Monday, December 07, 2009

Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans...


I was minded of John Lennon's quote over the weekend whilst I was writing on my wall.

Let me explain:

One one of the walls in the house we've recorded the heights of the girls since they were tiny. We now have a range of incremental notches, side by side, which indicates their rate of growth over the years. However, they'd begun to fade and I'd been meaning for ages to get to work with a marker pen, going over them before they were lost forever.

Can you guess what's coming?

How poignant, I thought. These very notches are indicative of what will happen with the girls themselves. They will be with us and, one day, they will be gone and we'll be left with a series of notches on the wall, fond memories and visits from our daughters and grandchildren. And that's not something to hide away from - it's simply the way of the world. But nonetheless, it's a sobering thought.

And so, as I lay on the floor, held the pen at an extremely uncomfortable angle and began to re-write history, I thought of Mr Lennon and how apposite his feelings on 'life' were. It flies by, does our time here and the most important thing is to leave with no regrets. Do what you have to do, go where your heart tells you, strive to achieve even those things that seem insignificant to others but to you will mean everything. Most importantly, cherish love and happiness when you find them. These are the most important things. A moment of true love is worth an eternity of riches. The sparkle in a child's eye infinitely more rewarding than the glitter of gold.

I'm beginning to sound like the bible.

So, set your goals high. Run tough races. Paint pictures. Write the novel you've always felt you could. Tell your children you love them. Kiss them. Tell your wife you love her. Kiss her too. If you have a husband... tell him (he'll appreciate it even though he may seem like a tough cookie). Sing. Strum the guitar. Travel to the places you've always wanted to see. Dream freely. Allow yourself to hope and continue to set yourself targets. Fill your days and stay close physically and emotionally to the ones you love.

Oh yeah, and if you haven't watched The Sopranos, buy the boxed set before you die.

Life is for living. No regrets.

The only regret I have at the minute is that I'm eating too many mince pies. But things could be worse. I'm staying fit and enjoying the off season much more than I have previously. I'm still training nearly every day, but simply doing what I feel like, when I feel like it. Tom and Helen came for the weekend a week ago and Tom and I had a terrific 80 mile bike on the Saturday. On the Sunday, all three of us ran the Pednor 10 mile race. I clocked a reasonably paced (hilly) 71 minutes and was delighted that my calf held up.

During the week I knocked out a 45 mile bike ride with my Team MK buddies and some easy running sessions and swim sets. I've been doing hardly any swimming and was delighted to do a timed 400m in 6:22 which is only 10 seconds off a PB. Great for this time of year.

Saturday saw a 100 mile bike ride with triathlete buddies Trevor, Sam and Rob. I'm not used to doing that kind of distance in the winter but, once again, had a great time.

Work is crazy busy between now and Christmas, shooting and producing TV commercials and desperately trying to finish off my book. But that's great... I thrive on the chaotic nature of having too much to do.

I hope you guys are well and enjoying yourselves with whatever it is that you enjoy yourselves doing.

Our close friend continues to make great progress in their battle back to full health so thanks or all the positive vibes you've been sending out. Keep 'em coming.

I'll go now but leave you with another quote I hold dear to my heart...

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." (Ferris Bueller)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where do dreams go?


Once you've had them that is? Do you think they disappear somewhere inside you, filed deep in your subconscious to be trotted out as 'Deja Vu' or any one of a number of similar 'spooky' experiences we've all (I'm sure) had?

Or do they somehow float from the very imaginations within which they are born, rising through one's sleepy skull like a bubble might float from the hand held blowing device of a young child, and floating away into the atmosphere before bursting and raining down their constituent parts upon others and seeding their dreams which are born and die in a similar fashion.

So maybe dreams are more human than we know.

Maybe.

Today's pic is Dali's Metamorphosis of Narcissus - a painting I've always loved and which has always left me feeling I'm looking some kind of surreal dreamscape. Which, being a Dali painting, is exactly what I am looking at, I suppose. Anyway... study it... there's a helluva lot in there.

I had a dream the other night. It was that I'd swum a 1 hour 25 minute Ironman swim. It's some indication of how far my swimming has come that it was not so much a dream as a nightmare. I awoke, sweating and feverish, panting in the transition of my troubled imagination, panicking that I was 25 irretrievable minutes down on my goal time. But I got to thinking about it and maybe it wasn't a nightmare. Maybe I'd do better to slow down the swim a bit and keep fresh for the bike and run. There are a couple of guys at my club who swim that kind of time yet still come in ahead of me on their Ironman.

Food for thought.

I'd love to know what my children dream of. What are their hopes and fears. How do they see their lives shaping in the future. Of course, I ask. Of course, they tell me as best they can. But I'm intrigued to know if they think as deeply about life and our place in the scheme of 'Things' as I often do. Probably not.

Anyway, enough musings. What news do I have for you this week? I have returned from a week in Manchester and a successful production up there. It's always so great to be back home with the girls and there truly is no place like it. Work is busy busy busy and I've been managing to stay off the booze (no alcohol since my monstrous day at Twickenham watching England v Argentina on November 14th) and do some decent training. My calf seems to be healed and I figure I'll know for sure in a week or so whether its something I can consign to the 'old injury' list. I'm determined to have my book ready for my agent's desk by Xmas so that I can get back onto the sauce with some considerable gusto (just in time for my annual forced abstinence throughout January).

I've been road biking and am still feeling pretty strong on the bike but the weather is closing in. I'm planning a 'Winter Century' (a 100 mile bike ride) with some mates on December 5th and have the feeling that will be quite a challenge. Maybe that will mark my return to the ale. Who knows.

I'm currently taking a break at the moment from writing as the wind howls and the rain lashes outside my office window. I'm shortly to be positioned in my 'thinking chair' where I shall take a ten minute power nap following a rather energetic swim this lunchtime.

I wonder if I will dream.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Go Easy on Me...


... I've not done this before. Or, at least, not for a long time. It's been so long since I've blogged I've forgotten how to do it. So I'm going to just roll with it a while if that's okay with you.

Biggest problem has been that I've really lost the will to sit here and churn out stuff that is simply to keep a weekly schedule intact. 'Every Monday' it says. Well, I used to go to the pub 'Every Friday'. Then I didn't. Now I do again. We go through phases where we don't do things because we somehow fall out of love with them.

Of course, certain things are worth working at to ensure you never find yourself turning away from them. Marriage for one. Fiona and I have always worked hard at our marriage, to keep it on track and (hopefully) fresh. Takes some doing that. But it works. As a result we've been happy together for three years.

Just kidding - it's close to twenty nine years we've been together now.

With triathlon itself, I allow myself to drift in the off season. That's where I am now, just drifting. I've been drinking a few beers, eating a few (proverbial) pies and putting on a bit of weight. And that's cool because I know I'll come back strong in January for six months of hard yakka.

So I guess that's where I've been with the blog. Just taking it easy. I hope you'll forgive me for its absence and the slightly pointless ramblings of this week.

But hey... I finished my book! 90.000 words of children's adventure. Not only that but I've also read through it, made notes and have started to polish and re-write. So that's kinda exciting. I want to plop it down on my agent's desk (the book, that is) in the new year. I'm feeling kind of energised by it and am so glad I persevered. There are a few things that don't work but not half as many as I thought there might be.

Erin, Alice and Fi are well. We had a great time in Paris recently and the girls continue to act as living, breathing reminders of how great this life is. Photo this week is of me, Erin, Alice and Fi on the steps at Sacre Coeur.

One of my closest friends (who doesn't want to be identified) has been very sick recently so that's been playing on all our minds. We are delighted with the progress they've made and are a hundred percent dedicated to doing everything we can to ensure a complete recovery. Please pass on positive thoughts. Everything helps.

I feel better for sharing. Especially that last bit.

There could be something in this blogging business after all.

There are many congratulations due and I'm going to forget so many. To my mate Tom, who's now writing for Triathlonplus magazine. To Brian Payne, who did so well in the 70.3 World Champs in Clearwater. To Jamie H. from Team MK who did a 9:49 in IM Florida. To all of you... whatever you've done. Congratulations on doing it and may you do many more things.

It's good to be back and I'll try to be more focussed next week.

Oh, yeah. Isn't 'Tiny Dancer' by Elton John a great song. The guy is kind of a figure of fun now but go back and remember he wrote 'Your Song', 'Daniel', 'Candle in the Wind', 'Tiny Dancer', 'Crocodile Rock', 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' and so many others... all before he'd turned 25. I'm not sure there's anyone in recent years that's come close to that kind of output.

Told you I wasn't focussed.

Toodle pip...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Grumpy...


