willthames's blog

New Year, new training plan, new blog entry!

Over the last month I've been indulging in the typical December pastimes of eating and drinking too much, and training too little. With the New Year, and now just 29 weeks to Ironman, my new training plan has started. I'm starting at week 2 of Don Fink's Intermediate 30 week programme (hence the need to skip week 1). It starts off quite gently, although I've already had to do two workouts in a day. My plan today of doing swim and gym was foiled by too long a swim. However, in all cases of conflict, gym will always be the first thing to go, as specific training is better. Still want to work on my core though.

To that avail, I unboxed my latest gadget today - a new set of Elite Ghibli Parabolic rollers. I even gave them a quick go in a doorway - they're ludicrously difficult at first - I even managed to go off the side at one point, but that was probably a function of going too slow. I can see I'm going to get a great workout from them just trying to keep upright, and apparently the challenge makes time pass more quickly (guess I'll believe that one when I see it).

In other gadget news, I got a Garmin Edge 705 for Christmas - very shiny, and should make for more interesting bike rides. Once I've upgraded the maps. I figured the default map wouldn't be amazing, but might suffice. How wrong could I be - it didn't even recognise the road on which I live! A bit of research needed before I commit to buying a map, but I have been given very thorough advice on the matter - just need to weigh up the pros and cons of a couple of choices contained within.

Grand Union Canal Half Marathon

It's nice to be prepared for a run for once. I've been concentrating on my running fairly solidly for the last few weeks, even going so far as to work on my technique. I accidentally managed a 25km run three weeks ago, after I chose a route without thinking about just how far it would be. My tapering in the last week has been reasonable, with a 13km run last weekend and an 8.5km run mid-week.

I got up in good time, had breakfast and got to the tube at the planned time. Apparently you can get to Uxbridge in 40mins from Hammersmith on a Sunday morning, but not on the trains I got - I had to change twice. I arrived in Uxbridge half an hour before the race, and so did the 2km to the race start as a run/walk. On arrival at the site, I took off my jacket, pinned my number on and then put my bag into the van taking bags from start to finish, and was ready to go.

After a short wait to allow everyone to get their bags onto the truck, there was a minute's silence and we were off. A quick lap of Cowley Recreation Ground preceded the run along the towpath (I guess in the hope that it would thin out the crowd a little). I started off quite deep in crowd, and there was a lot of movement for position, and a few stops as we all milled through the bottlenecks, but I was quite happy with a gentle start off, my first km was around 5:45.

I found the traffic reasonable after the first kilometre, I was still passing and being passed, and my pace soon settled into a steady rhythm. I chose people who seemed to be going at a reasonable and steady pace, and followed them until I was feeling strong and passed them, moving through the field slowly but surely.

I greatly enjoyed the scenery, I love running by water, and the many bridges and locks along the way broke it up sufficiently. As we were running up-river, all of the locks were uphill, so I used those as attacking points to pass other runners.

I was very pleased that I was overtaken by just one person in the second half of the race, and not because my pace deteriorated, so I'm not sure where he came from - a late starter, or a loo break? My pace seemed to improve towards the end of the race - indeed my final three kms were the fastest of the day!

The last kilometre was a killer - a small hill going into Cassiobury Park, certainly took a lot of effort to maintain a decent pace, but I managed to pass a couple of people walking going up the hill, and two more at the top. As I rounded the final corner about 300m from the finish, the person I was just about to pass noticed me and picked up his pace - we didn't quite have a sprint finish but it was much faster than the rest of the race! I couldn't quite take him in the end. I noticed Peta as I was coming into the final straight, but I was in the shadow of the other runner and so she saw me quite late, but it was great to see her there in support.

I picked up my medal, had some water, had a hug and then we waited for the bags to turn up - I'd beaten the luggage, go me! Luckily didn't have to wait too long before we could get my bag and catch the train home again.

This was probably my favourite running race yet (difficult to compare it against a triathlon), perhaps mostly due to the autumnal weather - I only used one water stop in the end as I just didn't need more. It was very picturesque, an interesting course (my off-road shoes probably helped - it wasn't tricky terrain, just muddy and a bit slippery in places) with bridges, locks etc, and in conditions that suited me very well.

