Monday, 9 November 2015

Finally got the Ballbuster record

For the past few years I’ve been making the journey to Box Hill to take on the Ballbuster Duathlon - an 8 mile run, 24 mile bike, and 8 mile run. Since the first time I competed, I have had half an eye on the course record of 2:34:40 set by Gary Gerrard back in 2001. The technicality of the cycle course and conditions of the road mean that poor weather can really effect how aggressive you can take on the bike.

Having driven the wet course on the morning of the race, noted the large amount of debris covering the surface, and then been warned about having deep rim wheels on my bike due to the wind, optimism was wearing thin for having a crack on the record. I was slightly pre-occupied with a focus on finishing the bike safely as opposed to an all out effort; but I’d still give the record a crack.

The first run was fine, and made sure I did not go out too hard given the length of the race. I also used this leg to check out the road surface, any potholes and where I should be position on the road for the bike leg. I’ve been doing some slightly longer reps in training recently and, combined with some high mileage, felt this gave me good speed-endurance for the race. I was pleasantly surprised to finish in low-42 minutes having run the first leg solo.

I chose to go for a road bike with deep rim wheels and some aero bars. My rational was partly due to my TT bike currently being out of action, and partly due to having more control on the road bike. In fact, I personally think I’d use this set up on this course regardless of the conditions. The descent through Headley village had to be taken very carefully given the amount of debris on the road, and much of Longbottom Road had leaves across, and I was weary of not taking any risk. Given this, I decided to save my hard efforts on each lap for the ascent up Box Hill.  My bike split was 1:07, bang on what I’d estimated was required for a record, but I was more relieved to finish without incident.

I knew I needed a 44-ish second run for the record, and I split the final run course into 3 parts: the drag up to Headley Common, fast back section along Longbottom Road and one final effort up the Box Hill climb. It took a mile or so to get my run legs back, and after that I dug in and pushed on to Headley Common. I had plenty of encouragement on the way round from other competitors on the bike leg. The back section was fairly pacey, but this is not surprising givne the gentle downhill. As I hit the foot of Box Hill at about 2:22, I thought an all out effort was required for the last couple of miles. However it turns out the climb up Box Hill was a little shorter than I’d anticipated, and I crossed line with a 41:30 second run split and total time of 2:31:56.

I was delighted to finally break the record and it rounded off a successful end to 2015 multisport. Now I’ll focus on road and cross country racing over the winter, before starting the build up to Kona in Spring 2016.

Chris Nicholls (2nd), myself, Dan Bradshaw (3rd)

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Picking myself up at Ironman Wales

The afternoon of August 31st I was sat, head in hands trying to comprehend how I’d just been disqualified for a cycling error from the Ironman 70.3 world championships, the second of my 2 main races of 2015. My racing career had never got any lower than this; I had hit rock bottom. Around me were thousands of people all cheering for Jan Frodeno crossing the line in a fantastic 3:51, along with all the other age-groupers that I had been up against just an hour before. In terms of my mood at the time, I was the complete opposite end of the spectrum!

I dropped Richard Melik (who runs Team Freespeed) a message telling him about my disqualification, and that I’d look for another race to finish the season with to at least capitalise on the training I’d done, and to make amends for my disappointment at Zell am See. Whilst I was thinking along the lines of another middle distance triathlon, Richard suggested having a shot at Ironman Wales instead and hence allow a full season to concentrate on Kona 2016. On immediate reflection I thought to myself “no way” given I’d not swam or ridden the distance even in isolation since Nice Ironman in 2010, and my longest run since April’s marathon had been about 18 miles. But then I considered it further, and in fact what was there to loose? I’d averaged about 60 and 200 miles a week running and cycling respectively over the summer, there was no pressure as that had been piled on at Zell am See 2 weeks prior, and there was everything to gain through potentially gaining a 2016 Kona spot over a year in advance. I was sold! So signed up, re-restarted my taper and began to prepare myself (mostly mentally) for the 10 hours of racing I’d be doing in 10 days time.

The days leading up to the race were fairly relaxed, with some runs to/from work, some chilled out swimming and a few laps of Richmond Park; nothing crazy and all done at a relatively easy effort. I had a long talk with my Freespeed teammate Charlie Pennington a few days out who had raced Ironman Wales last year. He gave all sorts of useful information for the race and helped calm any nerves about which bike to use, which wheels to use, where to sight on the swim, what nutrition was on the course, and just general good advice from an 8:45 ironman.

My nutrition in the lead up didn’t change at all with no serious carb loading or change in diet, and even had a few beers on the Friday night to celebrate a friends birthday; I just wanted to make sure I was well fuelled for the big day itself. In fact I was feeling very relaxed about everything, and even slightly confident things might go better than expected…..My only real concern was with the weather (in fact that played on my mind A LOT) and how that may impact the bike course. A few days before it was forecast as wind, rain and the typical weather Wales is associated with and I was sure the chances of coming off the bike were riding high.