If I were a dwarf, that's who I'd be. And I use the word 'dwarf' as in the 'Snow White and the Seven...' variety, not in some modern un PC way to describe a person of limited stature.

Whatever. If I were one of the seven dwarves I'd be Grumpy.

I'm grumpy now, having had to write that first explanatory paragraph.

Why am I grumpy?

I'm grumpy because I feel like I've swallowed a hair shirt and its currently residing somewhere between my lungs and my tonsils. So far I've avoided going to the docs, preferring instead to swallow copious amounts of some dubious quack medicine called 'Gloop' or 'Contain' or 'Oil' or something or other. All I know is that it's brown and sweet and what I imagine molasses to taste like.

I'm grumpy because I've lost my Garmin and its £ 250 or so to buy a new one. Don't ask me where I lost it or how I lost it because... as my dad is always fond of saying... if I knew that, it wouldn't be lost, would it.

I'm grumpy because I've managed to mess up my daughter's lap top and now I need to go to the Apple genius bar to go have it fixed. No matter how much I tell myself I shouldn't fiddle with the internal workings of those infernal machines, I always succcumb to their 'fiddle with me, I'm easy to manipulate' charms. In a technical and no other sense, I'm a man who should keep his hands to himself.

I'm grumpy because I'm close to finishing the first draft of my first book. Why is this not a cause for great celebration? Well, because anybody who's ever written anything will tell you that when you get this close to finishing you are overcome by a lethargy and desire to stop right where you are. Something misfires in the synapses of your brain and you tell yourself that what you have been crafting for the past months is, quite simply, the biggest pile of doggy doo that's ever been committed to paper. Or, as it stands at the moment, committed to a machine's memory.

As my good buddy Jonny Kurzman told me though... that's why they invented the re-write.

Which is something else that makes me grumpy. The bloody re-write. Why do we have to re-write? Why can't this draft just be perfect and ready to go to a dozen publishers, all of whom make me stratospheric financial offers?

I'm grumpy because I've no shape to my training and consequently more shape than I'd like to my body. Frankly, I feel fat. I know that a. I'm not fat and b. this is to be expected and that I can't maintain Ironman training for a whole year, lest my legs fall off and my inner organs spontaneously combust. But it doesn't stop me being grumpy.

I've caught up on a few movies this week, one of which also induced the grumps. DISTRICT 9 promised so much and delivered a second half of Hollywood chase movie after promising to re-define the sci-fi genre. Otherwise, I had two great experiences. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - a Swedish vampire movie - was fantastic, and DEAN SPANLEY was quirky and plain weird. But that's okay. We like quirky and weird.

I had a lovely ride with Alice at the weekend on the Hackleton Roman Challenge mountain bike. This did not make me grumpy at all. In fact the only grumble I have about this is that I can't do things like this with my kids every day. Strike that. I can do things like this with my kids every day but, for some reason choose not to. This makes me grumpy and I resolve to do something about it.

I also had a great ride with Graham and my long lost buddy from Ironman Austria 2008, Rob Quantrell. We had a tough 72 miler around the rolling hills of Hertfordshire. It was great to see you again after all this time Rob and I look forward to seeing you over here for more of the same soon. Today's photo shows us post ride during the capuccino recovery phase. From left, Graham, me and Rob.

Okay, I must leave you. There aren't enough hours in the day.

And that makes me grumpy as hell.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Turbo or not Turbo...

... that is the question.

Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous winter...

Or maybe the title should have read "Now is the Winter of our discontent..." to stay in the Shakespearian vein. Anyway, you get the drift. And if you don't, the drift is this:

Summer has gone.

Kaput.

No more.

Il a disparu.

So, let's move on. There's nothing we can do about it and whining about the cold and wet won't solve anything and will take up valuable training time and even more valuable mojo. Time to - as our American cousins might say - "winterise".

I've been through my changing room and carefully folded all my summer gear, putting it to the bottom of my storage boxes. Resting at the top now, ready for action, are a whole assortment of winter tops, head torches, high vis jackets, long bibs, woolen socks, overshoes and the like. In a kind of perverse way I'm looking forward to getting out there and mixing it up a bit in the winter elements.

I'll be turbo-ing too on the bike. I think there are some top sessions to be done on the old machine and I'm going to rig an old TV up in the garage to watch movies on whilst I grind out the hour(s).

I've renewed my annual membership to my local swimming pool, so the days of early morning swims are nearly back with us and the memory of refreshing dips in sun-drenched lakes are fast becoming a distant memory. I always liken the onset of winter to a tooth ache. Once it's with you it's impossible to remember life without it or imagine that it will ever leave.

What else? Well, not running is becoming a real drag. I'm desparate to get out there and start again but am going to give it another week and a half at least. I feel fat and lazy though and am going through serious withdrawal symptoms. I've managed to keep my hand in with some reasonably long bikes (I do a couple of 50 mile plus rides a week along with some shorter stuff) but even managed to perform my first over the handlebars crash at the weekend. It cost me a new saddle, a lot of road rash and a sore neck, but all told I and the bike can count ourselves lucky.

I managed to neatly sidestep the oncoming Range Rover issue by forking out nearly £ 500 on a couple of front tyres and MOT for my current car. I also figured I might as well invest another ton and get the thing professionally valeted. So, I've spent a few hundred but feel like I've got a new car, as opposed to spending £ 30k or so and actually getting one. That, I can tell you, I am happy about.

And so, my lovely bloggers, as the rain beats its steady tattoo on the full length windows of my office and I look out to see trees swaying in the heavy winds, it is here that I must leave you. I must write words in another application for another purpose.

Until we meet again, may the skin on your backside never line a banjo...

(Old Irish saying)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dancing with Bikes and other stuff...


Today's photo is from last week's swim at Brogborough lake. I was joined by my mates Simon (left) and Peter (centre). Simon is an experienced Ironman and Peter is new to triathlon. He's bound to do well as you'll see that you could fit two of him inside me.

We figured it would be our last swim of the season, but the weather has continued to hold and I swam Saturday morning and hope to get a couple more in this week. The water, however, is fast becoming colder and there comes a point where, frankly, it's all a little tiresome.

So I've gone back to the pool and am sat here snuffling and streaming due to the chlorine I've taken in. I tell you what, we athletes are often snobby about our food intake, eschewing things we feel could be damaging to us and carefully inspecting labels to seek out any ingredients which are not 'natural' yet we throw ourselves into a communal swimming pool with other unwashed bodies and bucketfuls of god-knows-what chemicals all at a temperature of 30 degrees. Surely this has to be a recipe for illness and damage... food for thought (to carry on the rather tortuous nutritional analogy).

I went out to test my calf muscle this week after it had tightened up on me last Sunday. The good news is the tightened area was fine. The bad news is that it pulled in another part altogether. Hence I've decided to have a month off running to let it heal completely. Better that than fighting an injury.

To quote the words of Tony Curtis in 'The Great Race'... "He who fights and runs away... lives to fight another day."

But I've been cycling a lot, which is a good thing. I did a couple of 25 milers and two 50 milers last week, the latter of which was with the 'Roadies' from my club, Team MK. (Team MK triathlon club grew out of the cycling club. Today the teams are essentially one large club but the roadies - for obvious reasons - don't swim and run.) Needless to say, I threw myself in at the deep end with the fast group (three ability groups ride on a Saturday morning) and made a complete horlicks of it, suffering numerous lost bottles and a crank arm that fell off. The Roadies were chortling away at this strange, muscle bound triathlete who sat up in the saddle and had a bike that was barely road worthy. They made me really welcome though and I'm looking forward to going back next week, albeit with a serviced bike.

Speaking of bikes I'm getting a bit antsy for a new one. I've got my eyes on a Cervelo RS or a Cervelo R3 and am currently performing a 'do not touch me dance' around the object of my desires as I normally do before buying anything from a pair of socks upwards. This involves copious amounts of research and pricing and looking at pictures on the internet before finally commiting to declaring my love by way of a wallet opening. Why I do it, I don't know. It's a curse. But whatever I do, or buy, I have to have researched the options first so that I can act with confidence.

I'm also performing the same courting ritual with a Range Rover Sport at the moment so god knows what will become of that. If you believe in a god... any god... pray for me, pray that I don't spend my children's inheritance in this way.

What else? Well, the good news is that since finishing up the flurry of work I'm back writing again. I'm not even going to dish out any chapter numbers but I'm making good progress and it's now become an exercise in finishing rather than in creativity. Again, this is always something that happens to me. At a certain point I simply don't want to finish what I've started. There's always something brighter on the horizon. A better idea, a funkier movie. But I identified this weakness long ago and I now know that any endeavour, especially so called artistic endeavour, reaches a point where - to use another tortuous analogy - the allure and sexiness of a two week relationship disappears to be replaced by the different reality of life with the person beneath the veneer. The hardest part is persevering to get to know the real 'person' and realising that fulfilment and true harmony rests in the soul of a person (or in this case a project) rather than its exterior sheen.

