Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 Review - A year to concentrate on multisport

For a year 'off running', 2013 has gone well as I've looked for other events to aim for. At the start of 2013,  I wrote down my targets for the coming year and these were mostly focused on triathlon. At the time, I had just been diagnosed with a stress fracture in my back and so I concentrated on cross training, (and in particular rowing), in order to keep a decent base level of fitness. I'd done a bit of rowing on a Concept 2 in the past, and quite how transferable it is to running/cycling I don't know, but I decided that it was the most efficient way to have a decent workout in the shortest possible time. By mid February, and having become quite bored of looking at a Concept 2 'row-ometer', I'd recovered from the back problem and started to get out running again. I was pleasantly surprised with my run at Eastleigh 10k in March, and it made me realise that, as long as you stay in a reasonable shape cross training, the ability to regain running fitness seems relatively easy.

The come back was short lived though as the next injury in my bucket list was a problem with my knee, which kept my running mileage very low from April through to November. However this was when my aim to compete in the World Age Group triathlon champs really started to take off and the first qualifying race was approaching. The Deva Triathlon was a real eye-opener as I failed to qualify and it made me realise that my cycling was not up to scratch if I wanted to race in Hyde Park. So it was time to put some serious time in on the bike!

Throughout June, July and August I made a concerted effort to get out on the bike most mornings into Richmond Park and clocked up around 3,000 miles over these months. This was at the detriment of my running however the time saved on the bike was far greater to that lost on the run and, during this period, I managed to secure a place for the Hyde Park triathlon.

September came, I was in my best ever cycling shape, and the World Age Group Triathlon could not have gone any better. It certainly was the climax of the year.

Perhaps it was not a coincidence that, as I reduced my training time, the problems with my knee improved and I was able to start running again during November. The turning point was running a decent race at the December Hampshire League XC having already raced that same morning (certainly not text book, but I felt no pressure to perform at either). Now coming off a number of 60+ mile weeks, I feel as though 2014 is a year to revert back to running, but it's bound to have the odd duathlon and triathlon thrown in.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Ballbuster Duathlon

In terms of the tougher races that I’ve competed in over the past few years, the Ballbuster Duathlon has to be up there. As if I didn’t get the message last year, 8 miles of running, followed by 24 miles of cycling and then another 8 miles of running doesn’t sound the most appealing thing to get up for at 4:30am on a Saturday morning, however there is something quite iconic about doing this race on an undulating and technical course around Box Hill.

Given that it takes place in November, chances are that it’ll be cold, raining and there’ll be a lot of debris on the road, and so kit selection is very important to make sure your body temperature is correct for each discipline.

Fortunately it wasn’t raining when we started and I set off on the first run at a fair pace. I ran much of the first run with my club mate Alan Murchison and we soon put a gap between ourselves and the rest of the field. Given the first 5 miles is downhill, passing through this distance in 26:40 was relatively quick, potentially a little too quick given that there was still 2 hours of racing left, but I expected there to be some handy cyclists out there and so tried to give myself as big lead as possible. Obviously the first run also gave me the opportunity to see what the road surface was like for the bike and, quite frankly, it was asking to be slipped on if you weren’t going to take corners carefully. I pushed the pace on up Zig-Zag climb and put 30 seconds between Alan and myself before starting the bike course.

I used a time-trial bike after a lot of debate on equipment choice. I thought the aerodynamic benefits could well be over-ridden by a road bike given how difficult a TT bike is to control in the wet and the very fact that the brakes are a long way away when you are on the aero-bars. I felt as though I made the right choice, spent only a limited amount of time on the aero-bars and took every corner very, very carefully. The first lap was the quickest as there was no race traffic to contend with and I maintained an average of about 21mph. I held back to a certain extent given how much debris there was on Lodgebottom Road (the narrow road around the back of Box Hill) and at no time did I feel out of control. The second and third laps were technically harder as there were others competitors in the race on earlier laps to overtake and, with the possibility on traffic coming in the other direction, I spent less time on the aero-bars and more time ready to have to put the brakes on. At the back of my mind I was half expecting Hugh Mackensie to come past as was the case last year, however he only managed to close the gap to about 30 seconds on the bike.

By the time I started the second run, it had started to drizzle and the temperature dropped like a stone. My feet were numb and I was not exactly ‘with it’ for the first mile. In fact, I completely stacking it for no reason at all, landing on my hands and picking up some grazed knees in the process. Perhaps that got some adrenaline going as, after that point, I began to get my running legs back and was able to pick up the pace. I had no idea how far behind second place was and so just kept pushing as hard as possible; I also had half an eye on the course record. Support from other cyclists still on the bike stage was fantastic and the second run up Box Hill was not too punishing given I knew the end was only about a mile away.