I travelled down to Tenby with my parents the day before, collected my number, picked my wheels (Zipp 404 on front, 808 on back), racked my bike, got familiar with transition, took a look at finish line and checked out the bay I’d be swimming in at 7am the following day. At which point I decided to pull myself away from the Ironman buzz and concentrate on my own race.

I’ve built into my triathlon prep a walk through in my head for every element of the race that involves any sort of technicality. What I need to do in transition on the morning of the race, what order to put my bike kit on, do I need to eat anything during transition, what happens if its warmer/cooler than expected for the bike, where do I enter/leave the swim/bike/run etc., and I spent the best part of an hour the evening before going through this again and again to get 100% happy with the setup.

Race day came and I was up at 4:30 to have breakfast (2 Weetabix, banana, slice of bread and jam) [fairly minimal, but I prefer to race ‘light’]. My Dad dropped me in to Tenby and I set up my bike: air in tyres/water bottle on/shoes on/speedo on. Then a final walk through of transition and I was set to go! Transition had its typical buzz of excitement, apprehension and organised chaos as everyone carried out their final checks on the bike before walking down to the sea.

I put myself in the first age-group wave, 5 minutes after the pros were being set off. At 6:55am, the pros started and raced down to the sea. The countdown was on to my race getting underway and at 7am I too was running down the beach and into the water. Surprisingly the typical carnage of a mass start never seemed to emerge and I managed to find an open line out to the first buoy. It was never a strategy to get on someone’s feet for the swim, as I didn’t really think there’d be so much benefit given the waves and current. There were enough people ahead of me that I did not need to sight so often and things ticked away nicely to the first buoy. At that point, we almost did a 180-degree turn and were immediately pounded by the waves moving practically directly towards us. It was a hefty stretch across the pack of the bay and the waves meant that the next orange buoy was harder to make out all the time. At the final turn back to the shore, we were with the current again and that made things far easier but my legs were on the verge of cramping up as I think I’d kicked a bit too hard earlier on.

I came back onto the shore and started round 2 of the swimming circuit, and this time the density of swimmers was far less. I reigned my kicking in through fear of cramping up so early in the race and as a result I think my second lap was quite a bit slower than the first, but at the back of my mind was that I was still within the first hour of a fairly epic race.

Ironman Wales varies slightly from other races in that the swim is a good kilometre away from the transition, so there is a short run through the town once you’re out the water. I stripped off my wetsuit, put on my trainers and raced through Tenby to the bike.

Contrary to what had been forecast earlier in the week, we were very fortunate that the early rain had cleared and the wind was far less than expected. In my transition bag, I had put in extra layers and had about 5 minutes to make a decision about what to wear on the 112 mile bike. Given it was still a bit chilly, I opted for the whole lot: arm-warmers and cycle jersey (the cycle jersey mostly due to the fact it had a load of food in). Once out of Tenby, I started to unleash on the bike and cruised with a nice tailwind all the way to Angle (the most westerly part of the course). I had averaged about 22 mph for the first gently undulating hour and was gradually reeling in a few other age-groupers. However, I had taken on no food or drink for this time and suddenly became very conscious that I still had a monumental task ahead of me and needed to keep my energy levels high for the entire race. In my back pocket, I had a load of Clif shot blocks that I then proceeded to work my way through for the rest of the race and, coupled with bananas and energy drink at the aid stations, felt as through my fuelling on the bike was about right [again adopting the ‘racing light’ strategy].

As the course turned back to Tenby, so the wind was from the other direction and life on the bike got a bit harder. What’s more the undulations got bigger, but that plays to my strengths and, before long, the number of age-groupers ahead of me seemed to reduce. The road the surface was pretty good and generally far better to what I am used to in Surrey hills. The early rain meant that the road was still damp in places and I refused to take any risks whatsoever throughout the whole course. What this cost me in time may have been 3-5 minutes, however I was not prepared to take corners or descents at speed given the potential impact this may have. As per Alpe d’Huez Triathlon or Nice Ironman, the route on the Ironman Wales bike course was incredible, making its way through the Pembrokeshire countryside and every town or village was packed with supporters. 70 miles into the course was the town of Saundersfoot and the climb out of the village felt synonymous with that of the Tour de France as the crowds parted to let me through. Halfway up the climb I was in the red, but kept on pushing to the top purely due to crowd encouragement.

When I returned to Tenby for the first time, the announcer said that I was the first age-grouper so it was now was a case of holding it together for the rest of the bike. The second lap of the bike course encompassed only the hilly parts of the first lap, which I should really be thankful for but, at the time, was quite vocal to myself about how much pain I was in on some climbs. At 90 miles, I'd had enough on the bike and was starting to fade. At the back of my mind was not the 26 miles of running still to do, but the two 15% climbs in the final stages of the bike course. It seems any logic becomes slightly warped after 6 hours of pushing it. Anyway, I dispatched the climbs and cruised into Tenby to finish the bike-no mechanicals, no crashes and thankfully no red cards!

