race report

Bridge to Brisbane 10k

I had high hopes for this race - I'm pretty well trained, I ran 10k in training on Wednesday in 48:30 and doing an iconic race should have given me the motivation to do well.

I knew that I had to get near the front or a lot of energy would be wasted getting past slower runners. However, never did I expect what actually happened.

Shuttle buses from the finish to the start were between 4:45 and 5:30, so I figured I'd aim for the 4:45 buses to get me there in plenty of time. I left home at 4:30, and got to about 500m away at about 4:50. I then sat in traffic waiting to get into the car park until I finally got parked at 5:25, at which point I rushed to get to the bus for 5:30. When I got to the bus queue it was snaking around the finishing area - there were a few concerned people around me that we might not make it, but I remembered I just had to be in the queue at 5:30.

Finally got onto a bus around 5:45, which drove the 10km to the start - at 6:10 we were still on the bus, but I knew that there was a staggered start, so I just hoped I'd catch a later running wave.

The crowd just kept moving and then pretty soon we were across the start line and racing. Along with everyone else - the joggers and the walkers had already started.

My entire race was pretty much spent running at full pelt whenever I had space, often having to weave around slower people, cut through small gaps, brake hard to avoid groups of walkers in a line across the road. I don't think I've ever sworn so much during a race, either at the race itself or at fellow 'competitors'.

I don't know - I guess I just don't understand 'fun runs'. Runs aren't supposed to be fun - if you're not suffering (at least by the very end), you're not going fast enough. The idea of entering a run to walk 10km seems slightly ridiculous to me. The notion of walking while wearing a top saying 'Pain is temporary, Pride lasts forever' or whatever to me seems laughable. And then to not at least have guidelines to suggest that walkers stay on one side of the road or something to allow faster traffic to pass seems bizarre.

In hindsight I know I should have left home 30 minutes earlier - all my issues with the race stem from that. Next year I will qualify for the sub 50 minute starting section too.

I wanted to do sub-46, in the end I managed 48:15 - my GPS suggests I ran 10.25km which I could well believe with the weaving (although it's not really outside the GPS's margin of error either). Slowest km after the 1st km going over the bridge was the 5th, which was when the road narrowed significantly. Fastest km was the last, but that's not too surprising as it was entirely downhill!

Anyway, another 10km in which I got a PB (the last was a hot July day with a hangover in 2009) that falls well short of what I suspect my potential should be.

London Marathon 2011

After twitter, facebook, work email, what else is left to say about my marathon race? I've repeated the excuses widely - I started off too fast, it was too hot, I pulled a muscle (twice - once at 8km, and again at 18km). I know I can do better than 3:54, but how much better I could have done on Sunday is debatable. While I set off too fast given the heat later on, I'm not sure it was too fast given the heat at the time. I'm very proud of my half split - I'd have been reasonably pleased with that, given my training, for a half marathon if I'd stopped at 21km.

My training wasn't enough, I know that - injury caused me too much downtime - however, it wasn't my injury that affected me at all on Sunday - my left leg was fine, my achilles giving its usual early twinges but settling quickly, as per normal. Of course I could have overcompensated onto the right leg, but I think I'd just had stiff calves all week and overused it or something - difficult to be sure.

All in all, it was a tough race, and the support at London is a double edged sword - if you're low and need a boost, you'll get one, if you're low and just want to recoup and rest a little, it's really difficult - there is almost no escape from the crowds. I'm not quite sure - I wouldn't be surprised if I was motivated by the crowd urging me on, but some of my kms where I walked weren't much slower than adjacent kms where I ran the entire length - sometimes a bit of rest is needed.

In the end, I'm glad I didn't collapse for 2 hours in the middle of the race, I survived the event, I enjoyed some of it (probably the first 10km and the last 5km), my race didn't meet strategy of enjoying it all or going it at 5:15/km, I know it's not the best time I'm personally capable of, so I will have another go at the marathon, just not quite sure when yet.

Oh, and given the failure of my Garmin 405 (it got to 41.5km - out of what I think would have been 42.7km - it registered 40.5 as I crossed the 40km timing mat) I'm totally treating myself to a Garmin 310XT that can do 20 hours.

Interestingly, even with elevation correction, Garmin Connect thinks I ran up a couple of 100m hills in Canary Wharf - not sure if it just takes a sample of skyscrapers and land and averages it out!

London Duathlon Ultra Distance 2010

I wasn't really looking forward to this race. I felt under-prepared (because I was) and had a minor niggle in the form of a tight left outer calf on the last two runs. And my last bike ride was three weeks ago.

