsors for their backing. Prize money doesn’t come in to my thinking, firstly because there is so little of it and secondly because these days getting in to the Prize money slots represents a huge achievement for very little financial return. The people you have to finish ahead of to reach the prize money slots in almost every IM, is a far bigger prize than the money. This situation obviously raises the overall standards of Elite racing and I understand why it is the case on WTC. If you are able to achieve a good placing in a race, what you do get is a profile and sense of achievement you could use to develop your life as an Elite athlete in other ways, and that is very important and also worth more than the prize money. With the previous Kona qualification system, lots of races were left almost empty of Pro fields. Lanzarote 3/4 years ago had around 6 male Pros and Wales had around 6 2 years ago. Last year Wales was in the mid teens and this year Lanzarote was over 30 top quality athletes. Every IM race has stacked Pro fields with real depth and quality, and you cannot develop your Elite Career with Prize money in mind unless you have bags of talent that pours out of you very quickly. With quick early progress in my Triathlon career I had hoped for this, but 2 years of bad lock and bad choices means a slow burn is the only option for me if I want to support my family and provide an income in other ways.

But more importantly I also need to break what is becoming a habit of DNS and DNFs due to the combination of a ton of bad luck but also some questionable choices. The truth is sometimes there is just nothing you can do. As an Elite Triathlete it’s not like I’m turning my wetsuit lube in to wine, or helping people in need, in fact it’s quite the opposite. I am choosing to suffer these disappointments in a selfish adventure. What sport does above everything else is magnify and condense life situations in to short, intense periods of time, and in this way it can teach you lessons quite quickly and quite abruptly if you can absorb them. Because things happen so quickly it’s also easy to let these lessons slip by.

So what have I personally learnt from another DNS at IM Lanzarote?

1-The first thing I have learnt is that every race matters, whether it’s an A,B,C race, tapered, rested or knackered. I ran a marathon a couple of months ago and although I didn’t rest or taper, that race and result has more significance now I’m once again recovering from the race that never happened, and trying to build another peak for my next attempt at reaching the start line.

2-The second thing is that you have to judge your success and failures in your build up training without a race to confirm your form or fitness. This is very difficult. The athlete half of us is not a great person, even though I’m sure most of us view it as some kind of Holy Lycra Hulk that emerges from under our tired, life worn bodies. But the majority of driving forces to physical athletic success are not good qualities, even if you’re on the start line for charitable and noble reasons. Stubbornness, selfishness, absorbing physical/mental pain and pissing yourself sometimes twice in a day, are just a handful of the joys Lycra Hulk brings to the party. Of course determination and not giving up are noble qualities, but I’m sure quite a few adventurers and explorers have met the man in the sky with the same determination and drive not to give up. So to make judgements on how your training went Lycra Hulk has to get in the cupboard and stay there while you make your conclusions.

My main conclusions were that I took myself right up to the cliff edge of over training, fatigue, injury, skinniness and overall meltdown, then walked right along the cliff edge until I reached a massive hole. I stopped and looked at the hole, and then jumped in while Hulk held on to the edge with one finger, which slowly slipped until it was only the end of the finger nail on his little finger keeping me out of the abyss. Then I pulled myself out of the hole feeling strong confident and ready to take on anything with a finish line, and an Ironmam felt like it would be just another box I was going to tick with my mighty pen of fitness. I was actually looking like a White chocolate Ginger Bread man climbing out of a Coffee according to my wife, and not the Lycra monster emerging from the abyss I had thought. Moody, skinny and pale with bad posture and in a constant state of eating, stretching or leaning on a foam roller in the corner talking to myself. I had managed to absorb a huge amount of training with some pretty epic sessions. A 6hr ride with 5000m of climbing, 2hr runs of solid, hard hill reps and 3hr runs off 1hr hard bikes, and I had managed to be consistent even with these huge sessions. More importantly I had more consistency and specificity than ever in the pool and I was at a lower weight with more muscular strength in the Gym than before. But with all of that came a lot (too much fighting). My guess is that I was fitter and lighter than I have ever been, but also mentally I was a little bit out of control. I had lost perspective and balance on most things, and although a long taper may have brought me back to life, I don’t think riding the edge is the best way to produce a rounded athlete. Building up to the edge, seeing it and then tapering straight away with control is a safer, more productive option in my opinion. Lesson learnt. Again!