When I got to T2, I spent time cleaning out any sand in my toes, putting Vaseline between my toes and treating myself to a fresh pair of socks as I really didn't want to get any blisters on the run. I drank some flat coke I'd put in my transition bag (thanks Charlie for the suggestion) and got cracking with the run. Whilst the run is my strongest discipline, running 26 miles on tired legs after 6 hours of effort is completely different type of marathon race. During my 70.3 training, I'd practiced running at 5:30-5:35 min per mile off a 60 mile bike, now I had to force myself to run at 6:30-7 min per mile otherwise I'd be bound to detonate catastrophically at some point (my experience in my Nice Ironman was a 1:20HM/1:50HM split, ouch). Needless to say, that plan soon went out the window and I found myself trotting along comfortably at 5:45-6:15 per mile, dependent upon whether I was on a hill or not. Initially I was in complete isolation: the pro in front was way ahead, the next age grouper way behind. I was still aware of ensuring I took on enough fluid, so started to have a few sips of water at each of the aid stations. As time went on and I ticked off the first of 4 laps, the run course was beginning to fill up with the other competitors and the crowds continued to build and cheer in Tenby. In fact the crowds were phenomenal and at no other triathlon has the support been quite so amazing! Lap 2 included a toilet pit stop which never normally happens for me in a race, but after that I started to feel way better and was now just waiting for that wall to hit. My original enthusiasm for running was beginning to wear off and was now being more sensible about pacing. I adopted a 'walk through aid stations' strategy whereby I'd have a cup of coke, walk on and have a cup of water, before returning to a run. That way I got some sort of recovery as well as made sure I got fluids and a small amount of extra energy.

As I started the 4th lap I was aware that I was catching one of the pros ahead, and at 2k out, a very helpful spectator told me I was only 30 seconds behind. Whilst in my mind I knew I was actually 4:30 minutes ahead (due to my wave starting behind the pros), I still thought to put an effort in to try and catch him. Finally I had the finish line in my sights. It had been over 5 years since my last Ironman and the crowd cheering on the finish was just like I can remember at Nice. I did no showboating, summersaults or even a high 5 up the red carpet; I just had one thing on my mind to cross that line. My time was 9:31:01 and this rounded off one of the races of my life. Shattered, drained, exhausted but ecstatic is how I felt, and so pleased to have been able to put Austria behind me.

When the results came out, I had placed 5th overall and had beaten the next age-grouper by over 30 minutes. 2016 Kona spot was well and truly booked!

There are so many people who helped me on my way to this race, and all is so much appreciated. In particular to Skechers who make sure I always have pair of trainers to go running in, Blueseventy for providing an amazing wetsuit, Clif for helping with that nutrition, and Virgin Active for allowing me to swim/bike/run those indoor miles. Thanks Richard for putting the idea of Ironman Wales in my head, and to all my running and cycling mates who are always keen to help put the miles in. And finally my parents and family who have been very supportive through a tough year, and I couldn’t really have asked for more than them being at the finish line on Sunday.

Top 10 results:

Name Country Category Overall Rank Swim Bike Run Finish
Thomas, Jesse USA MPRO 1 00:54:20 05:03:28 02:52:19 08:57:33
Vistica, Andrej HRV MPRO 2 00:57:00 05:05:46 02:52:18 09:03:09
Thomschke, Markus DEU MPRO 3 00:57:01 04:57:14 03:12:54 09:14:52
Snilstveit, Gudmund NOR MPRO 4 01:02:38 05:03:21 03:08:18 09:22:15
Greenleaf, Andy GBR 30-34 5 01:05:17 05:20:42 02:55:47 09:31:01
Wiltshire, Harry GBR MPRO 6 00:51:55 05:19:21 03:12:47 09:31:33
Holtham, Elliot CAN MPRO 7 00:57:01 05:25:31 03:04:54 09:35:47
Schifferle, Mike CHE MPRO 8 01:04:07 05:22:46 03:04:56 09:45:26
Manente, Felipe BRA MPRO 9 00:56:54 05:37:04 03:03:17 09:47:28
Beranek, Anja DEU FPRO 10 00:54:26 05:30:15 03:23:16 09:56:31

Monday, 31 August 2015

70.3 Champs didn't go to plan, but got to move on and plenty learnt along the way

There was a line in the middle of the road on the bike course, and I crept over it with 5 miles to go thinking that I was taking the safest route. Unfortunately this was not shared by the race referee and I was immediately 'red-carded' meaning that I was DQ'd and out of the 70.3 Championships. I can analyse, or assume that others did the same, or claim that I was taking the safest route, but rules are rules and I broke them. Gutting given most of the summer has been geared towards this race, I was only a minute behind the leader and was ready to unleash some speed on the run. I have deliberated over again for the past 24 hours, but these things happen and I now need to look forward to the next event and try to finish the season on a high. It is however only the 2nd year I've really been taking triathlon seriously and there is still a huge number of positives that I've gained from the whole experience.