However, I had an early night Saturday (I'd had an early night most of the week as jetlag following my return from Australia to be fair) and was up at 6am. Had breakfast and coffee, finished off the last remaining tasks and cycled off to the event. A remarkably quiet ride later, with none of the usual waits at level crossings, and I was in the park, ready to register. I realised after registering that it wasn't even 7.15am, the official opening time.

It was very pretty though

After registering, I racked my bike, and then had around 90 minutes to relax. So I took some more photos, and just sat and chilled out. With thirty minutes to go, I returned to transition, put on the timing chip, and suncream, put on sunglasses and headed to race start. Watched the elite men start, had a quick warm up jog, and then returned to find my fellow racers being herded into the start pens, so joined them. At 9am prompt, Zac Goldsmith started the race and we were underway.

Given my recent form, my race strategy was to take it easy and hang in there until the end. So I aimed for a Rate of Perceived Exertion of 10 out of 20, and to maintain good form, and that was pretty successful - I slowed down going uphill, sped up slightly going downhill, and ran gently on the flat. Plenty of people overtook me, but that was ok, I was just racing myself. As I got past the 5km, my left calf was feeling slightly tight, but as I got past 6km, and the second water stop, disaster struck - I took the water, and realised that as I slowed to drink it, I was blocking people behind me, so moved to the left slightly, and then turned to throw the empty cup in the bin, and then completely missed a tiny little lip between car park and path and tripped over it, sprawling onto my hands and then rolling onto my hip and left calf. For all the pain of completely stacking it, and the accompanying embarrassment, I got up, dusted myself off, and kept running. I quickly realised that although my hands and legs were sore from cuts and grazes, the calf tightness had disappeared completely. The next kilometre downhill was free and easy and I suffered no running problems from my fall, thankfully.

The second lap was much less eventful, same strategy of RPE 10, and that all went fine - I overtook one bloke who had overtaken me on lap one while sounding knackered already but the rest of it is pretty unmemorable. The stats show I went marginally faster, and wasn't the 4th slowest on that particular lap.


Onto the bike, and here the pain in my hands didn't really help matters, but neither did it hinder my performance particularly. Again, my strategy was to maintain a low RPE, and thus hopefully a consistent pace. Also I tried to eat gels regularly, and drink sufficient energy drink and water. Looking at my times, I pretty much succeeded at consistency, but it did get harder. Part of the problem is psychological, I've done plenty of laps around Richmond Park but never more than four in one go before getting bored! Seven was a real stretch!

I found myself treating the laps like a giant interval session, with two intervals (the main Broomfield Hill and then the hill up to Pembroke Lodge) and the rest of the lap the recovery between them to get up them the next time around.

Peta had come to watch me from the start of the bike - I just saw her enter the park at the end of my first lap, and it was good to see her at different points on the course in the following six bike laps. Apparently I spoiled the photos by telling her how many laps I had left too many times. It was good to have that little extra support though.


As I got back to transition, I had a really slow transition, as the walk from bike dismount to my rack was so far and I didn't feel like running in my bike shoes by this point. After a slow change of clothes, it was back onto the run.

Again, I tried to maintain a consistent RPE, still 10, but that translated to a bit slower - the run lap was only five minutes slower in total though. My watch died after just 7 minutes on this lap, so I really was going on feel! At the halfway point, it was great to see Peta again, and had a quick kiss before heading on my way to the finish. I was only overtaken by one other ultra distance competitor, and I overtook a few myself. On this lap I was 103rd on the run, compared to 157th on the first run lap, so I was obviously doing better consistency-wise than others.

It was great to finish and to collect my medal - I was happy with 5:55 overall, especially my poor preparation. I then collected my bike and headed to Pembroke Lodge to meet up with Peta for coffee and ice cream. The ride from the finish to Pembroke Lodge is only 4km, although I had to do it along the footpath as the road was still closed, but it was utterly exhausted, so rather than cycle home, I walked to the train station with Peta.

From my times, my goals of consistency and injury-free running were well met (although I'm in more pain today) - there is about a minute difference between lap 1 and lap 7 on the bike, and five minutes between lap 1 and lap 3 on the run.