3-This can require turning off a lot of your athletic instincts. You have an Idea in your head like it or not, of which sessions you should tick off and how light, powerful and capable you should be leading in to a race. If you’re self coached deciding which training sessions are a reality requires a lot of self control. Lycra Hulk will want stick his/her sweaty green finger in to the programme and add on a few hours, so it’s important you don’t let him. Otherwise as you try to live out Lycra Hulks false prophecy you will turn on your athletic instincts to fight, endure and suffer etc too early, and as an endurance athlete these instincts can take you a little to close to the edge, hole or Zombieland that is doing too much training and pushing too hard. Like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade there are great rewards to be had in this land but only if you can keep your head, and being able to keep your head in that land is easier said than done. A race of any importance requires self control and awareness. So without a race to confirm or deny that you had the right training plan how do you reflect on how it could have turned out?

Unless you’re as optimistic and positive as a Puppy playing with a Baby in a meadow full Lemmings, reflecting can be hard with out a race performance. I am (have had to be) this positive, so I see the lack of a race as a chance to view blocks of training that don’t lead to a finishers medal as a chance to view things more clearly. There are no excuses/reasons from the race to cloud your judgment before you start your next training block for your next race. Got swam over, got my nutrition wrong, shat myself on the bike or just didn’t have the legs etc don’t have to be your opening lines in conversation with your close ones. You are left with a clear, endorphin free view of how you felt in those final weeks/days of training, and after a rest break with no immediate jump back in to more heavy training, providing of course Lycra Hulk is stashed deep in the Cupboard next the canned Tuna. Then you can start some good quality analysis before once again scraping yourself off the canvas for the next event. It’s very easy to convince yourself that if you had made it to the start or finish line without any problems the form would have been there, and the crowd would have sung your name as you crossed the line looking like a shirtless Cristiano Ronaldo. The truth is that you will never know, so assume the worst and look at all areas of your build up and be very critical. Don’t change everything, but be honest enough to change something. Write down what you find and take it in to your next block of training and do not talk yourself around your findings, especially as the fatigue builds up. Do this enough times and eventually you will understand yourself better than your wife.

Regardless of where your analysis takes you the truth is that DNFs and DNSs hurt very much, and acknowledging and feeling this is important. Don’t just jump straight back in to the Blender, make sure you tweak what you did with some cold and clear analysis. Stay positive as things always change! Bad luck can take many forms, but there is almost always something you can do to try and avoid it or mould it in to a slightly better situation. I often find myself balls deep in a pile of Haribo after my knee starts to play up again and Ive had to cut that session short, or when life or illness has meant I’ve missed a session or 4. This is a good example of how to make a bad situation worse! A little extra chunk of fat to work off isn’t going to improve your mental state in the long term.

Without sounding too prophetic, as in life, people who get dealt good hands will say things like ‘a real man makes his own luck Jack’!! But the Titanic sunk, his Fiancé ran off with Leonardo Di Caprio and shagged him in a car, then apparently he shot himself a few years later, so eventually he got a bad hand as well and that confirms what a pile of crap that theory is. Some people are very good at playing a good hand, some people are very good at playing a bad hand and some people are very bad at playing a bad hand, and as long as you can reflect enough to stay out of the last group there is nothing more you can do.

DNFs and DNSs are an opportunity to put things right because you own the information telling you what went wrong and how you can get it right in the future, but only if you can cut through the emotions and keep Lycra Hulk out of that analysis. The same can be said for worse than expected race results. These situations give you the information to make correct choices on everything from injury to diet, Bike maintenance, mindset and most importantly setting realistic and achievable targets. So to summarise, do the analysis first, then take Lycra Hulk back out of the cupboard, and borrow his/her determination to keep going, because although Hulk can be misguided at times the truth is that if you analyse falling short in the right way, the determination to keep going is the only other ingredient you need to reach your potential.

Meander Marathon race report.

Meander Marathon race report.

Let the race lead you.

So my wife told me that I don’t race enough for enjoyment, and the truth is that I don’t race enough regardless of the reason. Off the back of that discussion I signed up for the Meander marathon a few weeks after the birth of our son. My pre season training has consisted of high end speed work on the bike and run, and lots of technique work and analysis in the pool as well as developing my maximum power production in the gym. All of this tied in to the facts that I haven’t cut down to race weight yet, had only done one run over an hour, was enjoying new and varied sleeping patterns because of the little one, and was at the very end of a 4 week block of training meant with no taper, meant I was doing everything other than enjoying being on the start line.

Most of the larger runs in London are competitive, and knowing that the majority of the run was on washed out trails and broken paths the main goal was to get in a race and tune up the mind in preparation for IM Lanzarote, and not to try and run a PB. As the gun went off so did 5 chaps at what must have been 2.30 marathon pace, my legs quickly told me that wasn’t gonna happen so I settled down and assumed the sunshine had got the better of them. The truth is I had no idea of the pace I could hold, and I had no idea how I would hold up in the middle third of the marathon which is where I usually slide in to a bit of a mental cage fight.