What went well:
1. The 3 hour bike, 1 hour run sessions that I did once (or occasionally twice) a week throughout July. Aside from trying to replicate the 70.3 distance, these sessions were valuable in allowing me to work out the speed I could run off the bike. In Luxembourg 70.3 I started the run at 5:10/mile pace and detonated; after a few of these sessions I was comfortably winding things up to 5:30/mile at the end and much more aware of the run pace I could maintain.
2. Regents Park bike laps. Good fun, a good set of people to train with, and the opportunity to raise my heart rate for intervals of up to 6-7 minutes (until you're stopped by a traffic light).  Helped to appreciate riding above pace for periods of time.
3. Week in the Alps. Meant that even if a course has a 15-20k climb in it, I would not be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the ascent. Plus Alpe d'huez triathlon helped appreciate (a) a brutally fierce swim start (b) how I would feel after 6 hours of effort.
4. Run commute to/from work. Efficiency more than anything, but a lower intensity run meant I could build up a decent mileage throughout the week without succumbing to injury.
5. Winter Wattbike and Spring marathon. Given that my bike mileage at the end of April was close to zero, the 2 times per week 2*20 minutes watt bike session must have helped cycling tick over. Obviously the spring marathon helped build up general endurance and run speed that would be used in the 70.3

What would I change?
1. Do more swimming. Given time constraints and an inclination to be outside cycling, I've only really managed to swim 1-2 times per week. And all of that is at a metronomic pace. So I would try to add a couple of swims per week solely focused on intervals.
2. Spend more time on the TT bike. In the days leading up to the race when I was practising and cycling at 35mph on the aerobars, quite frankly I was lacking in any confidence. In the race, any worries disappeared, but some more time on the TT bike beforehand would probably have helped.
3. Continue to do running interval sessions. Since April, I have hardly done an interval session, taking my speed from races, general tempo runs or from my marathon build up. I reckon an interval session once a week of 10-13k would probably have helped.

What next?
I was rather hoping the 70.3 would have been a successful end of the triathlon season, as I could then have had couple of easier weeks before preparing for the 6-stage, cross country and road racing season. However, I'd like to finish on a high, so will see if an event in September could let me in last minute and continue to train through accordingly. I'll more than likely have another crack at Ballbuster duathlon in November, but once October comes, running will most likely be the primary focus for the Winter.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Luxembourg 70.3 - All went to plan, bring on Zell am See!

At the beginning of the year, I had a fairly simple race schedule: concentrate on running for the first 4 months with the aim to race the London Marathon, then concentrate on triathlon with the aim to race the Ironman 70.3 championships in Zel am See. Obviously you need races to build up to your main races, and I won't deny that I've probably 'over-raced' a touch this year, but in order to qualify for the 70.3 champs, it's necessary to qualify at an earlier Ironman 70.3 event; so I chose Luxembourg.

The last time I'd done an Ironman event was almost 5 years ago where, as a relative novice to the sport, I completed the Nice Ironman. Roll on 2015 and I'm in Remich (Luxembourg), registering for the Half Ironman. My lead up to the race has been 'interesting'. Work, a house move and racing most weekends has meant I've not really had much more than 7 hours sleep a night for about 3 weeks, but I made sure than I arrived in Luxembourg in plenty of time to at least prepare well for race itself. Luckily, there was a very convenient campsite located just across the river from the start, so I pitched the tent and made that my base for the weekend.

The day before race day, I did a short recce of the bike course, cycling the flat part of the course to make sure the bike was working fine. I also donned a pointy hat for the first time....yes, I am now looking for every marginal gain I can get, and all was good. I collected my number, had the race briefing, went to the pre-race pastafest and had a couple of beers (too close to Belgium to resist) and went to bed to clock up another 10 hours sleep.

Race day came and my start time was at the slightly inconvenient time of 1:45pm. What to do for food? I opted for a bowl of Shreddies and a banana, and then a Clif bar an hour before the start. There was a danger that I was potentially leaving myself slightly 'under-fuelled', but I'd rather race light, and besides I'd had a decent meal the night before.

I have never seen a bike quite like this before!
So I racked my bike and headed down to the startline. After watching a number of the earlier waves, it was time for the 200 odd competitors in the M30-34 category to take to the water. As always, when the hooter went, there was the usual carnage as everyone jostles for position. I kept calm and found an empty bit of river to swim down. As the field spread out, I found myself gradually working through the pack and it took me a little by surprise when I saw clear water ahead of me. I felt good, any race pressure vanished and I was really quite enjoying it. There'd obviously been a few stronger swimmers who'd gone way off the front, but a 4th place in the swim was far more than I'd expected.

Swim start
Transition was fine. With such large events, there's always a fair amount of extra logistics the organisers throw in. But I'd walked through the motions of transition so many times in my head that I knew exactly what I needed to do, and hence it all went very smoothly.

The bike course started with a pancake flat section along the River Mosel. This was the part I had reccied and I knew it was a good place to get as aero as possible and put some decent paced miles in. I was over taken by a couple of other guys from my wave (one, Roman Paramonov went on to win the category, and the other I 're-overtook' at about 45 miles in). The race then began to climb and undulate for the next 25 miles through small villages and countryside around Remich. We even had a short trip into France before rejoining the River Mosel and making one last effort for home. In retrospect, I felt I could have pushed it harder on the bike; I did loose concentration at times and that could have added 20 seconds here and there, but I'm now in a better position to put some proper bike miles in training.