We took some photos of my scars

Ironman Switzerland race report

We arrived in Zurich on Thursday evening and didn't really do much other than get to the hotel and go to bed. Friday we went to see a bit of Zurich in what turned out to be the pouring rain, before Peta returned to the hotel and I went to register and to the compulsory briefing. Registration was very efficient - took me about 5 minutes, and I then had a brief look around the expo, although the rain (or Swiss Franc prices) didn't tempt me to do more than quickly browse. The race briefing was very thorough, and was well worth attending for my first Ironman. In the evening I went on the Nirvana-provided coach tour of the bike route, which didn't help my confidence much but did help me realise that the hills were long and that I should take them easy and treat them with respect.

On Saturday we took it easy with a trip to Rapperswil by ferry, a quick pizza lunch and then the ferry trip back, before I took my bike to transition. Again, considering they were photographing every athlete with their bikes for security reasons, this was remarkably quick. I headed back to the hotel and we then went for a meal at the local trattoria, which was great food, although the one waiter was rushed off his feet serving everyone and it all took a little longer than I'd hoped. Got to bed just after 11, and set my alarm for 04:15!

When the alarm went off I got up, headed down for a couple of bowls of muesli and a coffee, and then went back to the room to pick up my bags and drinks ready for the race. The coach left the hotel at 5am, and headed to the Ibis to pick up the other Nirvana athletes. They were loaded on, some spectators were unloaded to make room, and we set off, arriving at the race site around 05:40. Once at the race site it didn't take long to set up my transition area and so I put my wetsuit on and headed to the swim warm up which was supposed to open at 6am, according to the race briefing. It finally opened at 06:15, and after a quick trip to the loos I entered the water, which was beautiful - lovely and warm and clear. I didn't swim very far, just enough to feel loose and ready to go.

After the pro start, they let us into the water at 2 minutes to go, but I hadn't even got to the start line before the race had started, but I didn't mind too much - better a little behind at the back than cramped up in the biff at the front. I found plenty of feet to draft off, I sighted well, and even the buoys weren't too much of a fight. Had a couple of very minor knocks, but nothing race affecting. The channel onto the island at the end of lap one was ridiculously narrow and shallow, and I just pulled myself along the bottom using my hands, ran across the island, back in the water for lap 2. Lap two was fine too, other than the end again - this time the other side of the narrow channel, it got very congested and I was stopped at one point. I thought I could stand on the bottom, but it was too deep and this just gave me massive cramp. This caused me to panic a little, but I remembered to bend my foot and keep swimming - creates more drag and I had to thrash a bit, but by the time I was out the water the cramp was gone and I headed to T1.

T1 was ok, except that I forgot to put on my HRM before putting my gel flasks in my pockets - and the flasks fell out when putting the HRM which cost a little time (probably only fifteen seconds really). The main thing was that I was on the bike within 90 minutes, which was pretty much my swim target, so I was happy there.

Bike was a great ride, if it had been one lap rather than two it would have been a very pleasant ride in the country. I was very pleased with my uphill performance, I overtook loads of people going up (most of them on heavy timetrial bikes who then proceeded to get me back on the flat or downhills). Not bad considering my easiest gear refused to engage (not sure if the hanger got bent on the way over or something). The Beast was nowhere near as bad as it had been made out - it was no worse than a slightly longer, but more gentle, Box Hill. Heartbreak Hill wasn't too steep either, and I took quite a few people here. I was suffering major stomach cramps at the start of lap two, and I wondered if I could survive until 120km where the next toilet was. However, I made it and after a pit stop I got back on the bike feeling nicely rested, ready for the next 60km. My bike pretty much followed race plan, which was to enjoy the flats and make the most of the downhills and tailwinds. Some people were a bit annoying and were too close to the middle of the road to overtake easily, perhaps I should have passed them earlier.

Finished the bike a little under 6 hours 30, so after around 8 hours, and had hopes for a sub-12 hour result at this point.


Doing a marathon is hard (I speak only from this one experience). I felt after 2km as if I'd already run 20km, which was a worry. My early pace was strong, and I was still on for a four hour marathon by the end of lap one, although it was close. However, I was suffering from the heat quite badly, and was very thirsty (perhaps I should have drank more on the bike?), so was having to stop at pretty much every aid station. Even the kilometres when I wasn't stopping, I had slowed significantly. By the end of lap two my dreams of a sub-12 finish were fading (as I'd only had these dreams for a few hours it wasn't too bad) and I just had to dig in to complete the race. If the aid stations had been less frequent I'd have had to go to a run-walk strategy, but as it was, I just ran in between them all and walked the stations.