I finished first in 2:35:28, which apparently was about 40 seconds outside the course record. Hugh Mackensie was second in 2:40:44 and Alan Murchison third in 2:45:45. My legs are now in pieces, so I reckon a couple of easier weeks are called for.

Run 1: 00:42:58
T1: 00:00:31
Cycle: 01:07:41
T2: 00:00:39
Run 2: 43:37

Sunday, 15 September 2013

World Age-Group Triathlon Champs: Job Done!

I’ve not concentrated and prepared so much on a race since the London Marathon 2012, so its not surprising that, in the past few days, I’ve been feeling a combination of nerves and excitement. Today started early catching the N19 night bus, along with a few dishevelled part-goers, to Hyde Park and then preparing my bike in the dark ahead of the race. It was cold; in fact the air temperature was so cold that the organisers shortened the swim by half to 750m. Personally I felt as though this played to my advantage and was relatively unfazed by the decision. As it happened, by the time my wave started at 7:45, I think it would have been fine to swim the full distance, but the decision had already been made. The great thing was that it was dry, not windy and we had clear skies to race in.

I’d been told to go hard from the gun on the swim, so I tried my best to latch on to someone else’s feet and gradually work my way through the field. The usual barging and bashing continued up until about 500m, and it was only towards the end that I managed to pull myself clear of it. I must have finished the swim in about 15th.

Transition was long, both in terms of how far you had to run and the time it took me to take my wetsuit off. Needless to say, mine was far from textbook and there is still plently of room for improvement there.

The bike course was fantastic; riding down Birdcage Walk, Whitehall and the Embankment all on closed roads. Frustratingly I did not have my Garmin on, otherwise I’d have definitely been out Strava segment hunting! Although I am strong on the run, I knew there would be other triathletes out there capable of posting a sub 33min time for 10k, so the aim was to try to make as much time up as possible on the bike. I went past Danny Russell (Highgate runner who I knew had run a sub-15 5k this summer) after about 8k and felt as though I needed to finish a good minute ahead of him on the bike given his running ability. At about 10k, I went hard over a bump and my seat post dropped by about 1.5 inches, which didn’t seem to impact my speed too much, rather it just made my bike position a little uncomfortable. I finished the bike in about 10th, ahead of a sizeable group of riders and then hit the run.

The run course was busy from the other waves, although there was still plenty of space to pass people and I so worked my way through the other runners. After just over a lap, Danny Russell came past me and I tried to keep up with him, but he was just too strong. It did give me a target follow and I made it my aim to keep him in sight. There was a lot of people out there cheering on the course and apologies if I didn’t acknowledge everyone supporting that I knew, lets just say I was well in the zone by this point. I didn’t feel as though my pace slowed throughout the run, in fact I finished with a sprint crossing the line in 1:49:33 which gave me 6th place in my age-group, 18th overall and 7th out of the Brits. A great day out, event and experience all round!

I’d certainly like to do more age-group races again and hopefully it’ll lead to other multisport opportunities. I’ve had a lot of help along the way, in particular from Alan Murchison for helping arrange a time-trial bike and some pacey cycle rides, my firm Capco for their support towards a time-trial bike, my parents for helping with all sorts of logistical things around training, my training mates for joining me on any cycles or runs, and all the support today to help get me round. Thank you!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Build up to Age-Group Triathlon Champs: Part 2

This Sunday I'm competing in the world Age-Group triathlon championships in Hyde Park. I've written a couple of blogs this week for Financial News to illustrate how someone working in the city balances training for triathlon alongside a day job. I thought I would post them on here too, so here is part 2 about my aims for the race and how I've prepared over the past month:

"With just days to go until the race on Sunday, I've started to think about where I would like to place in the field and what sort of time I hope to achieve. At the British Triathlon Championships in Liverpool, where I qualified for this week's event back in July, I finished 14th overall with a time of 1:57:17 - just under 2 minutes behind the winner.

Since then, I have invested in a 'Specialised Shiv', which is a time-trial bike and therefore a lot more aerodynamic than a standard racing bike. This was made possible thanks to an award given to me by Capco for services to our clients.
Managing to compete and carry out the required training alongside my day job requires a well-structured day and an understanding among my team about the demands I have outside work. The hardest part is when a work deadline comes up and my training needs to be shifted, although being able to incorporate my training into my cycling commute to and from work often helps to avoid missing a session altogether.