When I came into transition, I noticed a couple of other bikes there in my category, so I had some work to do! With a little too much overconfidence, I went out at 5:20 min/mile pace. Realistically I was never going to sustain this,  but kept it up as long as possible. I could see Roman Paramonov running well about 3 minutes ahead and realised that catching him was possibly a stretch too far. I still dug in and watched my pace gradually slow as my energy was running out and I was becoming more dehydrated, but I thought that if I took on any food or water I was bound to get a stitch. I don't know whether I've ever welcomed a finish line so much, and I crossed it in 4:04:01 for 10th overall and 2nd in my age category. Job done!-that's enough to get me to Zell am See.

Since joining Team Freespeed, I've been helped out by a number of different sponsors. So a huge thank you to Skechers for all your support and trainers, Blue Seventy for the wetsuit, Clif for providing all sorts of nutrition, Lyzene for lots of bike bits and pieces for keeping the bike running well, and Virgin Active for allowing me to swim, gym, and for all those watt bike sessions.

Believe me - I am feeling shattered at this point
Prize giving the following day

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Crystal Palace Triathlon - 2nd by 6 seconds. Seriously!

My first triathlon of the year and my first triathlon out racing for the triathlon team I am a member of, Team Freespeed.

I had no idea how this race would go, given only two weeks after the London Marathon. I've kept some fairly steady training over the past couple of weeks, so I didn't exactly feel lethargic or out of shape on the line, but I had no idea how I would fair at each of the disciplines, reason being out of practice, out of practice, and legs battered for the swim, bike and run respectively. On reflection, I thought my race quite well.

I am clearly out of practice on the swim, finishing down in the overall standings for the 750m swim, however I got on the bike and felt really good. The 20k bike course was 9 laps of a 'crit racing' style course, with a gradual hill for about 800m, followed by a descent for the rest of the lap. After 3 laps I realised the best strategy was to work hard up the hill and then take it slightly easier on the descent given the surface was not amazing and there tended to be quite a few other riders on the course after a few laps. As I started the run, my immediate thought was 'where has any leg speed gone?' as I felt very sluggish. There was no one that I could see immediately ahead of me, although I new that Danny Russell was somewhere up the road as he'd started about 1.5 minutes ahead of me in the pool. I didn't feel I pushed it too hard on the run as aerobically I felt fine, but my legs were in complete disagreement with that.

The running part of the race finished with 1.5 laps of Crystal Palace Athletics Track and, when I came on to the track, Danny Russell was just over 400m ahead of me. I did the maths and realised it was going to be close, in fact VERY close....just 6 seconds between first and second! Well done to Danny for taking the win, and I now know that I need to concentrate on swimming over the coming weeks.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

London Marathon - Never have I ever felt so shattered after a race

2012 was the last time I trained for and lined up for the London Marathon, and I knew the amount of effort required over a sustained period to achieve my result that year. I'd say that it takes a dedicated build up of at least 4 months to really do the marathon justice and so all those 35,000 odd runners lining up on Blackheath today have all approached that challenge in their own way. As I mentioned in my previous blog, that 4 month build up is what I've been working towards since January.

Given my recent form, I would expect a 2:21 time to be on the cards. However why aim for 2:21, when its so agonisingly close to that 2:19:59? With this approach, my race plan was to go through halfway in 70 minutes and hope that I would feel good enough to negative split to a sub-2:20. On the start line, I was concerned about potentially blistering in my shoes, the impact of having bashed my quad on the banister in the morning, and recalling just how painful those last 5-6 miles can be; all little things that you blow out of all proportion. However, one thing was for sure, I would run my own race, try not get carried away early on and aim to keep a metronomic 5:20 per mile. As expected, the start was fast, I went out steady and soon found myself weaving in and out of the field to find some clear road. I settled in a group with Alex Milne (going to halfway) and Stuart Spencer of Notts AC, however the third mile of 4:58 made me put the brakes on and I was happy for them to continue ahead off the road. At 5 miles, Dean Lacy came alongside and I continued to run with him for the forthcoming 10 miles, trying my hardest to keep to that 5:20 target. Mile 9, at the renamed 'Buxton Water', was for me the high point of the race, with unbelievable crowd support, including my family, friends and club-mates helping to contribute to an incredible wall of noise. With the crowd support, knocking off a 5:20 mile seemed relatively easy, and was far contrasting from those quieter parts of the course around the Isle of Dogs. At this point, I felt sufficiently fresh to high-5 my sister and to really appreciate the spectacle that is the London Marathon.

We continued along Jamaica Road, over Tower Bridge and on to half way. Whilst still ticking along at a fair pace, this was by no means comfortable and I began to question for how long I'd be able to hold it together. Despite going through 13.1 miles at 69:42, I knew then that a sub-2:20 was out of the question, as there was no way that I'd knock out another sub-70 given how I was feeling. I began to become a little concerned about how hydrated I was and so made a conscious effort to take a few sips of water at each one of the coming water stations. Whilst on the subject of nutrition, I took no gels throughout the race and I think I had sip of Lucozade early on, otherwise it's water all the way.