By the third lap my stomach had settled a little too, and as I started counting down kilometres to go, it started to feel better,
until the fourth lap which I managed to almost enjoy (having a blister from wet feet from all the sponges for the last 5km did not help though) - the temperature had cooled too, and I didn't need as much energy, so managed to skip a few aid stations. Finishing the run in around 4:20 was not a bad result under the circumstances.


You can see me finish - search for 1465.

Final time was 12 hours 17 minutes. I was very happy to pull that out from the depths of the second run lap.

So, I am now officially an Ironman! It's been a great journey over the last eight months to get here, I won't be doing it again this year, and probably won't do another one abroad next year, but haven't ruled out further challenges. Middle distance triathlon is now officially my favourite though, Long distance is loooooong. Thanks to everyone who has supported me or trained with me!

Ironman! taken by Paul

I do believe I have the potential to do much better in future, I think I could shave at least 20 minutes off each of the splits with better technique in the swim, better bike fitness and more endurance for the run, but I am proud of what I have achieved and the training that I have done so far - saying I can do better is just accepting that I still have untapped potential and working to reduce my limiters and build on my strengths (such as being able to endure a 12 hour race) will not be a waste - I am still far off my potential peak.

Bala Middle Distance 2010

Pre-race

I arrived at Bala at around 4pm on Saturday so that I could registration out of the way and have time to just chill out. Saturday afternoon had glorious weather, the view out onto the lake was awesome. Quite a few people took advantage of the offer to swim the course - I figured I'd just save energy for the race. Lots of Pirates were gathered on the lake front.

After checking into my B&B, I rested up for a bit before heading into town where I grabbed a takeaway hawaiian pizza for dinner, eating it up on the castle mound. It was then time for the England v USA match - I found a suitable pub serving real ale and settled down to watch the game. It wasn't particularly enjoyable, and some of the locals cheering USA at the end had a fair point! I stuck to two pints, and made sure I had water later.

I slept reasonably well considering, and got up at around 6.40 to organise myself before breakfast which I'd organised for 7am. I had scrambled eggs with lots of toast, and didn't seem to suffer for it later. I left for the race at 7.30, got to the rugby club, checked my tyres and headed to race HQ to pick up my chip and get marked.

One mistake I made was dressing for the race - so once I got to transition I was wandering around in just my triathlon gear, and my arm warmers didn't do quite enough. In the end I had to get into my wetsuit to protect myself from the wind - next time I'm taking a jacket and trousers.

After the race briefing we were offered a dip in the lake, which I took to flush my wetsuit - but getting in and out of the lake was excruciating as the floor was very stony.

Swim

Once back in the lake to start the race, via the counting pen, the race got off in fairly short order. I stayed to the back of the wave, and didn't encounter too many people in the way. Lack of practice in my wetsuit this year really showed, and I spent a while just getting into a comfortable rhythm. I also hadn't used bodyglide high enough on my neck, so it was a bit itchy. There were times that I definitely didn't take the straightest line between buoys, but nothing major. It was a swim I was happy with, except for the exit - here again the rocky floor took its toll on me - I pretty much had to pull myself horizontally along the floor until I had to stand, and gingerly exited, stumbling quite a bit (my balance is terrible after a swim at the best of times). I suspect I lost two or three minutes just exiting!

Bike

I took my time putting on gloves, arm warmers, socks and other cycle comfort clothes, ready for the 80km cycle ride. My heart rate monitor wasn't working well (doesn't seem to after a swim - perhaps I should just put it on after the swim) so I just paced myself on feel, which worked just fine. On the outbound section, I noticed that I was struggling even on the flat and on small descents (e.g. grades of -1 or -2%) - I realised this was because I was cycling into the wind. One concern on the way out was that I realised I was accumulating altitude debt - the section finished much lower than it started. At the turnaround point I was about 1h33 into the bike, so was relatively happy with my pacing. On the way back, I had to repay the altitude debt, but I was benefited by wind credit - I found even 1% or 2% climbs no worse than I expected normal flats to be - the end result being that I negatively split the bike loop.

While on the bike I had an energy bar after 20 mins, and then just sucked on my gel flask (containing around 7 gels) every so often (it was pretty much empty by the end). I used around half of my 800ml energy drink.