I have also invested in some deep-rim wheels and clocked up many more miles swimming, cycling and running. The aerodynamic design of a time-trial bike provides a significant benefit and the deep-rim wheels reduce turbulence, both of which should help increase my speed on the bike. As part of my final preparation, I have also made sure to run at least once a week at race pace. This should help ensure that I am familiar with the speed I need to achieve when I run off the bike.

It is hard to estimate what my total time to complete the race will be as every triathlon course is slightly different, but I am aiming to finish comfortably under two hours, which will hopefully put me in with the sharp end of my 30-34-year age group.

Obviously, the rest of the GB age-group team and competitors from the rest of the world will have been training hard to be at their peak performance for this event and, as a result, the level of competition is likely to be very high.

Similar to my preparation for any other significant race, the last seven days of training is relatively straightforward.
With the hard work done and the miles in the bank, it is important to allow your body to shake out any fatigue so that you are fresh for race day itself. My plan was to swim at a relatively easy pace a number of times, run once or twice, and make sure that my bike is working perfectly. I also aim to eat and sleep well, as these are two important factors in the final preparation that can be easily overlooked.
Overall, I feel ready, my training has gone well and now it is a case converting my efforts of the past four months to performing in the race itself."

Build up to Age-Group Triathlon Champs: Part 1

This Sunday I'm competing in the world Age-Group triathlon championships in Hyde Park. I've written a couple of blogs this week for Financial News to illustrate how someone working in the city balances training for triathlon alongside a day job. I thought I would post them on here too, so here is part 1 about my training:

"Having stepped up from the marathon to compete at triathlon this year, I have had to adjust my training, which has previously focused on running, to incorporate two further disciplines.
My background in athletics has allowed me to appreciate the volume and type of training required to be competitive at running, and I have converted this knowledge to help prepare for the swim and the bike.
Intensities across the disciplines vary - for example an hour's steady running can be equivalent to three hours of cycling, and I find myself far more fatigued after an hour's run compared to an hour's swim. As a result, I have found the duration of training for triathlon to be significantly longer than when I concentrated solely on running.
It is important to focus on the discipline where more training can make the greatest difference. This may not always be your strongest discipline, and the other two disciplines may slip as a result.
I have made a concerted effort this year to improve my cycling, which has come at the expense of becoming slightly slower at running and swimming, but achieving a faster cumulative time overall. To put it in perspective, in the three months leading up to the London Marathon in 2012, I ran 720 miles and cycled a fraction of that, while in the three months before this Sunday's age-group triathlon I will have run just 150 miles but cycled 2,750 miles.
So what does a typical week's training look like for me? Here is a sample from July:
  • Saturday: 3km swim in the morning, 40-mile bike ride in the evening
  • Sunday: 20-miles on the bike in the morning, including a 10-mile Time Trial and followed by a 3-mile run. A 30-mile bike ride in the evening
  • Monday: 3km morning swim, 8-mile run in the evening
  • Tuesday: 25 miles on the bike in the morning, strength and conditioning work in the evening
  • Wednesday: 3km swim in the morning
  • Thursday: 23 mile bike ride in the morning, 8-mile run in the evening
  • Friday: 30 miles on the bike in the morning
  • As well as this, I commute to and from work by bike, which adds another 55 miles

This particular training schedule works for me and I structure it around my working day. It requires getting up at 5:45-6:00am every day to ensure I have enough time to exercise before work, and a degree of self-discipline is needed to train again in the evening, but I find the end-goal provides enough motivation for this.
I started to ramp up my training in May and have kept it up for the whole of the summer. Now, with just days until the race, I can begin to taper knowing that I have done as much as I can to prepare."

Here is the article online

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Liverpool Triathlon Report

I've mentioned in a couple of my previous blogs this year that one of my aims was to qualify for the World Age Group Triathlon championships in London this coming September. I missed out in the first attempt in Chester, didn't manage to get an entry for the second attempt in Dambuster, so this left the third and final attempt in Liverpool. (this triathlon was almost a month ago now, but I've only just round to posting the report)

My cycling has always been my weakest discipline so, given this, and a knee injury that has limited me to running only 15 miles a week, I’ve upped the mileage on the bike. Since the Chester triathlon at the beginning of June, I’ve been going out before or after work and clocking up about 30 miles a number of times during the week. Together with a longer ride (60+ miles) each weekend; this has allowed me to increase the speed on the bike that I feel comfortable at.

I arrived in Liverpool feeling ready and off the back of week’s cycling around the Channel Islands and northern France. Having registered the day before, I woke at 4:30am in order to make my wave start time of 7:15am.