Speaking of which, I really must get back to work.

Anything else from last week? I saw Tarantino's 'INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS' (sic) which I thought to be confused and disapppointing and easily (with the exception of 'DEATH PROOF' which I didn't bother to see) his weakest movie to date.

Alice picked up a part in the school production of LES MISERABLES - a great achievement for a Year 8 student. This means that she and Erin who has a role in her school's production of WE WILL ROCK YOU will be rehearsing after school and at weekends. Which is fine, until you remember that their schools are the thick end of 20 miles away and either Fiona and I have to collect them. 'Twas ever thus for a parental taxi.

No events for me now, I pulled out of The Roade Triathlon and next sunday's Bedford Sprint Triathlon due to my calf.

Someone who did have an event though was a new cyber-buddy, Todd Paul. If you're a twitter fan you can follow him at @toddpaul. What did he do, you ask yourselves, that was so special? Well, I'll tell you what he did.

He swam the English Channel in just over 13 hours.

And there's nothing more I can add to that.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Strange Days...


It's a strange time of year. The six months of intense training leading up to Ironman has long gone, as has the race itself. Yet the triathlon season still continues apace, albeit approaching the end of its year's life.

I have a couple of sprints left in the diary (at Roade on Sunday and at Bedford the following week) but try as I might I can't seem to get as enthusiastic about them or about the remainder of the season as I do for the first half of it.

I suppose it's inevitable given the amount of training and focus that goes into Ironman. I reach a point where I'm a lean, mean fitness machine and, from the day of the race onwards, I feel as if I'm simply losing fitness and putting on weight which, essentially, I am.

But I understand that there's no way I can keep up the intensity of those months and, even now, when I look back and think of what went into those days, I wonder where and how I found the time. But I did and I know I'll be doing it all again come January.

So what in the meantime? Well, last year I committed to December's Luton Marathon which gave me a focus through the autumn months and ensured that not too many of the proverbial and actual pies were consumed prior to Christmas. This year I'll be doing the same thing.

I'm training most days but not with any particular heart or focus at the moment and I guess that's a good thing... just ticking over. I've had an epiphany moment with my back recently which was finally clicked back into joint by my chiropractor, John. I'm pretty sure that I damaged my back not as previously thought - in the Iroman in July - but in May's week long training camp in Italy. My thoughts are that the Ironman simply damaged it more and I realise now that I've been in pain with the thing since May and have simply been masking it or adapting my posture to suit.

But hopefully that's behind me (no pun intended) now and I can focus on good posture and a ton of core work to build and strengthen the weakest part of my phsique.

I've tweaked my calf too - did the bugger on a run at the weekend but I think I got to it in time, stopped and turned back. The next few days will tell if the muscle has pulled but with mucho love and ice, things could be okay.

The girls are back at school and I miss having them around the place. Their infectious energy and fun lights up my life and every school year that rolls around is a reminder to me that one day in the not too distant future they will be gone. All the more reason to savour and maximise my time with them. Erin has started her GCSE courses this year and Alice has begun Year 8. Time is, indeed, flying.

Work has been very busy with shooting, editing and quoting for TV commercials. In a difficult economic climate we've had a decent enough year but I've been guilty of, once again, not finishing my writing project in time. So now I must focus on that at all costs.

Congratulations to my dad who took to the stage at The London Palladium this weekend to sing with his Gold Medal winning Barbershop Chorus. Fiona, myself and my mum went along to watch and, needless to say, were extremely proud.

Congratulations to Colin who fulfilled a long-cherished ambition of representing his country at the World Triathlon Championships on Australia's Gold Coast. His diary of the event and the time leading up to it can be found here.

My buddy Tom is back in training from today. Good luck in the six months or so ahead mate. No doubt we'll fit in some strong sessions together before your jaunt to Lanza. I know it's going to be another spectacular year.

Also, 'big up' to my brother Sean who managed to take time off from jetting around the world on business to run in the annual 'Dam to Dam' race in The Netherlands, posting a great time of 1:49. I construct my life to have time available to me to train pretty much as I like. Folk like Sean have no time at all to spare and their achievements are all the more remarkable for it. Keep it up, big fella.

And this week's photo? Just me, a year or so ago, drinking too much beer. Which is pretty much what I'm doing right now (well, not now of course, more like in the evenings). But all good things must pass and it won't be long before I'm back on the straight and narrow again!

I'm sure there's more to chat about and it's a pleasure being back with you again. Hope you're all well and happy. Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fast boys...

Damn the sleep fairy... she's put none of her magic dust in my eyes and, as a result, I'm unable to sleep. So I've risen at 0530 and, with nothing better to do, figured I'd craft a few words and upload them to you, dearest reader.

The title of today's post comes from Sunday when, after enjoying a relaxing 55 mile bike ride with my mate Ben G, we toddled off to Botolph Claydon to watch the BTTC (British Time Trial Championships). Set over a 3 x 10.2 mile loop, the course offered over 30 miles of country roads for the fastest riders in the country to push themselves to the limit. The main draw and eventual winner was one Bradley Wiggins who blew the field away and claimed the Time Trialists jersey that he intends to wear in next year's Tour de France. What a performance.

The day previous to this I'd once again taken to the roads on my Specialized road bike for a 65 mile bike ride with Graham. The two rides over the weekend meant that I've got back into long distance training and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, as a consequence I've triggered off more back problems and have an appointment with the chiropractor ahead of today's duathlon at Silverstone.

With work, I've been busy as the Mayor of Busy on National Busy Day. I've finished off my latest commercial which has involved two solid days of green screen editing. This is an exhausting process of compositing (or rather of an editor compositing) layers and layers of action onto a green screen to form the background to my subject in the ad. Long days in London but I revel in them and revel in the fact that I can work in shorts and a T shirt and earn a good living for something that was and still is a hobby and that I thoroughly enjoy. Not everyone is that lucky.

I have another production this week in Manchester and on Saturday I'll be traveling up to Blackpool for the 50th Anniversary Dinner of my first rugby club... Blackpool RUFC. They were golden and happy days at Blackpool and I can't wait to see and enjoy a drink with my old buddies from up there. I'll also be joined by my brother, Sean, and my dad.

My alarm has just gone off which means it's 0630 and time to wake the girls for school.

I doubt they will move as fast as Mr Wiggins so must leave you for another week.

Kia Kaha, peace and health.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Your Country Needs You...


The week has passed in a bit of a blur. It's been more than busy on more than one front. I shot my latest ad last week but am sworn to secrecy on who it was with and what it was for until the ad breaks. Erin worked for me for the first time as a production runner. She gained a great insight into the film world and was a real help. Both girls are used to hanging around film sets and they love being a part of 'dad's work'. It's great doing something that they (and their friends) find interesting. For just a millisecond I think I might have been remotely 'cool' in their eyes.

The editing process went well and we now have an approved 'off-line edit' (the rough edit prior to the finishing process).

Wednesday saw Team MK's open water swim challenge where I swam a 1500 and 500m timed. I was a bit ropey in my swimming that morning, coming in at just over 23 mins for the 1500 and 7 minutes something for the 500m. I followed that up with a 55 mile bike ride with Graham on the road bikes. 'Twas good to be on my Specialized again and to be feeling comfortable in the saddle.

I'd entered the Bedford Sprint distance race on Sunday morning and, on hearing it was a qualifying race for the 2010 European Championships, decided to put my name down as a potential GBR team member for my age group. Fast forward to sunday and whadya know. I placed 23rd out of 264 competitors, 3rd in my Age Group and gained a place in the GBR team. So, early next July, all being well, I should be representing Great Britain at Age Group Triathlon.

I'm enjoying the short stuff and will do more next year. Photo is of myself, Colin and Carl at the Bedford Sprint.

Today's main photo is of me, Erin and Alice after our first ever open water swim together. I'd borrowed some wetsuits from fellow Team MK members and took them down to my local lake. They loved it and were like little fish, swimming almost 1km. I'm looking forward to many more lake swims with them.

Good luck to Colin who leaves for Australia this week. He's racing in the world championships and fully deserves to be there. Go fella.

Congratulations also to my mate Sam Williamson who, in his first ever Ironman distance race... won it. Yep, he won The Big Woody in a terrific time of 10:16. Sam's my Age Group (damn) and is going to be a big force I think in distance racing.

Must rush. Am just about to have a farewell dinner with our visiting Canadian cousins.

Have a good week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life...


