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 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.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An 'umble apology...

I must have got carried away... must have been high on something on monday morning.  Can't for the life of me remember what it was, just that I felt like doing something... well, different.  Anyway, now you know what I love, I'd like to reassure you that the previous week has once again been a strong one.

I've returned to running and although my back twinges I'm confident that I've seen the worst of it.  I've introduced a new stretching and core regime to my day which results in 25 minutes of dynamic stretching especially to the back and legs (but also all over the body) and 200 crunches.  I'm already beginning to feel the benefits.

I know you like to see what I've been up to so here it is (I'll leave the stretching and core off but include them in the total time training):

Monday  2km open water swim, 30 minute easy recovery run - 4 miles
Tuesday  56 mile bike, 3.14 mile run off the bike at 7 min miles
Weds  45 minute easy run - 5.8 miles
Thursday 3km open water swim -45 mins, 8.7 mile run at sub 8 min miles with heart rate below 80% of max
Friday 9 mile run at 7:30 min miles, 1 hour 6 mins
Saturday 91 mile bike set including 10 mile TT in 24'30".  Total bike time 4 hrs 45 mins.  6 mile run off the bike at 7:30 min miles
Sunday  slow run.  11.3 miles at sub 75% of max HR.  8 min miles. 1 hr 30 mins

Total time training this week:  18.66  hours

So there... why didn't I say that in the first place.

Bon nuit mes amis...

Monday, June 01, 2009

I love...

Butterflies on a long summer run, fluttering through my field of vision.

The warmth of the sun on my back.

The smell of my children when I kiss their heads for the first time in a morning.

The feeling of being fit and healthy with hopes and dreams.

My family and being able to share in all their happy times as well as being there for them in the tough times.

The view from my office window and the sound of twittering birds as I write.

Music and the way it makes me feel.

Blue skies.

Tap water.

Being able to write with fluidity and freedom.

Driving myself ever onwards in work and play, often to the point of exhaustion.

Seeing my daughters getting ready for bed, straightening each others' hair.

Growing older with my wife.

Scratching an itch.

Not having back pain.



Stretching and yawning and being relaxed.


Swimming. Biking. Running.