The swim course was in Albert Dock where visibility was fairly poor and the water was not far off tasting of cheese Doritos; lovely. I find it hard to sprint off at the start of the swim and consequently soon found myself deep in splash, getting kicked and generally lacking getting any sort of rhythm. I decided the best tactic was to take an outside line and work through the field and away from the carnage, this way I avoided having to waste energy getting caught up in the rest of the swimmers. The course wound its way through the dock and I think I came out of the water in the top 15, having been close to the back of the field after the first 100m.

The bike course was fast, 4 mostly flat laps up and down a highway and fairly representative of what to expect at the age group championships in Hyde Park. There was a small incline over a flyover but, aside from that, there was little reason to come off the time-trial bars. Given I was in the third wave, the number of bikes on the course at the start was low and it was relatively easy to spot the other riders in my wave. I hit it hard, trying my very best to keep the speed over 25mph and reaping the benefits of the newly added time-trial bars. I was conscious of not drafting others and kept working my way past other riders as the course became busier. I had Will Jones from Serpentine (a very strong swimmer and sometimes trains at New River track) to aim for and was gradually reeling him up to 1 mile to go, at which point I took on a gel, some water, and gave myself a short recovery before heading out on the run.

I started the run with Will in what must have been about 12th. The run consisted of two flat 5km laps up through the docks and this would be where I had to make progress through the field. By the time I was on the run course, there were already a number of runners from the previous waves, so I used the first out and back to check exactly the runners that I needed to chase down. I felt good on the run and my legs soon adjusted to turning over at fair pace. Today it was all about finishing in the top 7 so, each time I went past someone, I immediately made it my goal to chase down the next person. Whilst it gave me a boost gradually working through the field, I felt as though I could never relinquish my pace through fear of finishing in that frustrating 8th position. I crossed the line in 1:57, soon found out that put me in 6th and thus gave me a place in Hyde Park. Roll on 15th September!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Deva Triathlon Race Review

One of my aims for this year is to compete in the World Age Group triathlon championships in Hyde Park in September. In order to compete there, its necessary to be selected from one of the three qualification races: Deva Triathlon, Liverpool Triathlon and Dambuster Triathlon. I managed to get a place in two of these, with the first one being Deva.

Having had a decent month of running and racing in March, I've since battled with a leg injury that has stopped me from running until about 2 weeks ago. Though what this has meant is that I've been able to put more miles in on the bike and, given this has been my weakest discipline out of the three, its been really worthwhile.

The Deva Triathlon takes place in Chester with the swim up and down the River Dee. The 30-34 age group was off at 7:15, so it meant a nice early start to get ready and fuelled up. The River Dee was absolutely freezing at 14 degrees! Despite not having done a triathlon for a couple of years, you don't forget that the start can be quite manic and so I chose to position myself in the middle of the river and well away from the bulk of the swimmers closer to the shore. I started steady and after about 600m began to move through the field. I landed up swimming pretty much the whole discipline solo, obviously missing out on any of the benefits of swimming in someone else's wake but getting out of the water fairly relaxed......and VERY cold!

This is one reason why my first transition was a bit slow and I still need to learn how to do the whole mounting the bike with the cleets already clipped in. Anyway, I got out on the bike and started to head south out of Chester and towards the Welsh boarder. The course was mostly flat, but had undulations now and again and I managed to keep between 23-25mph most of the way round. However my 64:57 clocking for the cycle course was a little under par relative to the other athletes finishing towards the front of the field. I know it's not great form to point the finger at your equipment, but my road bike without time-trial bars is potentially as unaerodynamic as you can get and this obviously impacts your time over 40k. I was initially surprised that 95% of the bikes racked in transition where TT bikes, but clearly having the best equipment is one way to make valuable gains on the cycle. I took a gel at 35k to give me an extra boost for the run before heading into second transition feeling relatively good.

My second transition was far better than my first and I was soon out on the run. The run is by far my strongest discipline and it keeps me motivated chasing down the other competitors. It took the first 2-3k before I completely found my rhythm, but that's no bad thing as it helps to keep it controlled straight off the bike. My pace was understandably quite a bit slower compared to what I ran at Bupa 10,000 the week before however it was all about finishing in the top 5 to get a qualification place for Hyde Park.

I landed up coming in 9th in my age group in a time of 2:08:12, so no place in Hyde Park guaranteed, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a roll down place. Next stop is Liverpool on July 14th and in the meantime I should work on my transition and the bike.