Yesterday was a beautiful day. Warm and sunny, with nothing to do but sit around and be with my girls. England had won the Ashes, I'd run 12 miles at 7:20 min/miles, had a delicious pasta dinner, half a bottle of champagne and found myself reposing in front of the TV watching the final episode of season 3 of The Wire which I've recorded on Sky +.

It hit me like a lightning bolt. Jeez, what a great life it is. How lucky we are to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures and how rare it is that we sit back and appreciate it.

So, this morning, via you guys, I'm busy counting my blessings.

To be fit, healthy and for those you love to be in the same position and close to you, either physically or spiritually is surely the most important thing in the all too brief time we spend as living things. Haven't we let other, more complex issues get in the way of this? Aren't we all guilty of succumbing to pressure about what we should be doing with our careers, about how we're perceived by others, about issues outside of our immediate circle when really, the secret of true happiness is to be balanced and healthy both as an individual and as a family?

Starting to sound evangelical. But its simple really.

If I look back to the happiest moments of my life, those that I'll truly replay at the moment my brief candle is extinguished, they won't be moments of work, nor of triathlon, but familial moments. I'll remember walking in a sunlit countryside with my dad when I was no more than six or seven years old having illicitly been allowed to take a day off school. I'll remember the moment I first kissed my wife and how I knew we'd always be together, I'll remember the birth of our two daughters and seeing their tiny eyes lock onto mine for the first time. I'll remember running with my eldest daughter (then only five years old) across a beach in Devon when - for one glorious moment that seemed to stretch into an eternity - everything moved in slow motion and, with her running next to me, golden hair flowing in the wind, tiny feet leaving all too brief footprints in the wet sand - I experienced a moment of true wonder that will be with me for ever. I'll remember the tiny arms of my youngest daughter as she wrapped them around my neck and kissed me and told me she loved me and I'll remember how I knew without any fear that I was anything other than 100% sure, that she absolutely, unequivocally... did.

So why, when these are the things that we cherish the most, when these are the life experiences burned into not only our memories but our soul, do we not allow ourselves to focus on these truly important things on a day to day basis. Why is it we submerse ourselves in less important issues and only allow our appreciation of the wondrous things in life to emerge when we take a lid off our innermost thoughts and emotions once in a while.

Maybe we need to keep reminding ourselves is all.

Maybe we need to get more into the habit.

I for one shall be trying to.

Seems strange now to blog about triathlon or career or other things. Not sure where all the above came from but it feels good to have written it.

I hope this finds you well, healthy and happy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We're bloggin...


... we're bloggin', we're bloggin', we're bloggin', we're bloggin' and I hope you like bloggin' too.

Paraphrasing the words of the immortal Bob Marley, of course.

It's been tricky getting back into things following my holiday in Portugal. We had an amazing time over there where we were joined by three other families. Fiona's brother Christian, my brother Sean and my best mate 'Arps all brought along their two children (and partners, of course) and were staying within a few miles of each other.

The kids had a blast, hanging and playing with cousins/friends on the beach, swimming, exploring caves etc. The adults had a great time too, doing the more sedate adult things like BBQ's and drinking far too much Sagres (pictured left).

I'd picked up a TV commercial before I left, so had to find a local internet cafe to do a little work every couple of days but that didn't in any way take the gloss off what was a great time.

Getting back into the swing of training has been tough. With this year's Ironman challenge all done and dosted, the only thing left to keep training for is the sprints that I do towards the end of the season. I felt sluggish on my return - even though I'd knocked off a couple of 15k runs with my brother when out in Portugal - and have forced myself back into fast twitch training.

It's been tough.

But rewarding.

In fact, so rewarding that one aspect of it set me thinking - on a subject the like of which I've blogged about before. I'd been busy all day yesterday and, as I couldn't make Team MK's 10 mile Time Trial, I decided to take out the bike and do my own TT on the course that Colin and I use to test ourselves. The weather was good and I was feeling frisky. A PB beckoned I thought.

The ride went well. I pushed myself hard (never easy when you're on your own) and, with the sweat pouring out of my aero helmet (no gags please) passed the 10 mile mark only to see my time was 23'39" (my PB is 23'16"). Gutted doesn't do it justice. I'd felt fast, my legs were pumping and I was hammering a big gear. Why the hell handn't I PB'd? I twittered as much and, sure enough, a reply came back from my mate Tom who said "you can't be Iron all the time."

I thought about this. One thing you learn about Tom is that he's usually right. I heard what he was saying but what was the essence of it? There was something deeper than 'keep your chin up'. And here it is. I felt better having failed in my ambition than having not tried to achieve it. And I realised (once again) that 'failures are the building blocks of success' (I just made that up... use it if you want).

Keep trying. Whatever you're trying to do and, eventually, you will do it.

Period.

Or... Full Stop; if you don't want to adopt an Americanisation.

I'm going to enter my remaining events tomorrow so will let you know next week what they will be. Lots of sprints. I'm also thinking of another marathon this year. Amsterdam is tempting in mid October.

Fiona and the girls are with my brother and his family in Amsterdam at the moment so I'm missing them terribly but I'm busy enough for the time to pass quickly. Before they went - on Saturday night - we dropped the screen in the cinema and watched 'Edward Scissorhands' together - a movie I hadn't seen for years. What a treat! Fantastically visual movie - Tim Burton at his simplest and best. See it again if you haven't seen it for a while.

I've been thinking of ditching the blog but, to be honest, I've enjoyed writing again this week. Sorry it's been such a long time but a boy occasionally needs a break.

Speak soon...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...


I'll leave you to work out who's who in terms of the title. The pic itself shows Colin, 'Arps and myself following our Blithfield extravaganza at the weekend.

Colin finally qualified to represent GB at sprint distance in his age group category in the World Champs in Perth in a couple of months time. I've watched him pursue his goal with a single mindedness over the last year and it's been a pleasure to do so. Well done, mate. Nobody deserves it more than you.

'Arps - in his first season of triathlon - decided he'd like to step up from sprints to Olympic distance and who better to have with him than his old mucker Jevon. He'd be the first to tell you he struggled a bit in the swim but turned it round brilliantly on the bike and run to come home in a highly creditable time of 2:37. Again, well done mate and I look forward to many more together.

I managed to smackdown a PB in the Olympic, coming home in 2:15 and managing 31st place overall and 2nd in my Age Group. I had a good swim and bike but my back played up a little on the run meaning I had to take it steady. Nonetheless, in bad conditions, I'm delighted with the result.

We were cheered on by our posse of beauties... Fiona and Yvonne, our wives plus our daughters Erin, Alice, Caitlin, Ellie and Polly. So, we can safely say that 'Arps and I were operating on Girl Power.

I'm ready for a rest and am looking forward to our annual holiday. We're off to The Algarve for a couple of weeks so will be able to get in some much needed R & R in the sunshine. Temperatures seem to be set fair between 29 and 32 degrees. Marvelous.

Work has become very busy so I've been nailed to my desk, doing what I do best apart from long distance training. But that's good.

I'm now focussing on sprints for the rest of the triathlon season, as well as having signed up to do the Luton Marathon with Gabriel in December. I'd like to PB my sprint time this year if possible and it would be fantastic to try and PB the marathon too but that might be a step too far. This year I've PB'd my Ironman time, my Olympic time, my 10 mile TT time and my 400 m pool swim time, so I'm obviously in better shape than I've been for a long time.

I'm not sure how much I'll be able to blog over the next week or two as, frankly, I may be too full of Sagres and Magnum Ice Creams. But we'll see.

Good luck to all my friends in the London Triathlon this weekend and to all my Team MK buddies at Ironman UK.

Kia Kaha...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Out of the Frying Pan...

... and into the fire.

First of all. Let's get this over with. How can I best say this?

I've signed up for Ironman Switzerland 2010. I know, I know... the last one was a nightmare and everything nearly stopped working and I ended up like a baboon. But Ironman's part of me at the moment - a great way of measuring myself and a terrifically challenging part of my life. So, on August 1st next year, I'll be wading into Lake Zurich ready to rock and roll.

All things being equal that is.

I've recovered slowly but surely over the past two weeks and haven't rushed things. There have been several shorter sessions as my body learns to cope with Olympic and Sprint distances. I've been 10 mile TT (Time Trialing) in my cycling and doing some shorter sprint running work with Colin. But there is still fatigue in my legs and my back is giving me a bit of gyp.

Nonetheless, I'll be lining up at Blithfield for an Olympic Distance race this Sunday with my mate 'Arps. We've done many things together, have 'Arps and I, and triathlon is simply the latest. I'm hoping to PB but one never knows. My previous best for an Olympic is 2 hours and 25 minutes so we'll see what I can come up with on Sunday. (For anyone not sure of the distances, it's 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run).