Run

I racked my bike, took my gloves off, I removed my left armwarmer, I put on my run watch, changed shoes, took my helmet off and headed out. In this process I forgot to remove my right armwarmer, pick up my run food (a pack of clif shot bloks) or move my number belt to the front. The kids at run exit told me the latter (I suspect they were telling a lot of people, but handy to be told). I set off on my run, trying to get my watch started as I went - it took about 600m to pick up the satellites (should have started it going as I entered T2 really - I turned on the bike computer as I got to T1). Having the watch tell me my pace every kilometre is quite handy to ensure I don't go off too fast, but I was mostly pacing the hilly run by feel anyway. As I hit the 7km mark, I felt great considering I was a third of the way through. After that, it really started hurting as I did the 100m of altitude gain between 7km and 10km. Still, settled into a pace that as comfortable as it was ever going to be, and just pressed on. It wasn't pleasant, but hitting the turnaround was a great psychological boost as I knew it was mostly downhill. I stopped to actually drink the water rather than sip and pour over my head, as I was feeling a little thirsty, but it must have cost me around 10 seconds - a price I was very willing to pay. The downhills were naturally faster than the ups but only the 11th km was much faster as there were still some ups on the return. By the time I hit around 17km, I was feeling it quite hard - I finished the last squeeze of gel at the last water stop and then just pushed on to the finish - I desperately wanted to finish strong, tempting though it was to slow down. My last two and a half kms were at a good pace and I really tore through the last kilometre, to finish well.

My half marathon personal best is 1h51 on an almost entirely flat Grand Union Canal (there were a few bridges and more human traffic there) so getting 1h48 on a 20km run with 170m of climb, after a 2km swim and 84km bike was astonishing to me. My target time for the Royal Parks Half has gone down by 5 mins now!

My results

Swim: 00:44:09 (515th)
T1: 00:04:29
Bike: 03:00:25 (452th)
T2: 00:02:09
Run: 01:48:03 (344th)

Total time: 05:39:17 (441st out of 662 starters)

I was extremely happy with that time, particularly as I had predicted a 6h30 time - I beat my bike prediction by 20 mins and my run prediction by nearly half an hour!

Lessons learned

This race was intended to be practice for Ironman Switzerland and also to give me confidence that my training is going well. I think it succeeded on both counts.

* My wetsuit rubs a lot higher on my neck than I thought
* Have a jacket and spare trousers for before and after the race to stave off the cold
* Don't drink too much pre-race, it'll just be uncomfortable
* Openwater swim practice is important!
* Don't forget to take run nutrition - I got away with it on the run here, but wouldn't on an IM run!

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.

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.

London 10k 2009

I managed to do a lap of Richmond Park (11.5k) on my wedding day, in just over an hour, which was great! That was the last training I did until I got back from honeymoon (except for a reasonable swim from boat to check out a cave while in Greece). Consequently I was a little underprepared for the 10k a week later! I did a short run on the Monday, and then a longer run to Chiswick Bridge and back (that turned out to be 10k exactly, coincidentally). So I knew I could do it, I just wasn't sure of the time.

One of the other side effects of the wedding was having lots of people to stay. It would be rude and unsociable not to stay and drink with them on their last night in England before heading back to Australia, and so my pre-race preparation seemed to involve more champagne and scotch than might be typical.

I didn't feel too hungover on the day, but drank a fair bit of liquid before I left home, and then a bit more waiting for the start. I got to Green Park tube at around 9am for a 9.30 start, so was able to get pretty close to the start. I didn't realise how much that would help me until I later heard that there were multiple starts. It was a pretty warm day, even at that time, so I was a little worried about my hydration strategy.

In the end the race started at around 9.40am, and I was just seconds behind getting through the start. I hadn't found the chip timers (I hadn't looked to be fair) so I was self-timing this race. I started off making sure I was feeling comfortable in my pace, running hard but hopefully not too hard, and just set off hoping to enjoy the race. With the heat and the hangover, I saw less of London than I hoped to with the course, because I was just concentrating on running well, not bumping into other people. My water stop strategy was to drink a little and then just pour the rest over my head to keep cool. Early on my splits were sub 5min/k, but apart from a couple of absolutely unrealistic splits that my watch gave me when going through a tunnel, later on they were all pretty much 5:15/k. There was a lot of great support on the race, and some of the music was excellent to run to. Finishing the race to Chariots of Fire was very cool!

My pre-race goal was for sub-55min, but during the race I started to hope I might do sub-50. In the end I finished on 51:06, which was pretty good considering, but I know I have the potential to achieve so much more, so looking to go sub 50 next time, and maybe sub 45 in the future!

After the race I had the long walk to collect medal and goodie bag (pretty uninteresting, although I've made use of all the free teas), and a fruitless search to try and find my mobile-less wife, so went home, happy enough but still thoughtful about what might have been.

There are some cool photos of me in front of the Houses of Parliament which at least show I was there, even if so little of the sights in particular were memorable!