Interesting results from a 2500m swim

I can't count lengths very well - getting better as my swimming improves, but I thought I was at 96 lengths when I was only at 94, for example. For this reason, I have a sportcount ring, which lets me click a button at the end of every length, and times it too, storing up to 99 lap times. Annoyingly, the only way to transfer the times is to click through the laps one at a time, and then type them into a spreadsheet - it's not perfect, that's for sure! What it does provide is a source of data for analysis though!

Anyway, my post is to highlight a few observations from session 9, level 2 - the 2500m swim. I tried this first on Monday, but got interrupted 20 mins in by an aquafit class roping off the shallow end - I should have checked the classes! However, I wasn't going to give in, this was a matter of willpower and discipline - I've never swum further than 30mins in the pool uninterrupted (the most I managed was 1350m) or more than 1500m in open water. And so on Wednesday I returned to try the 100 lengths again.

98 lengths took me 1h04, including a quick check at what I thought was 96 to check I wasn't at 98 (I was always going to stop the watch at 98 as I wasn't sure what would happen if I hit 100), so that was 94 laps uninterrupted, and a total swim of 100 laps.

Comparing the swim against a 30 min time trial, I didn't swim more than 46 laps (1150m) in any 30 minute period, but those 46 laps ranged from 29:44 (laps 52 to 97) to 30:46 (laps 7 to 52) across the whole swim. Interesting that the quickest 30 minute periods were towards the end!

I remember feeling at the time that I was swimming at my best around when my lap numbers were in the seventies. My feel for the water was better, my catch and pull felt strong, I was really in the zone. Looking at the quickest sets of 10 lengths, it was 71-80, at 6:13/250m. Conversely my slowest (other than around the 50 length mark where I readjusted my goggles a few times) was 7-16.

I think the thing for me to take away from this is that my technique improves with warm up, and that pacing is critical - lap 1 was 31 seconds, lap 2 was 34 seconds, and yet laps 1-10 (38.1s per lap) were still slower than 71-80 (37.3s per lap), by which time I'd settled down into a great rhythm.

Shaking things up a little

Although I understand the literature that suggests that a low heartrate run is good for fat burning and general improvement (while I'll be slow now, as I become accustomed to it, it'll get faster and faster at the same low heartrate, is the principle), I still remember the maxim 'if you train slow, you'll run slow'. So I felt it was time to shake off the cobwebs after quite a few low HR runs recently.

Today I went for the Hammersmith - Putney bridge loop, running a slow 1km warmup run, then going into a 5x1000m cruise interval run, with 1 min running recovery in between each. It felt great - most of the time I felt like I was in control of my breathing, in fact I was going faster than my running calculator suggested (was supposed to be around 5:00/km rather than 4:50/km). Looking at my heart rate it seems I recovered into a lower zone in time for the next interval, and I felt I maintained a fairly consistent pace and exertion, without dropping off too much towards the end.

Would be interested to do a bigger interval set in future, and also to try the tempo intervals (e.g. 3x3000m, with 5 min rest, but that's almost a long run for me at the moment - won't be in six months time, of course!).

Anyway, good to know the trainers are broken in, although should note a small amount of stiffness on the top of my right knee - worth keeping an eye on.

Running in the rain

Lovely 10 km run tonight, Hammersmith to Chiswick Bridge circuit, rained most of the way around. The cooling rain certainly allowed my pace to be faster while maintaining a low heart rate. Lots of splashy puddles to avoid, made my new shoes a bit muddier but it was nevertheless very fun. Luckily I'd thought to take my run cap today in case of rain - but if I'd known how bad it was going to be, I might have taken my trisuit, my clothes got so wet (luckily the run top behaved very well in the wet - it just stuck to me rather than rubbed).

I thought the rain had slowed after I showered and changed, but then it got heavier and heavier and I probably got more soaked on the way home than on the run.

Long training week

For the first time in a while I've been keeping my training log up to date. I've managed a 'full' training week from Tuesday-Monday, with only Saturday off, so a taster of things to come in the future.

In the last four days, I've swum 2/3rds of an ironman, biked nearly a third and run a quarter. I felt pretty tired after all three, on separate days, so some way to go! However, also a long time to go (320 days according to my countdown, reduced after the recent move of IMCH).

Currently, my objectives are to improve my swim technique, using Swim Smooth's 8 week programme (in my case it will be at least 12 as I'm doing no more than 2 sessions a week), to build up to long distances on the bike, and to break in my newly fitted running shoes and insoles (they're a bit weird at the mo!).