The girls have finished school for summer and it's great to have them about the place. Their energy and liveliness is a mobilising factor for me and I thrive on the slight feeling of chaos when they're around - that's chaos in a nice way, of course.

Once I get into the swing of things again I'll re focus on the blog and think about re-design and content but, through the summer months at least, I'll just drop in each week and share a few thoughts with you.

It's getting busy again at work with several projects coming through - I need to focus on these and also on my writing project which has languished recently.

Congratulations this week to Tom and Helen, Gabriel, Dave and Craig H. for their sterling efforts at IMCH (Ironman Switzerland). Tom missed out on qualification for Kona by three minutes which I know left a scar on him, especially as many of those with faster times than his amazing 9:28 cheated by drafting. Onwards and upwards, Tom. Achieved dreams don't come easy.

The photos are from this year's Ironman Germany and, the more I reflect on that race, the happier I am with my performance. Sure, I was in great shape and could have done a 10:15 but, on the day, I could have also done a lot, lot worse. So, I still have a smile on my face when I think about it.

I'm not going to set targets or goals this year for Switzerland, rather I'm going to go at it (as I always go at things) full pelt, and simply see what happens. I want the race to be relaxed and fun. Germany was damned hard work - I'd like Switzerland to be more enjoyable and I think one way of doing that is to take some of the pressure off myself. If I PB then terrific. If not, then that will also be okay, just as long as I've given it my best shot.

And, in a nutshell, that's what everything in life is about, isn't it? Giving it your best shot.

Thanks for all your support over the year and I look forward to sharing it all with you again in the weeks and months to come.

J.

The photo up top is just after I'd been released from the medical tent. With my girls, Erin and Alice.





On the way to the race briefing with Graham M.



Race briefing...





racking with some of Team MK. Andy J, Trevor H, Quilly, Marcus, Rooomie Al, Me, Graham, Martin P.
















swim start...














Finishing the swim in 60 minutes...












My back is beginning to go here...






Starting out on the run










Fitzy in full UK supporter mode.









The girls supporting on the run course






Bent double at the finish.
















Team O'Neill. My dad, Alice, me, Erin, my brother Conal, my mum, Carl, Fiona.







Carl and me after the race!










The finish line.







Fiona, me and Alice post race.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

My Ironman Germany Race Report...

Greetings, blog-people. Details below... photos to follow... somehow :)

The Early Bits

It’s been three days now since I staggered up that cobblestone-covering red carpet in Frankfurt’s main square. Three days in which my body has begun to heal. Three days in which I’ve tried – but failed – to adequately recall the pain and suffering I was enduring at around 5.30pm that hot and sunny afternoon in Germany’s financial capital.

The day started well enough. In fact, the background to the race had been superb. This was to be my third Ironman after completing Austria in both 2007 and 2008. I’d dropped my time from 12:10 first time round to 10:42 last year and felt confident in setting my sights on a further improvement to 10:15 this year.

I won’t go into the details of my training year as they are catalogued on my blog but I can tell you that I was in superb shape. My coach, Mark Kleanthous, himself a veteran of 29 (count them) Iron distance races, had once again brought me to the peak of fitness and I was confident of hitting my target times in Frankfurt although I’ve always been the first to say that, on the day of the race, we are mere pawns in the hands of the chess-playing Iron-gods.

It was my second season at Team MK (Milton Keynes), and mixing my training with that of some of the stronger athletes had brought its benefits. I left for Germany on Thursday feeling confident, fit and focused.

The Build Up Bits

I soon discovered Frankfurt is nothing like Austria’s Klagenfurt. Where the latter offers a village like atmosphere for the athletes, with all events and meetings in one area, Frankfurt has no such luxuries, utilising the main square for its central hub and finish area, an expo that spills onto some fairly undistinguished streets and a lake that sits in a disused (but not unattractive) quarry some 15km or so from the centre of the city. There were sixteen of us from Team MK along with our various partners and a few children and we chose to stay at an out of centre hotel in the business district, equidistant betwixt city and lake.

Fiona (my wife), Erin and Alice (my daughters) plus my mother, my father, one of my brothers and my friend Carl were all making up ‘Team O’Neill’ and arrived prior to race day with their custom designed bright orange Team MK Supporters’ T shirts.

We cycled to the lake to rack out bikes, where we each athlete had their own personal helper that stayed with them from entering and leaving transition. A slight complication to racking was that Germany is a split transition race, with T1 at the lake and T2 some distance away in the city. Bike and Blue (T1) bag along with red (T2) bag were left at the lake and the red bag would find its way back into the mean streets of Frankfurt.

The Swim Bits

Two thousand seven hundred people swimming together. Damn, it’s a drag. But you have to make the best of these things. If you allow fear to stalk your heart it will eventually own you so you have to harden up and show it the door. Just don’t think about it and get on with it was my plan. I positioned myself just behind the start line, one row from the front and prepared to swim. I’d hit 63 minutes both previous swims and, armed with my new Zone 3 Vanquish Wetsuit (schoolboy error – it chewed a gash into my neck whereas I’ve never had any problems in two years with my Snugg) I was confident of coming down a minute or so.

The canon went off with more of a fart than an explosion and we were away. The first lap would be 2.3km, followed by a short sprint across the beach, then down back into the water for a further 1.5km loop.

I’ve never been as closely packed in a group of swimmers before for such a period of time. So much so that I was unable to produce any rhythm, each stroke feeling forced and having to be manufactured to fit the space available. I was constantly being assailed from all sides, legs being pushed down into the water by flailing arms from behind and – to be fair – my arms doing the same to folk in front. For the first time in any triathlon race I had my goggles knocked off and had to adjust them, causing further mayhem as Gunther and his buddies swam through me.

But… hey ho… these things are sent to try us. The first loop was the worst. I went a little wider on the second loop but still managed to exit in 60 minutes and staggered up the sandy 200m incline towards T1, passing within a metre of my eldest daughter who didn’t recognise me… I’d forgotten that everyone was in a black wetsuit and red hat !

The T1 Bits

It’s a big old area, that T1. I’d opted to have my blue bag next to my bike so ran straight to it and whipped off my wetsuit, shoved some bananas in my back pocket, stuck on socks and shoes and grabbed my trusty Cervelo from its rack. As I was about to leave I heard the name of my coach called from the water. We were racked near to each other so I shot out of there like a bullet from a gun. It had been a slowish transition of 6:24 but I knew I’d pick up some time in T2 where I always transition pretty quickly, so wasn’t too worried.

The Bike Bits

Time to settle down and get into a rhythm. The 15km or so stretch from the lake to Frankfurt is motorway and super fast. It’s a strange feeling in the cool of the morning with no cars at all on the roads, barrelling towards the skyscrapers of Frankfurt. My good mate and Ironman Tom Wiliams had told me the race could go ‘kaput’ here if it’s hammered too much, so I chose to let the big old German boys (and girls) hammer past as I munched on my banana and sipped water with the sole ambition of being up at my target average speed of 21mph by the time we reached the city.

Passing a deserted finish and T2 area by the river further added to the Marie Celeste feel of things and I pushed on into the suburbs of Frankfurt. The roads of the bike course are super smooth and fast, and I was ultra comfortable turning my legs over at my target pace. The hills on the course are really nothing to speak of, more interruptions than real climbs and my only problem came on the cobblestones of ‘The Hell’ in a village outside of Frankfurt, where my aero bottle was catapulted from my handlebars. I made a judgment call to stop and replace it as it was early in the race but, as what seemed like hundreds of cyclists shot by me, I found I couldn’t get it fixed back on and, in the end, I had to leave it there, in Hell. I’d lost about three minutes but hey, it was a long race.

There were no incidents on the bike and, unlike last year in Austria, none of my team mates passed me. Apart, that is, from Coach K… who must have slipped by unseen as I administered CPR to my water bottle. I caught up with him a few miles later and we exchanged a few words before I headed onwards.

Heartbreak Hill is Ironman Germany’s answer to the Tour de France climbs and, with its narrow, spectator-lined passageway it does create a fantastic atmosphere for the cyclist. But it’s quickly over and you’re then downhill all the way to Frankfurt and able to pick up some of the time lost on the climb.

I arced through the streets of the city and saw Team O’Neill and several of the MK crowd cheering me on at a corner. Their shirts were a flash of colour in what I remember as a grey and formidable landscape.