As we went through the nightclub-esq underpass at Westferry Circus at 15 miles, Dean began to drop off the pace and it was then me and the watch to try to keep on track. I was beginning to feel the impact of the quick pace we'd run early on and, by the time I'd reached Canary Wharf at 19 miles, I was beginning to tire and was starting to have little appreciation of what was going on around me. However I did know that I was still on track for a pb, had broken the back of the race, had other runners ahead of me to reel in and was now heading straight for The Mall, so I may as well get my head down and finish this!

Along The Highway, I over took a couple of runners and was content in knocking out a consistent 5:30 miling. Once I was on the Embankment, it was familiar territory and synonymous with the run home from work and was counting down the time to the end; 10 mins, 9 mins, 8 mins....etc.. I had Big Ben to aim for and, despite being 50m behind Stuart Spencer, he was helping keep my pace going. As we turned in to Birdcage Walk, I had no appreciation of the time, I just wanted to get this race done. Finally, The Mall came into sight, along with the finish line. I made an attempt at throwing my arms in the air, but my body was in pieces, my legs were screaming and I have NEVER before felt so fatigued at the end of a race. It was over, I'd broken my pb with 2:21:46 by well over 2 minutes and finished 28th overall. Job done!

Serpentine Running club packed well with Dave Morgan, Jonathan Poole, Rich Phillips, John Franklin all finishing within 2:27, and other notable performances from the Battersea Thursday sessions including John Gilbert in 2:18 and Andy Lawrence 2:29.

I now need a rest, my legs hurt, I'm tired and now will focus on my next challenge of the year: Ironman 70.3.

I have to thank all my friends and family who came out to watch and support today, and help contribute to make the London Marathon such a great event. At the moment I am a little apprehensive to 2016, but it'll hardly be surprising if I change my mind....

MileTimeCumulative time

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Taper time!

It's arrived, taper time. Ok, so it's not quite a case yet of putting my feet up entirely, but relative to the past 12 weeks, it's going to feel like it. I last did a marathon 3 years ago, and it had been off the back of 6 months of injury free training and at the end of what had been a purple patch of running. The build up for this year's London Marathon hasn't been too dissimilar in terms of continuity. Aside from a 10 day break from running over New Year due to a calf issue, I've pretty much been able to run when I've liked and what I've liked. So what have been the ups, downs, things I've learned new, things I've always done and things that haven't worked?

I have found that completing at least 2 out of the 3 main sessions in a week has been crucial. The 3 sessions have been: shorter speed work (Tuesday), longer threshold (Thursday), long run (Sunday). It's been great having a group at each whether it's Phil O'dell's Battersea group doing the shorter stuff, or the 'Thursday night Battersea threshold' group on on Thursdays, there have been people to push me all along. Probably the one session that sticks out was a rather too pacey 1k 95%MP, 1.8k MP where a few of us knocked out a 69:30 half marathon on the way and it was good to see John Gilbert, Andy Maud, Jonathan Poole, Rich Phillips along with the rest of the group all training so well for a common goal.

I've raced a lot, possibly too much, but I've enjoyed most of them, targeting some whilst training through others. I felt that the main XC races (Southerns, National, Intercounties) all helped strength endurance and gave the opportunity to race against some of the best in the country, whilst Reading Half gave the chance to indicate what sort of pace I could run the marathon. For any of these big races, I would do a controlled 6*1 mile on the Tuesday/Wednesday before, and then the race would effectively replace either the Thursday threshold session or the long run.

I hit a top distance of 23 miles for my long run at the beginning of March, and largely kept them to about 20 miles. 2 of these 20 mile runs I did at 1:55 and 1:57 pace respectively, and this gave the confidence that my pace could be maintained for the full 2 hours. I didn't feel it necessary to go to the full marathon distance in training, and some may say that I should have done more longer runs (since the beginning of March I have only done the 23 miler and a 17 miler), but this has been for logistical reasons more than anything and I've raced several 10+ mile races during tat period, all with a reasonable cool down/recovery run.

My weekly mileage averaging at about 65 miles could be considered low compared to your typical runner aiming for the sort of time that I am. However, I have found in the past that repeatedly knocking out 80+ miles in a week has landed me injured. So I've included a fair amount of cross training to complement the running which has generally been one of: a 50 minute effort on the rowing machine, 50 minute swim or 2*20 minute watt bike session.

The 2 areas where I could probably have concentrated a little harder are on stretching and nutrition. I will admit that I've probably stretched a total of 10 minutes since the beginning of the year and as a result my muscles are incredibly tight and I think this is causing a bit on pain in my left knee. Over the next 2 weeks I shall concentrate on stretching and rolling now that the time spent running will be reduced. My nutrition certainly isn't textbook either. I'm a cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, meet and 3 veg for dinner type of person, and don't take any supplements or vitamins whatsoever which sounds fine, however I also find myself eating quite a lot of chocolate, crisps and cereal, and partial to have a few beers a couple of times a week. But I'd rather be relaxed when it comes to feeding myself and as long as I've got plenty of energy to train, then that's good enough for me.