Having ducked out of two races recently (Dorney Lake Half Iron Aquathlon - felt that I could better spend my time training rather than breaking myself on a half marathon that I haven't trained sufficiently for, and London Duathlon - fancied a long overdue trip to the caving club instead) my next race is the Grand Union Canal Half in November, so I'll be building up to 13.1 miles again.

Oh, and I picked up my shiny new Planet X SL road bike at the weekend. It's gorgeous. And light. And comfortable. And I feel so much safer than on the tri bike, looking forward to a fun winter training up on that. Was hoping it would make the hill in Richmond Park easier but perhaps nothing will. Four laps in Richmond Park on it were fine. Photos to follow when I've decided on the colour scheme for the tyres and saddle!

Stats from London Triathlon

First, a note on official distances - the run was indeed short (9.4km) as indeed was the bike (38km). To do that extra 2.6km would have taken me around 7 mins (5min/km on the run, 2min/km on the bike), so I should have still completed the proper olympic distance in my goal time of under 3 hours. I still feel a little short-changed, there must have been something they could have done to lengthen the run!

Right, onto the analysis. The results page allows you to download excel spreadsheets of the results for each age group (not just my wave) so I'm able to compare against people who are most similar to me (males aged 30-35). This means that I can find out which events I was weakest at compared to my peers.

I had to eliminate a few people who did better than me, simply because they only had a final total, and not times for the individual events, so I can't do any analysis on that - after all, I know where I came relative to everyone overall, and that was 396th out of 490 in my age group. Also, I left out the non-finishers from the analysis.

A couple of technical notes on the analysis - I used Excel's Rank function to determine my rank (using descending order, as lower numbers are better when it comes to time). However, Rank doesn't work on the values in the spreadsheet from London Triathlon, so I had to add a column next to each time that I was interested in, and convert the time using the Value function. I could then use Rank on that column.

Results: Swim: 371 out of 475, Bike: 403 out of 475, Run: 351 out of 475

And as triathlon is actually a four-discipline sport, we shouldn't forget transitions. I lost 20 places in T1! I only lost 6 further places on the bike. I made up 2 places in T2, and then made up three places on the run.

Clearly the big lesson, however, is that relative to others, my bike is very weak, weaker even than my swim! Given the bike is the longest part of the race, it's here that the most benefits are to be had.

The Competitive Runners' Handbook defines the status of a competitor based on how fast you are relative to the best. The closest comparison I can make easily is to the splits of the Male Elite winner, Will Clarke. My speed compared to his speed will give a ratio, and 50% is often beginner or novice, 60% is basic competitor, etc.

Because I'm comparing to an athlete on a day, rather than the record, the numbers here might be higher than they should be, but they're still interesting

Swim: 53%, Bike 68%, Run: 59%

So by this measure I'm closer to my maximum bike speed than I am to either running or swimming. Oh, and Will Clarke was four times quicker in T1, although I suspect he wasn't wearing a wetsuit. Brrr.

The evidence is therefore a little conflicting. Our best age group bike split was 56 mins, which suggests I can only improve by at most 25 mins on the bike - I was hoping I was so slow that getting my time down to an hour would be just a matter of putting in the miles, but clearly not. Still, if I can shave 10 mins off the bike, 10 mins off the swim and 5 mins off the run then I can go sub 2:30 at London (I'd need to shave more if the course lengths were changed!)

What have I learnt from this? Not as much as I'd hoped. I'm more interested in improving my overall time than in beating other people, and I'd like to apply appropriate focus to squeezing the best I can out of training, but I think the lessons to be learned are more miles on the bike and start working on swim speed in addition to stamina. I knew that already though.

Tricky training weeks

I have three classes of tricky training weeks (weeks where it's tricky to get training in, rather than weeks where the training is tricky)

  • Holiday
  • On-call
  • Staff Training

It's easiest to decide to have a rest week when holiday gets in the way - I'm not an elite athlete, and resting for a week won't damage my progress too much. Sure, if I can get a swim or a run in, then I will, but I won't beat myself up about missing training.

For on-call, it can be tricky as I can't really go more than 15 mins from home, so run or bike laps would have to be quite close to home. During the week I can work at the office or from home when on-call - I find it easier to think at home, and easier if there are meetings to be in the office. When scheduling allows, therefore, running at lunchtime can be done from home, swimming at lunchtime can be done from work, and cycling will have to end up on the turbo at home. I can optionally go to the gym for strength work or to use treadmill or exercise bike, but typically I'll get more benefit from the turbo at home.