Round, past T2 I went, pushing a little harder as the wind got up but still feeling comfortable. It’s worth noting at this point that I’m still relatively new to cycling and all my bike work is done on ‘feel’. I don’t look at heart rate or work with power. I simply push on the pedals and ease up if I feel I’m working too hard. Maybe I’ll need to change this in the future. But that will be then and this was now. I pedalled on, the second loop bringing no surprises and – as ever – my nutrition being forced down. Three Torq bars, two viper bars, a Buzz bar, a gel, numerous bananas and 3 litres of carbo drink should have been enough, you’d think. Besides which, I couldn’t eat a single thing more by the end of that ride. I was also drinking water whenever I could get it from the aid stations but hadn’t managed to have a pee which I was vaguely concerned about.

Nonetheless, I shot around the second lap slightly slower than the first but still ended at my required average speed. My goal time had been 5 hrs 20 mins and I’d taken 5 hrs 21 mins including my water bottle stop on The Hell. Looking good.

Or so I thought.

The T2 Bits

In, out… shake it all about. 1 minute and 36 seconds. Pretty much as fast as an amateur can be. Off out onto the run course; I was under my target time of 8 mins for both transitions.

The Run Bits

Okay. So, until now, everything’s gone well. My big improvement this year has been my running, especially my running off the bike. And I had two strategies. Strategy one was to run a 3:45 marathon for my target time of 10:15. Strategy two was to try for a faster marathon and get close to 10 hours.

It was too hot for strategy two. I knew that straight away. The heat had become progressively more intense during the day and it was now lunchtime. Apparently it got up to 33 degrees Celsius at one point on the run course but for now, let’s say it was around 30 degrees for most of the run.

The course itself is four 10.5km loops leading to a 200m finish chute. It’s lined with spectators and crosses the river twice, for the most part keeping close to the water. The support was superb and I ran out to see my parents cheering me on.

So, choosing strategy one I slipped into an 8 minute mile or so pace. Actually, this was too fast and I should have been running at 8:15 pace for the first half and 8:45 pace for the second.

Lap wristbands are (confusingly I think) given halfway through the lap rather than at the end, so I went through tunnel 1 whistfully looking at tunnel 4 but with only 5km under my boots. At the end of my first lap I was feeling pretty good.

Lap 2 required more effort and, in hindsight, I must have been starting to fail at this point as I distinctly remember choosing not to look at the distance markers for fear of seeing how far I had still to go. I just hid behind my sunglasses and desert hat and figured it was going to be a tough day at the office.

And so it proved to be. I walked at most of the superbly manned and stocked aid stations (every 1.5km in Germany and boy… did we need them!) taking on a gel and water before running again. But this was part of my strategy and it didn’t disrupt my rhythm too much at all. But, come the end of Lap 2 I was – although still roughly on time – no longer looking at my watch. Put simply, I could only hope to be able to control my pace from this point in. Things were out of my hands.

The final half marathon is something of a blur. Maybe your brain protects you from the true awfulness of what you’ve put yourself through. Maybe it wasn’t that bad and I’m exaggerating it. Maybe we’re all a SIMS game on the computer of some other civilisation somewhere in space. Who the hell knows? All I can tell you are the bits I remember.

I remember at about 18km being passed by two Team MK members, Les and Keith who were running strong but a lap behind. I was desperately trying to do the math and wonder if they would catch me but, at this point, I was having difficulty remembering my name, so complex pacing calculations were beyond me. I ploughed relentlessly on.

I remember forcing myself to set short term goals. ‘Get to the bridge’ kind of thing.

I remember getting my third wristband and thinking that I still had 15km to race and this was going to be one of the longest days of my life. At this point my brain was telling me to stop. To walk. But I knew deep down that I couldn’t do that. I’d done it once before in my first Ironman and I never got running again. To stop was death. That’s what I told myself. No matter what happened, no matter how bad it felt, no matter what the pain, no matter what my brain told me, no matter how many blisters (a lot) were now squelching under my feet, I simply had to keep running.

So I did. I set myself a rhythm and for the rest of the entire day I repeated the mantra to myself … ‘put one foot in front of the other, put one foot in front of the other, put one foot in front of the other…’ On and on I went, trying to fill my mind solely with my call to arms, thinking of nothing past and nothing present. Thinking only of the now. Of the stride I was running.

Of course, when I say ‘running’, the Lord only knows what I looked like. By this time my back was buckling and my torso was tipping alarmingly forward. I now think this is a consequence of severe dehydration but at the time only knew that my lower back was in agony and I was likely to fall at any moment. Believe you me, when you’re my size, its no mean feat to support nine stone or so of torso on a lower spine that’s made of jello.

Eventually, I got round to one lap to go. 10.5km. But I wasn’t really thinking about that, just focussed on getting to the next aid station and, you’ve guessed it… keeping on running. I’d lost the power to speak (genuinely) and was unable to acknowledge my daughters and family in any way, so intent was I on keeping running. I’d been passed by team mate Trevor on the previous lap, who gave me some words of encouragement and told me that two of our stronger athletes had pulled out.

Somehow I ended up at the fourth wristband chute and could see the finish across the river. But I still had 5km to run. 5km. My heart sank. It was too far. Just too far. And it probably would have been if, a couple of minutes previously, my good mate Aleck hadn’t run by and shouted at me to “dig in… whatever you do… whatever happens, don’t stop running”. And I knew he was right. I pushed on and the world seemed a very black place indeed.

Over the bridge I went, round and back along the shore, bent like a snapped twig, still running but knowing nothing other than that. The final aid station is 1km from home but I still had to walk through it and take on coke and something else I can’t remember. Martin’s voice cut through the haziness of my mind. He was on his third lap and had emerged from a portaloo to see a giant baboon lurching towards the finish chute. He cajoled and encouraged and talked to me all the way up until the point he had to carry on and I split off to the finish (thanks mate – I couldn’t say so at the time but I’ll continue to be grateful to my dying day).

I was nearly home but every step seemed so hard and so slow. But I wasn’t walking and that was what mattered. Because even there, even just 200 metres or so from home, I knew deep down that ‘walk’ equalled ‘stop’ and that’s not what it’s about, is it?

I lumbered around the corner, cheered on by the thousands watching, their voices pushing me forwards towards the finish line. I saw my girls… my beautiful girls, Erin and Alice, waiting for me in the finish chute. But all I could do was tell them they couldn’t be there, that it would be disqualification. (I now know that everyone still was having their photos taken with their kids as they finish – how unfair is that?). I staggered over the line, my head popped through a medal ribbon that someone was holding for me and half a dozen pairs of hands grabbed me. All I remember is being whisked off to the medical tent and thinking that this is what people on the gurney’s in ‘ER’ must see… hundreds of concerned faces looking down at me. Soon I was in the tent and hooked up to a drip and, slowly but surely, my life force returned.

The End Bits

I lay in the medical tent and, as I came round, put together the times in my head. Or tried to. My watch showed a marathon time of 4:10 and I figured I’d done the race in under 11 hours. Not bad for a bad day at the office.

Once I’d left the tent, I saw Carl, who told me I’d run a 4:08 marathon and pb’d my Ironman time by four minutes for a finish time of 10:38.

And I guess, that’s sometimes what you have to do to get a PB.

Thanks to all my team mates, my supporters, my training buddies throughout the year, especially Graham who made it all so much easier. Thanks too to Coach K, who has once again always been there when I needed him. Special thanks once again to Fiona, Erin and Alice for somehow understanding why an otherwise right-minded 46 year old feels he has to do this kind of thing.

So… how do I feel? Well, I feel absolutely delighted with my race. That I was able to have toughed out that time in those circumstances when it would have been easy for me to take a more palatable option told me something further about myself that I didn’t know. That afternoon, on a run course by the River Main, I found myself somewhere I’d never been before and I don’t mean in a geographical sense. When it came to it, when all the chips were stacked against me and my body was, quite literally, beginning to shut down, I searched for a solution. I found that solution not from any outside source, but from somewhere within, a place inside me that I’d hoped existed but – until then – wasn’t sure actually did. For me, the solution was to keep on running, no matter what. If necessary even until I dropped. It wasn’t the answer I’d wanted to find but it was the answer I’d looked for and to ignore it would have meant being untrue to myself. And from now on I can look myself in the eye every morning and know that I did the right thing.

This – and nothing to do with race times - is why I’m proud to be an Ironman.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fail To Prepare…

… Prepare to Fail. You know that saying, I’m sure. But it’s never been truer than in the world of Ironman Triathlon. Last year, after beating my goal time of 11 hours by a whopping 18 minutes to record a 10:42 at Ironman Austria, I set my sights on an equally ambitious 10:15 this year at Ironman Germany.

And I’ve been preparing ever since.

I decided my run needed some work so spent Autumn training for the Luton Marathon (which was cancelled – but what the hell, I’d done the training). After Christmas I was right back into it with my six month training plan provided for me by my coach, Mark Kleanthous.