So in the next 2 weeks, I'll run a bit, do a couple of light sessions, try to stretch a lot, sleep a lot and eat healthy and hopefully, come 26th April, I'll be set to have a crack at a pb.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Reading Half Marathon - first decent PB for 3 years

Over the past couple of years, Reading Half has become to establish itself as a Half Marathon that not only attracts over 15,000 runners, but also a good number of those are at the sharp end. Training over the past month has gone well, and my run at last week’s North London Half gave me confidence that a time of 66:59 might well be achievable.

Conditions were good: sunny and only a little wind. The pace off the start line was crazy, however I decided to sit at the back of the lead group to get some shelter from the wind. The climb at 3 miles strung out the lead group and I soon found myself (unsurprisingly) struggling to maintain the sub-5 minute mile, and electing to sit at about 5:10 pace instead. A group of Nick Torry, Dan Thorne, Joe Morewood and a few others formed and that certainly helped me maintain my pace. At 4-5 miles and on the verging of slowing up (thinking I’d gone off too quick), I forced myself to stick at least on the back of the group and maintain the pace a little while longer.

The route continued into the town centre, past a number of bands and a fair number of supporters coming out to watch, and by 7 miles I began to feel good. The odd runner, who'd probably had started a bit more sensibly, would come past our group and then get sucked back in and we were also reeling in a few other runners ahead. Just prior to the 8 mile mark, I hit the front of the group and then up to 10 miles, Joe, Dan and myself switched positions at the front as given the slight head wind.

At 10 miles, Chris Buselaih came past and put in an injection of pace, which also coincided with the course changing direction and being followed by a tailwind. The final run up to the Madjeski Stadium was so contrasting to last year’s massive headwind and dull day, and instead saw a group of group of us eagerly trying to race to that sub-67 time.

Nick Torry just upped the pace at 11.5 miles and went off the front, whilst myself, Chris, and few other guys raced for the end. Disappointingly the clock showed 66:51 as I entered the stadium and so my sub-67 target was out of the question, but I still finished in 67:08 for 20th and gave me a pb that has taken almost 3.5 years to break, so happy with the time.

The men’s race was won by Amos Kiplagat in 63:09 and the women's race by Lily Partridge in 70:32. However it was also good to see the depth of the race with 57 men dipping under 70 minutes.

With 5 weeks to go until the London Marathon, I feel as though I am returning to the form I had in 2012 and I’ll need to make some decisions about the sort of pace to go off on the big day.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Intercounties at Cofton Park marking an end to the 2014/2015 XC season

In a stark contrast to the National at Parliament Hill, the Intercounties XC was held on course with minimal mud and in conditions suggesting that spring may just have arrived. The senior men’s race was run over 1 large lap followed by 3 smaller laps, where the large lap contained pretty much the only significant climb in the race. For anyone that does know, the intercounties XC is where the top runners from each county are brought together to compete against one another and the race is normally used as a selection for the World Cross. Due to funding issues, it may well be that Great Britain sends an incomplete team to China for the 2015 World Cross and so quite the depth that the selectors may look to in the results is to be awaited, but that is something else altogether.

Anyway, back to the race. The start was ridiculously quick as everyone took off at an insane pace in order to get a decent position. After the first mile, I must have been in about 110th and that was despite running a hilly 5:13 minute mile! Once the race settled down, I started to work my way through the field gradually picking off those that went off too quick. The positions were still quite tightly packed even after the first couple of laps. At start of the 3rd lap, my nemesis Chris Greenwood came past and I tried my hardest to stick with him. I couldn’t quite keep up with his pace as he continued to overtake others, however I landed up in a group with Kevin Quinn (Surrey) and Carl Avery (North East) and gradually pushed into the low 40’s. There was little movement in positions over the last lap however it was necessary to maintain a decent pace to avoid slipping back and I finished in 43rd.

Up at the front there was a competition between the individual winners of the Scottish, Welsh and English National XC and they finished in that order respectively with Andrew Butchart taking overall honours. So the spikes are now being hung up until later in the year and the focus for the coming weeks will be on building towards the London Marathon.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Southern XC at Stanmer Park - loved all 15k of it

'In pieces' is probably the best way to describe how I felt after 15k around Stanmer Park. Its got to rank fairly high in the tougher races of the year, and great to see such a well contested championship. 

From the gun, a large group of almost 20 runners ran off the front and jostled for positions over the first 1.5 laps, with no one taking the out right lead nor anyone really falling off the back. I started relatively steady and found myself about 50m behind the lead pack. Someway through the first lap, Ben Cole (who had a fantastic run to finish 12th) came flying past me on a downhill, as did Chris Greenwood and, once Darren Deed caught up, a small group had formed which really helped maintain a good pace.