There seem to be a few longer spinerval DVDs (including one three-DVD set that covers a 5 hour session!), which I might have to invest in for when I'm doing much longer bike sessions. At the moment 45 mins does me in!

When I'm training people, it's typically at Wembley or Fulham football stadiums. While you might think that they'd be easy places to get exercise in, they don't seem to like you running on the football pitches, and I've not found showers that aren't for players only (although I should ask if there are showers people can use). I could cycle to them to get some exercise in, and I could run at lunch, but that's no use without showers. At least at Fulham it's easy to run home or go for a swim on the way home. As I do longer mid-week runs, running home from Wembley might seem a reasonable choice!

2009 - 2010 goals

I know, it's a bit early for goals for next year. But I have no multisport races booked in for the rest of 2009, and expect my first triathlon of 2010 to be in April or May (e.g. Thames Turbo, Sevenoaks sprint). Additionally, my Ironman training plan doesn't start until January, so I'd like things to focus on before that gets into gear.

  • 25 minute 1500m swim by June 2010 - ambitious, but hopefully achievable
  • 45 minute 10km run by June 2010 - doesn't seem much shorter than London Triathlon 10k, but not convinced it was the full 10k
  • Ironman Switzerland (IMCH) in sub 13 hours - not sure how ambitious this is at present!
  • New Forest tri in less than 2:30 - assuming same course
  • Bike leg of (flattish) middle distance triathlon in 2:45

If I was doing London Triathlon in 2010 (which I'm not because it will clash with IMCH, and also I'd be doubtful anyway because the traffic is an epic nightmare) I'd be wanting to hit 2:30. I think I can shave off 20 mins in a year.

So, basically, be faster at everything. What do I need to work on to achieve those?

  • Swim *speed* as well as technique - fitness sessions as well as technique sessions
  • Develop bike legs - at the moment I'm being overtaken by everyone, and seem to only achieve reasonable cadence in low gears
  • More variation in running to get faster - more tempo intervals, cruise intervals, and fartlek

That's training. In addition to training, I'd also like to do the following in the next three months:

  • Maximise comfort in the run - get well-fitted shoes
  • Maximise comfort on the bike - have a bike fitting session

London Triathlon 2009

I will start at the end - the drive home was an absolute nightmare, 4h30 from Docklands to Hammersmith, a journey that had taken me an hour (with some wrong turns) in the morning. It made a mockery of Mazda's tagline of 'Swim. Bike. Run. Drive'. No spoiler intended, but I finished the race significantly quicker than that. That's the last I'll say on that though*, as I want to have the rest of this entry focussing on the good stuff, which was the race itself.

I've seen a few moans elsewhere about the event being badly organised. I think that for an event serving 13000 people over the weekend, the organisation is pretty good (traffic moans above notwithstanding). Of course transition is going to be massive, and it's a bit of a walk from swim to racking, from racking to bike mount, from bike dismount to racking again, but I experienced similar transition lengths at New Forest triathlon, for example, which is much smaller (also very good!). I thought it was a really well done event, and 19 out of 20 or so of the marshals and volunteers I came across were friendly, polite and helpful (and the other one just wasn't the cheeriest person, but that was at 7.30am).

As I said in my recent post, I was feeling really well prepared going into this race, with a week in almost total alcohol abstinence (two beers, a large glass of wine, and a scotch, all week) to rehydrate. I had told friends on Saturday night about my dream goal, of 3h, but I wasn't sure how I could do it, where I could shave the time, and so I'd be content with anything under 3h20. That was based on 40min swim, 1h35 bike, 55min run and 10min transition. I had a really bad night's sleep on Saturday - only really got 3-4 hours sleep, and much of that was erratic. However, I knew that it was unlikely to greatly affect my race, so I didn't worry about it.

What I should have done with that insomnia was to get up earlier, but instead I got up at 5.30, left around 6.15 and then worried I'd be late, I wouldn't have time to get properly setup etc. In the event I got to ExCeL car park at 7.15, and was inside by 7.20. When I got to racking the bike, the friendly marshal asked me if I had my chip, and I must have looked worried, as she asked me if I was running late, I said I started at 8am, and she said 'oh, you've got plenty of time', which greatly calmed my nerves. I got my chip, racked my bike, set up my transition area, realising I'd mislaid my watch mount - but just mounted it at 90 degrees to normal, which worked fine. Nothing else to worry about.