My results:

Discipline Time Discipline Position Discipline Cat Position Discipline Gen Position Fastest
Swim 26:12 96 19 82 82
T1 1:54 - - - -
Cycle 1:04:57 145 20 144 58:22
T2 0:41 - - - -
Run 34:15 4 1 4 33:30
Overall 2:08:12 40 9 40 2:01:23

Friday, 29 March 2013

Racing back to fitness

Back in November 2012 I went to the Canary Islands for some warm weather training. Having had good week of running, 2 days after returning home, I started to get to a nasty pain in my lower back. Initially I thought I’d just strained a muscle from overtraining and it would recover fairly quickly, however the pain persisted through December and January. I was not able to run during this period and, despite several trips to the physio, the pain was not going away so I eventually got scan. This revealed a stress fracture in my sacram (a bone in the lumber region of the back); at least I now knew the problem and it would be down to me to assess when I could get back to running again.

I find it hard to completely give up exercising while injured, so over the period of December to mid-February I concentrated on other sports. A typical week included a long cycle out to Box Hill at the weekend, a couple of swim sessions and 70k a week rowing on a Concept 2. I had no idea how the latter would provide benefit to running as it mostly works other muscle groups, however I find it to be the only way I can push myself anywhere near as hard as I do when running.

By mid-February, the pain in my back had subsided significantly and I started to work in 30-minute runs every other day. Over the next 4-5 weeks, I steadily increased the mileage and speed with the target to race at the Eastleigh 10k. While my legs weren’t exactly used to running, the cross-training had helped maintain a decent level of fitness.

Having not competed for 10-weeks, I was well up for a race at Eastleigh. Conditions were absolutely freezing and a little breezy. After a fairly quick first kilometre, Ross Murray (who eventually won) broke away with a couple of other runners, leaving myself in a group of three along with Dave Norman and Kyle Hackett. This certainly helped to maintain a decent pace and push on hard over the whole distance. My lack of speedwork meant that I struggled to put up a decent fight over the last 400m, but I was pleasantly surprised to finish in 31:22…..perhaps all the rowing transferred better than expected.

Today I ran in the Maidenhead Easter 10 mile. Again it was cold and windy, but at least sunny. There was not quite the same depth as at Eastleigh and perhaps I started a bit quick trying to keep up with Olympian Anuradha Cooray. Having gone through 5 miles in little over 25 minutes, I lost a bit of concentration from 8 to 9 miles and eventually finished 3rd in 51:59. I probably need to focus on some strength endurance now but it seems that running is certainly now moving in the right direction again.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

2012 Review and 2013 Target

2012 seemed to have just as many highs and lows as 2011, however the highs were far greater and the lows worse. In my review of 2011, I gave myself 4 main targets to go into 2012 with: an England vest, a sub 31 10k, a sub 67 half marathon and a sub 2:23 marathon. Everything came together in the first 3 months of the year, running off 6 months of unbroken training, finding a good routine to balance work and exercise, and having set targets to aim for. I only landed up achieving 2 of these targets, however being selected and then racing in an England vest at the Elgoibar cross country has to be one of my top running memories. It is something that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to do and gave me exposure into what racing within a strong international field is like.

The London Marathon was an obvious highlight of the year and I felt that my experiences from previous marathons allowed me to train sensibly and then run consistently on the day. I think the marathon has a huge mental element to it; whether its in the preparation, such as putting in miles of marathon paced running at the end of a session at a dark New River Track, or in the execution, such as beating the pain in the closing stages. However the physical impact on the body is something that has bothered me for the last two years, ultimately leaving me in pieces in the months following the marathon. My own body can’t seem to handle the months of high mileage that culminate in a 26 mile road race. I don’t think its worth racing if you’re not prepared to put in the work to achieve the desired outcome (in my a case a pb), and hence my 2013 race schedule won’t include London.

The low point of the year came in May when I was involved in a nasty bike accident. I still cannot believe that my injuries were so insignificant following a 30mph crash and count myself as being pretty lucky to have come off so lightly. It has made me appreciate two main things: (i) the fine line I take everyday cycling in London where you can’t prepare for the actions of other roads users and (ii) that there is a lot more to life outside of running and it might just take an accident such as mine to be able to appreciate this.

In fact my total running mileage for the year was only 1759, very slightly lower than the 1852 in 2011 and for 5 months of this year I’ve averaged less than 15 miles of running per week. However I've been pretty unphased by this and as a result have been able focus on progressing my career and putting in more time cycling.

This has influenced my targets for 2013, with the main goal to qualify for and race the 2013 age group triathlon championships taking place in Hyde Park in September. It will require concentrating on shorter running distances and spending even more time on the bike; I might even start doing some swim interval sessions but not sure whether I'll have the willpower for that at 7 in the morning! I am hoping that this will also reduce my chances of spending long periods of time out injured and will break the routine of the annual 26 mile run round London that I've done most of the past 10 years. This is quite a different target to 2012, but fingers crossed it'll come off.