Since then I’ve been working on all three disciplines to good effect. I’m a faster, more efficient swimmer. I’m a stronger, faster cyclist. And I’m a better runner off the bike than ever before.

Sure, there have been down times. A recent back injury meant no running for several weeks and an operation on my leg in the late winter months meant a break from the most intensive training. But here we are, less than one week from the event. And I feel fully prepared.

Being ‘prepped’ is something I do religiously, for any major or minor occurrence I might face. I think it stems from an experience I had as a kid when I took a maths exam in my second year at grammar school.

It was a living nightmare. Why? Well, I knew it then, even at such a young age. I hadn’t prepared myself. I’d done no revision, had messed around in class and consequently was hopelessly adrift when it came to the big day. Even at eleven years old, I swore I’d never ever do that again.

And I never have. (I’m not saying I’ve been a model student, far from it, only that I’ve managed to come through whatever challenges I’ve set myself since then, not through talent, but rather due to a fierce determination to succeed based squarely on the shoulders of fulsome preparation).

So let’s hope that Germany brings what I’ve been working for. I’m capable of the times (to refresh your memory, that’s a 62 minute 3.8k swim, a 5 hrs 20 mins 180km bike ride and a 3hrs 45 mins marathon with 8 minutes for transitions) but, in Ironman, you can only do so much prep.

Whilst we’re on the subject of reaping rewards from preparation, Fiona has got our gardens looking absolutely tip top. And, once again, this doesn’t happen overnight. Years of planning, planting, tending and care have resulted in even me, that most curmudgeonly of gardeners, being able to appreciate the full beauty of nature available to us at a few paces from our front and back doors. I’ve enclosed a few photos.

Both our girls are keen actors and performers. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse is the mantra we drill into them. Once you’ve done that you can be as ‘naturalistic’ as you like. So, again… preparation, preparation, preparation.

Anyway, I’m drifting off topic.

I’ve had a decent week tapering although, I have to say, as I write this, I feel strange things happening to my body. I seem to remember it last year and Coach K said I’d feel a trifle rubbish (alright, maybe they weren’t his words). Everything feels a bit… well, ‘thick and gooey’ is the best way I can describe it. I’m off all forms of caffeine, alcohol and fatty foods until after the race and my training volume has decreased so much that by body is thinking… ‘hang on fella, what’s all this about – shouldn’t you be doing a 120 mile bike ride or something?’

At least, I hope my body is thinking this.

So, for what it’s worth, here is last week’s minimal training:

Monday 2km swim drills
Tuesday 1.9km open water swim
Wednesday 33 mile bike, including 2 x 10 mile Time Trials, 5 mile run
Thursday 5.6 mile run
Friday 6 mile run
Saturday 2km open water swim, 35 mile bike, 4.5 mile run
Sunday light bike and run, bike mechanics

Congratulations to club mates Steve Torley and Jamie Hawthorne who completed Ironman France in 11:47 and 10:38 respectively. Huge efforts considering (apparently) the searing heat out there. Jamie raced sub 10 in Ironman Germany last year so you can tell from that how tricky the day must have been.

Congratulations to Colin who came 5th overall and 2nd in his age group at this weekend's Grendon Sprint Triathlon.

Good luck also to Tom and Helen and Gabriel for Ironman Switzerland in a couple of weeks. I’ll be watching out for you.

Well done to Mark, who’s now in Scotland on his Lands End to John O Groats bike ride. A remarkable achievement and keep it up.

And thanks to you guys, for sharing another epic journey with me on the road to Ironman Germany 2009. I’ll be flying on Thursday and racing on Sunday. You can keep up with my race splits by visiting www.ironman.com and clicking on the Ironman Germany athlete tracker section.

No doubt there will be an occasional twitter, too.

Have a good week and, whatever you’re doing – make sure you prepare well for it and, more importantly, enjoy it and take time to look around and smell the flowers...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rage Against the Machine


I am absolutely fed up to the back teeth of computers. Or rather, I’m fed up of my inability to control their usage. These ubiquitous boxes, now cunningly designed in attractive shades of brushed steel, seemingly rule our lives.

Well, not any more. Not here.

For too long I’ve been addicted to email and the internet, using it as a convenient escape route to avoid knuckling down to work. For too long, I’ve allowed computers to rule the way we live, using them as a central hub in our lives which, of course, is exactly what those who design and sell them want us to do.

But it doesn’t need to be this way.

This whole situation came to a head last night, when I argued with Alice over how to print out a piece of homework. The said piece had been created on a PC (we’re a Mac household with a PC machine the girls use for gaming and occasional homework) which I couldn’t get to ‘find’ my printer. I hate PC’s at the best of times with their user-unfriendly interface and, add to that a twelve year old girl telling me what to do and I lost my temper.

And here’s the thing. I lost my temper with Alice. When, in fact, I was annoyed at the black box under the desk. But here’s another thing. The homework didn’t need to be done on the computer. It could have been done faster and more efficiently in an exercise book. But no… everyone’s taught to ‘use the computer’. Why, exactly? What’s wrong with writing in a book, getting the work done and moving on, rather than wrestling with formatting and picture sizing and all sorts of font garbage that eats into the precious time available to children. So from now on, unless it’s crucial, computers are for back-up and essential research only. If something has to be done on a computer then it will be, otherwise it’s done by hand.

Likewise with me… and I’m a big culprit here. I’m off line now, typing this in ‘Word’ and it’s taking me a third of the time than if I were on line. Why? Because I’m not fiddling around visiting websites or ‘checking my email’ or leaving messages on forums. I’m focussed and frankly, all the better for it.

Fiona’s been preaching this to me for ages and I’m only sorry my epiphany came last night and required a falling-out with my daughter. I went to bed reeling at the effect that computers have on us. I have a computer in my phone, a computer in my car, a computer on my desk, a computer on my wife’s desk, a computer that can be mobile anywhere in my house, a computer in my library room, a computer in my television, a computer on my wrist, a computer when I go out training… for goodness’ sake, there has to be a point where surely we don’t need so many computers?

Of course, they're useful when we need them but that’s exactly how they should be. I use my computer for writing. It’s an essential part of my life and work and I wouldn’t change that for the world. But had computers not been invented, I wouldn’t be sat around a typewriter when I wasn’t writing. From now on, my computer is a typewriter and I’m limiting the time I do other stuff at its keyboard. And that’s going to happen to the girls too (except Fiona, who’s always been suspicious of the infernal things and only uses them when she needs to).

I shall Twitter occasionally, check my emails only when I’ve done the work I set out to do and visit the internet for short periods only several times a day.

I feel better sharing this with you.

I want to play scrabble with my kids. And read books. And go for walks or bike rides with them. I don’t want to be constantly opening up a laptop to ‘check my mail’ or grabbing my mobile phone to see if there’s anything on such and such forum.

I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift.

Let me know if you think I’m losing my marbles or finally getting back to being human again.

Last week marked the commencement of my taper, although, due to being fitter than last year, my taper resembles more a list of strenuous activities than a relaxation period. Here’s what I did:

Monday 2km swim drills session in the pool
Tuesday 1.8km open water swim
Wednesday 50 mile bike ride, 10km back to back run
Thursday 5km run
Friday 65 minute hilly bike ride and 30 minute run off the bike
Saturday key session - 60 mile solo bike ride at 21.4mph and 74% max heart rate plus 4.5 mile back to back run at 7:30 min/miles and 80% of max heart rate.
Sunday Day off

I’ve not measured times or distances apart from the key sessions as, for most of this and the next two weeks, I’m trying to work on ‘feel’.

And, to be honest, I feel good.

But I’m keeping it real and focussing more and more on the event.

I’ve bought a new Zone 3 Vanquish wetsuit which is making me feel great in the water. Assuming it gives me no problems I’ll wear it for the Ironman and I’m pretty sure it will give me an extra minute or so in the water as well as allowing me to exit the lake having used less energy due to it’s high performance design and materials.

Well done again this week to Boxy… who placed 30th in his first ever Olympic Distance Triathlon at The Dambuster.

And, with that, I must now turn on my computer and copy and paste this into the blog.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Taper Caper...


So, it’s finally here. After six months of training and, prior to that, two months of marathon training for a marathon that was cancelled, it’s time for me to wind down.

Or is it?

Actually, no. The taper is the key part of racing. Taper time isn’t the time to pat yourself on the back and say well done. Tapering is an art form and one that takes more concentration and focus than the training itself which, frankly, anyone can do.