So I pulled on my wetsuit to my waist, and wandered over to Swim Assembly. Short briefing, put swim cap and goggles on, pulled my wetsuit fully on, and was ready to go. I remembered my Swim for Tri advice about flushing, so jumped off the pontoon into the water, opened my wetsuit at the neck, then got out again to let it drain through. Flushing complete! I then swam very lazily over to the swim start (I remember watching people swimming over to the start and thinking that must be tiring when I watched this time last year!)

I found myself some reasonable space towards the back and the right, out of the way of the faster swimmers, shared some banter with other swimmers and just relaxed and took it all in. At 8am on the dot, the klaxon went, and we were off!

Not much to say about swimming really - a bit of a mixture of breathing every two, and breathing every three strokes, I was fairly leisurely. I had forgotten to take my wedding ring off, which was a mistake, as I worry about it falling off, and my hand got a bit cramped as I must have been tensing it to make sure it didn't move. By midpoint I was really worried it might seize up so I took to just relaxing it completely through the whole stroke - not 100% efficient but better than cramping. There were a few bumps as people ran into me or I ran into them - nothing too serious though - I got a bit annoyed at one point, but it's all stuff I'd got used to in openwater swim practice, so just shrugged it off and carried on in my own little race!

After quite a long time I finally got out of the water, ably assisted by the volunteers, and pulled my wetsuit off and began the slow shuffle to transition (several warnings of 'slow down for the steps', 'slow down for the slippery floor' etc meant I was even slower than I normally run in bare feet). Got changed into the bike gear, and then slowly jogged the route to bike mount. Again, bike shoes and slippery floors don't go together too well, so another leisurely bit!

Once on the bike, it took me a good while to settle into it - my calves felt quite close to cramping, so the first 14km lap to Billingsgate market, back past Excel and then back again was pretty much my warm up lap - I was quite pleased it wasn't a sprint triathlon as I'd have finished cycling before I'd gotten into it. I got into the aero position quite regularly, except when cornering, or when my back felt tired, which was quite regularly! I really loved cycling down into the Limehouse Link, it was so much fun - of course cycling out was less so, but it is quite a gentle slope really. Cycling up to Westminster was great, was fun to cycle down the embankment that I'd only run down three weeks ago - so much easier and faster! I was really conscious of time - I knew I wanted to be doing 2:00/km and be back at Excel by 10am if I wanted a chance of hitting three hours. As the laps kept ticking by, many of them were almost on the dot of 2:00 - some of the hillier ones were slower, but as I got closer to the finish my pace picked up and I was doing 1:45 for some bits by the end (I don't think they can have all been downhill!).

Into transition again, forgot which row I'd parked in (I knew it was E, so I was only one row out), had to duck under the racks with the bike, but no big deal. Changed to run shoes, took helmet, gloves and arm warmers off, and set off on the run.

The first time I was aware of my time on the run was near the 1km marker, and it was 10:08 then. I knew that if I ran sub 5:30 the whole time, I'd be fine. I felt quite slow on the run at the start, but then I knew that I always do off the bike, and it's always faster than it feels. My back was not thanking me for 40km in the saddle, but again, I knew it would wear off over time. The first 5k lap seemed to pass quite quickly, and as I got closer and closer to the finish I knew it would be easy to make the time (at the 7km mark I had 24 mins left, I was tempted to have a bit of a stroll). As I got towards the finish line, and saw the clock reading 10:51 I was amazed, and must have crossed the line with such a smile on my face!

Peta had just missed seeing me finish, she'd been watching the race from the bridge (I did say I thought 3hours would be an exceptional time, smashing it by 10mins was unthinkable to me) but it was good to see her afterwards and have her company and share my story. I didn't mean for her to share my suffering in the epic journey home though!

Final splits were 35 min swim, 1h20 bike, 47 min run, with 9 mins for transitions (I was a few seconds under 2h52), all good.

There's room for improvement in all three sports, and while I can never know what I'd have managed one year ago (I'd probably have drowned in the swim for starters, making the rest of the race academic), I know that I have improved so much.

* That wasn't strictly true. Sorry.

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