I thought some of the runners in the lead pack may have come back to us, but that wasn't the case at all. By the third lap, Ben and Darren had gained some distance ahead of myself and Chris, and we were effectively competing for 15th and 16th. The final half mile to the finish is a gentle downhill and, despite it probably being the fastest part of my race, I didn't quite have that top end speed to get 15th. Unaware to me, I was being chased down by Daniel Thorne (Reading), and having only realised this close to the finish, I had to sprint for the line for 16th.

It sounded as though the race for first place was akin to that of 3 years ago with 4 being in contention for the win. Apparently John Pepper came off the final climb in the lead, but the positions changed on the final downhill. Ben Tickner was fractionally ahead going into the final run-in and giving him enough for the win, Paskar Ower was 5 yards back for second, and John Pepper another 5 yards back for third, despite having the same time as Alex Bruce-Littlewood who took fourth.

My old club mate Louise Damen took an impressive win in the women's race finishing some distance ahead of second place and leading Winchester to a team victory.

A great event and now I look forward to Parliament Hill and The National for the next instalment of XC.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Looking back at how I got into running and progression to triathlon

I was recently asked by my old school to write a piece for their alumni magazine about how I got into running and triathlon. So I thought I'd also put the piece on the blog.

Like many runners, my first memories cross country running were in those games lessons where the playing fields were too boggy to play on and the teacher would sent us out on a few circuits around the pitches, kitted out in football boots and rugby kit. Quite often the prospect of running a few miles wasn't always met by everyone with a huge amount of enthusiasm however, as someone who never showed too much aptitude when it came to rugby or football, for me I found a sport that I was competitive with amongst my peers.

As I progressed through secondary school, I joined the school running club and Winchester Athletic Club, swapped my football boots for spikes and began to train a little more consistently. My Dad gave me plenty of encouragement along the way, took me to races and, as a under 15, I was selected to run for Hampshire in my first county cross country competition. This was possibly the pinnacle of my teenage running career as, shortly after that, I lost some of my focus and the consistency of my training dipped. This was until I turned up at Nottingham University Athletic Club, fresh from a year travelling and keen to get my running fitness back. One thing that was immediately apparent was the ability and dedication of some of my fellow students who trained every day, clocked up well over 50 miles running a week and balanced their 'student life' very diligently with their running. As I progressed through university, I gradually found myself slipping into a routine where running formed a large element of my life: I took on the position of men's captain, got a coach, started doing interval sessions, raced regularly and, in my final year, completed the London Marathon in 2:33.

Having graduated in 2005, and after a ski season, a new job in a new city beckoned. Working and social life took precedence and trying to find a routine to accommodate my running proved tricky. However, similar to my approach at university, I gradually found myself training harder by being more disciplined with my time and commitment. I joined a running club in London with regular training sessions throughout the week, started swimming 50 minutes each morning before work and soon built up a network of friends with common interests. By 2012, I was still swimming each morning, doing intervals on Tuesday and Thursday evening (this would typically be something like 8 times 800m efforts followed by up to 5 miles of marathon pace running), racing at weekends and, in total, running 70+ miles per week. You may question how it's possible to fit this all in around full time work well; I find its all about 6am starts, making sacrifices on the social side, being disciplined and clocking up all that sleep missed during the week at weekends. It's also important to set your sights on a goal and, in 2012, I achieved a few of mine: to run under 31 minutes for 10k, run 2:23 for a marathon and to run for England.

In April 2012, I was riding high on a positive 6 months, however any sports person will know that success can be curtailed in an instant. Through a combination of injuries picked up in training for the marathon and a significant bike crash, by June 2012 I was way off where I'd been just 3 months earlier and looking for ways to get back there again. I was having to swim and bike more to try and curb any injuries picked up by the impact associated with running, and with that came a new goal: triathlon.

Hyde Park in London was hosting the 2013 world age group triathlon championships and I set my sights on representing Great Britain in the 30-34 category. In order to qualify, it was necessary to finish sufficiently high enough in one of 3 qualification races. I failed to qualify in the the first race and this was largely due to my cycling not being good enough, so I embarked on a routine that would hopefully improve my cycling sufficiently and get me a place. Over the next 2 months, I got up at 5:40 each morning to cycle 30 miles around Richmond Park and, with that, the times started to drop down. By the time it was the third qualification race, I'd put about 1,500 additional bike miles in the bank, my cycling was far stronger and I managed to secure a place in the championships. On the day itself I finished 6th in my age group and it further emphasised that I wanted to give more triathlons a go.

In 2014 I managed to combine competing in running races as well as keeping up those early starts on the bike required for the triathlon. Two things certainly helped: one was having a group of friends who also appreciated the early starts and the other was to commute to work running. Given the amount of time during the week required to balance both full time work as well as the hours spent running or cycling, I’m always looking for ways to be most efficient with my time, and the run-commute works very well.

As 2015 kicks off, I have set myself targets for the year, and I’ll do my best to achieve. However whatever I sport I do, I'll always make sure I keep enjoying it.