Tapering requires an athlete to reduce the amount of training so that, come race day, the muscles are packed with glycogen and the body has an overload of red blood cells (which the body is now used to producing) ready to be greedily devoured on that lovely Ironman course. However, it’s important to get the balance of training right and not lose the intensity or the focus. So, we’re training shorter but harder and, working on the ‘old dog, new tricks’ principle, that can be difficult to switch to after so long bashing out the miles.

But its important to concentrate and focus, especially as focus is one of the most overlooked aspects of Ironman racing.

Why focus? Anyone who has done an Ironman knows that the day is brutal – far, far more demanding than simply the sum of its parts. By the time you hit the halfway point of the marathon, it’s more than likely 33 degrees and you’ve already swum (swam?) 2.5 miles, cycled 112 miles and run 13 miles. All this on a few bottles of water, a couple of bananas and several cardboard like ‘energy’ bars and sloppy gels. So, by the time you reach this point, believe me, it’s hard to remember your name, let alone your race plan.

Focus is essential. Your plan must be drilled into you so that it’s second nature. You must know your pace and splits for all three events and you must be able to automatically re-calculate and adjust both as you find you’re not hitting them (for whatever reason that might be). Often this can be reducing pace to compensate for adrenaline surges and ensuring that the most debilitating time, the third quarter of the marathon, is catered for in terms of even the most minute body reserves. Everything counts at this point and, if you haven’t focused through the race, you won’t be able to get through it. Simple as that. So tapering effectively is an excellent way of sharpening focus and willpower and mastering your body’s desire to work harder. There’s a time to let your body run free and there’s a time to let your mind be boss. For now, it’s mind over matter.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be working through my race, practicing nutrition, transitions, puncture training, wearing the equipment I’ll be racing in… anything that will ensure that, come race day… nothing catches me by surprise. Of course, it will; it always does – but the more surprises you can eradicate, the better your chances of coming in on time.

Speaking of time, as you know, I’m aiming for a time of 10 hours and 15 minutes. Time to nail my colours to the mast… here are the splits I’ll need to hit to achieve that time.

Swim: 62 mins
T1: 5 mins
Bike: 5 hrs 20 mins (21mph average)
T2: 3 mins
Run: 3 hrs 45 mins

Which would bring me in at 10:15.

And what of this week I hear you ask. Actually, I don’t hear that – rather I hear Radio 1 playing in my office as I write – but you get my drift. Well, the week was a little fractured due to an over training wobble I had on Tuesday which I soldiered through on Wednesday, taking Friday and most of Thursday off. Over training is a monstrous thing, where suddenly nothing seems possible. Fatigue and grumpiness take over and sleep is impossible. There are ways and means of getting through, though and, with the help of Coach K and a few good nights' sleep I seem to be back on track. Here’s what last week brought:

Mon – 3.2 km endurance sprint pool session 1.5 hours
Tuesday – grumpy day. Half an hour on the bike and back home
Wednesday – Back2back 3.2km swim, 75 mile bike (20.5mph avg), 7 mile run at 7:23 min miles
Thursday – tempo 5.6 miles at 6:36 min/miles
Friday – day off just stretching and sports massage
Saturday – 2km swim, 30 mile bike, 65 min run
Sunday – 1 hour hilly bike session, 45 minute steady run

Total time training this week 14.77 hours.

Mucho congratulations this week.

To Tom and Helen for an overall 2nd and 4th respectively at the Cleveland Olympic Triathlon.

To Adam Bowden, team mate at Team MK, for coming 2nd in the Elite Group at The Windsor Triathlon – with the most appalling cut on his foot suffered when mounting the bike after T1. Well done mate.

To Boxy, another training mate at Team MK, for winning the Cardiff Sprint triathlon at the weekend. Fantastic result mate.

To Dan, my old university house mate, for completing his first Olympic distance event – The Windsor Triathlon – despite puncturing and taking a wrong turn (eh?) on the bike.

To Mark, another university house mate, who has just started a long held ambition of cycling from Lands End to John O Groats. Being Mark, though, he’s doing it via several hundred real ale pubs. Good luck to him and please visit his site in the links session on this page. It’s for an extremely worthwhile charity and, if you have a few spare pounds, he’s appreciate your support.

I think that’s it. Apologies to anyone I’ve left out and we’ll catch up this time next week.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Ambition is a road that never ends...


I've been musing this week on ambition.

What makes some of us ambitious and others not? And, within those categories, what makes some of the ambitious ones ruthlessly ambitious? What drives them ever onwards and can they ever truly be happy?

I'd been chatting with Fiona through the week about this in a peripheral way - about how unambitious people were often happier than those not setting constant targets for themselves. But are they? I'm not so sure.

Things became more focused for me on Sunday morning when I marshaled at the Big-Cow National Sprint Championships. Big-Cow is run by Boothy, a mate from Team MK, and it's always good to give a bit back and also to support other triathletes, so I try and marshal when I can at their events.

The weather on Sunday was absoultely foul and, stood as I was at a roundabout, waving cyclists through and occasionally stopping the early morning traffic, I again pondered what drove these people to get up at four o'clock in the morning, drive down to the event and compete in near monsoon conditions. I looked at the houses they were cycling past and saw nothing but closed curtains behind which were legions of sunday morning sleepers, looking forward to a fried breakfast and nothing more demanding than lifting the sunday papers.

And I came to the conclusion that I'd rather be driven. I'd rather have goals. I'd rather be trying to constantly better myself. I'd rather be pushing my body to the limits and I'd rather be trying to be the best at whatever it is I do. If I come up short then fine... but at least I've tried. It's a never ending cycle (pardon the pun) and it's a constant climb rather than a stroll through life, but it's a little like Coach K says about distance running: it's not the distance that kills you, but the pace. Meaning that we all have a pace we travel at best through life - and I discovered a long time ago that mine involves constant climbing. It satisfies me, makes me happy and, more importanly, is one I can sustain. It's not wrong for others to travel at different paces or routes, but what is wrong is to have a desire to do so and never to try.

I found myself, soaked to the skin, amongst kindred spirits yesterday morning. But I also found myself thinking that behind just one set of those curtains was someone peeking out, secretly wishing they were doing something similar. And I hoped that they would have the strength to try.

I've not filled you in on my writing really and now seems an apposite time to do so, talking as we are about ambition. I'm currently writing my first novel. And I know... everyone has a novel in them. Difference is that I'm writing mine is all. What started as a screenplay for (hopefully) my third film, developed over the preceding months into a fully fledged treatment of over 20,000 words. Several of my confidants - who I show these things to for comments and feedback - suggested taking the project down the route of novelisation. My agent was similarly enthusiastic. So I decided to seize the day and go for it. I guess it's all part of stepping further up the pyramid of needs and the constant re-setting of goals. So far I've delivered a synpopsis and half a dozen sample chapters to my agent. I'm waiting to hear back from him regarding next steps but, in the meantime, I continue to write.

And write.

And write.

On the subject also of ambition, I'm back on track with my goals for Ironman Germany on July 5th (now less than four weeks away). You'll recall I'm looking to achieve a time of 10 hours and 15 minutes and, despite a recent injury scare, I feel I'm on course to achieve that. Of course, things can go wrong, but you don't stand a chance unless you do the training, and - with just a week or so left before my taper - I can at least be pleased with the work I've put in over the last six months.

This week's training was as follows:

Monday 2km swim drills and timed 2 x 400m, 4 x 100m
Tuesday 1.9km open water swim at 26'30", 40 mile recovery bike at 18.5mph avg and 69% of HR
Weds 58.6 mile bike (different cadences). 19.8mph avg, 72% HR avg. 6.2 mile run off the bike at 7:57 min miling and 79% avg HR
Thurs Cycle 10 mile TT on A505 course with Colin. PB of 23'16". Followed by 3 mile run at 7:49 miles and 75% avg HR
Fri - rest day
Sat - 2km open water swim (drafting practice), 41 mile bike (focus on seated climbing), 5 mile run
Sun - 17 mile long slow run. 7:55 minute miles at 73% of average HR, just under 2 hrs 15 mins.

Total time training: 17.19 hours

So, a good week. Focus has been very much on keeping heart rate low and establishing pace zones that I can work at for long periods. I'm really pleased to have established a new PB in my 10 mile TT to add to the pool 400m PB I achieved earlier in the year. Running is going very well and feels strong after my back injury lay off.

Congratulations this week to 'Arps, who broke his open water cherry this week and competed in his first open water sprint tri. He's got the bug has that lad and will go from strength to strength.

Commiserations to Colin who punctured and DNF'd at the Big Cow National Sprint Champs. No probs though, he's sitting pretty and has a chance to auto qualify at Blithfield in July.

Good luck to Dan, who's doing his first Olympic distance at Windsor this coming weekend (I thnk).

And to all of you... good luck this week and - if you're that way inclined - be ambitious.