After about 15k I had broken away in to 4th leaving behind an interesting conversation with the chap in 5th who is apparently the world record holder for 500k in one go. After getting rid of the feeling of amazement and the slight feeling of inadequacy due to his stories, I realised that like it or not I was in a race. The Thames path has long stretches where you can see 400m up the road, so I found it hard to focus on my rhythm and not the gap up front and how it was changing. That’s partly due to lack of training and partly due to me trying to dig out some motivation. Not always a good thing as it can take a lot of energy to think that way and in this case it was. The gap wasn’t changing and as soon as we hit the half marathon point I told myself that 4th was ok and that this was training blah de blah de bollocks. Not a conversation you should ever be having in the middle of a race and a habit I need to shift. The only goal is finishing, and everything else that happens is a question you answer in the moment. Then all of a sudden 5th place came past me putting in a solid kick and that woke me up from my waste or space conversation and gave me a target. I followed him for about 10k constantly apologising that I couldn’t take a turn on the front (the truth) and digging very deep to stay with him. I was gritting my teeth and dealing with all his surges for about 15k constantly just telling myself to hang in for as long as I could, and I can honestly say that the whole time I was sure that I was running well over what I could hold and there was a lot of doubt in my self talk. But all of a sudden this chap had dragged me up to 3rd place who’s stride was starting to look a little jerky, and then with about 7k left to go something clicked. I run strong and that is my big strength. Whether it’s after a long bike or a stand alone marathon I get stronger later in the race, and as soon as we reached 3rd I put in a surge and dropped them both. This felt very uncomfortable and about 10 mins after I put the surge in I hit a really boggy piece of trail, and although I hated it I new they would hate it more having just been gapped. Having settled in to a nice pace and with no way of reaching second in my head I settled happily for third. Then suddenly almost as soon as the thought entered my head I cramped badly in both Hamstrings! I stopped and stretched out, had a look back and could see a gap of about 300m so I didn’t panic and settled in to a slower pace with a more relaxed loose technique. Over the next 3k I had to stop and stretch out at least another 4 times, but by now the trail was twisting and I couldn’t get a read on how far back the group was. With about 3k to go I felt safe as I ran past my family but was in too much discomfort to give them anything, but inside I felt like I had another gear if I needed it, only if my Hamstrings could hold up. 1k later I hit the turn around which left 2k to go, and as I turned I saw a new face who had come through the group at pace and was about 50m behind me. He looked like he was smiling which pissed me off a bit as I definitely wasn’t, so I took a deep breath, switched in to 5th, put my foot down, and cramped instantly. As I stretched I looked under my arm as he hit the turnaround and yes, he was definitely smiling and he had put another 10m in to me as well. I’m not gonna lie, I felt like some kind of helpless wounded prey, but I’m used to being chased by Ollie every year so I put together a stride length and speed that I thought could hold the distance without cramps, and that would hopefully get me close enough to the line that if I had to sprint with cramp I could. As I ran past my family again they looked pretty concerned especially when I stopped again to stretch just in front of them! He was now about 40m back with about 1k left. I considered stopping and pushing him in the river, but thought it would be better to just run cramping or not, and once I let go of the worry I managed to keep the gap to 30m with about 500m left. I’m able to be this accurate about the distances because I was turning around so much that from a distance it might have looked like I was running backwards. With about 200m to go he was about 15m back, but when I could see the line, in quite severe pain, like a fast moving Nazi, with straight legs out in front I sprint/marched over the line in 3rd. I endearingly told 4th he was a bastard as he crossed the line, which isn’t quite the same as being called an Ironman, and I’m pretty sure he took it the wrong way because he shuffled off quickly and left. They took pictures, I gave interviews, ate a well handled Flapjack and then walked off reflecting just how surprising and rewarding, yet hugely uncomfortable the whole thing had been.

I make light of how the race went, but in all honestly that’s as much as I have learnt about myself in recent years. I had too much weight, no watch, no goal, no freshness, no perceived fitness, no actual fitness and therefore no shackles. I let the race lead me and a result I achieved more than I thought I could. From this I know that with a good block of work I can be in good shape come the main season, but I also know that I won’t lose the mindset I started this race with. Have your boundaries and your markers but don’t make them too specific, and allow for leeway. Things change for everybody and not just you! You cannot predict the outcome and chances are your predictions will cause you problems along the way, just do what you can and keep doing what you can for as long as you can, and let the race lead you.