Finally, I'm a triathlete

It can't be much less than a year ago that I bought my first copy of Runners World after recently taking up running again. With it came Triathletes World. I was even going to post it to a triathlete friend at one point, but ended up taking it on holiday to France with me as reading material instead. I didn't even like swimming at that point, so the very idea of doing a triathlon seemed ridiculous. I'm not quite sure when that changed, but I remember thinking by the end of that long weekend in Champagne that it might not be so terrible an idea (hmm, perhaps Champagne is the clue)

Starting learning to swim again (I could literally just about swim a length when I started, although I have been able to swim further in the past) from July onwards meant that I missed last year's triathlon season completely. I did, however, sign up to London Triathlon shortly after going to look at last year's. The earliest triathlon I got around to signing up to (Sevenoaks Sprint got full while I dithered about entering) was the New Forest Triathlon, held at Ellingham Water ski lake.

I managed to wrap a New Forest holiday around the triathlon to take advantage of the bank holiday weekend, staying at a lovely B&B in Ringwood. Friday was spent exploring the Jurassic coast, visiting Lulworth, Durdle Door and Lyme Regis. Saturday we went to Burley and also Lymington.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning I got up at 5.15 to have breakfast before heading to the triathlon. The patter of rain on the conservatory roof was a little annoying - the weekend had so far been gorgeous. Luckily it had dried up by the drive. The walk from car park to transition area deterred me from taking my transition box - instead I just put everything I needed in my backpack, slung my wetsuit over my shoulder and pushed the bike. Registration was quick and easy, after which I ensured my transition area was suitably set up (towel, bike shoes with pre-rolled socks in, run top, bike jacket, helmet, run shoes and race belt in place). Once I saw a few other people were in wetsuits, I changed into mine, leaving my tri-shorts underneath, applying body glide under the arms, and gingerly headed over to the lake avoiding as much gravel as possible.

The sun was rising over the trees bordering the lake at this point, still quite low in the sky, so I hunted areas of grass out of shadow, in the hope that standing on them would warm up my cold feet a little. To some extent it did. We then had the race briefing, including 'please cycle on the left' - apparently a competitor had a fairly nasty accident last year not doing this! I then discovered I was in the first wave into the lake, and everyone started moving towards the lake. I hung back a little, wanting to avoid the cold as long as possible. However, walking into the lake, I found that the water was warmer than the ground, and the water wasn't as unpleasant as I had feared. As a fairly poor swimmer, I headed to the rear of the scrum that is a triathlon start, and we treaded water for a minute or so, before the horn went.

I managed to keep a little space around me, avoiding the people around me, but ready to protect myself against thrashing feet, and after a while, the space opened up a little and the swimming got a little less cramped. I found that I was swimming fairly comfortably, not with perfect technique, but reasonable enough not to exhaust myself. I was also sighting regularly to ensure I was still on course. One thing I found was that I had little choice about which side to breathe - within minutes, the sun was high enough that I would be breathing into the sun on one side, so protected my eyes by breathing on the other side. Rounding the buoys that marked the course was often crowded, but I managed to avoid trouble. By the end of the swim, I was a little tired, but by no means shattered.

On leaving the lake, I felt pretty wobbly, but able to jog at a pace slightly quicker than walking to transition, where I wobbled out of my wetsuit, and into my bike gear. My transition clearly needs work, as the person next to me was in and out in a small fraction of the time I was there.

Once out on the bike, I started being overtaken. A lot. Some of the bikes made really cool whirring noises due to their aero wheels. Many of the bikes looked very shiny. I slowly got into the bike - I got some pretty good speeds out in the middle of the course, the winds and hills definitely played a part. The roads were lovely, and I quite enjoyed passing the group of 4 New Forest ponies, but cycling was my weakest link. I tried to keep cadence highish, and get a decent speed up, but the only bloke I overtook for longer than 20 seconds was on a mountain bike. I kept telling myself that if I got around in less than three hours (my goal times - 30 mins swim, 1:30 bike, 1 hour run, with transitions eating into those times) I could have a new bike, although I suspect that what I really need might just be more practice and a more flexible back (or perhaps a better fitting bike?).

Transition 2 was much quicker, racking the bike, removing bike jacket and helmet, switching shoes, moving race belt around so number was at the front (slowed down a little when the belt detached from buckle - stupid thing!).

The run was pretty horrendous - the first km was flat (and quick for me), the next few had a lot of uphill. My lower back was really giving me grief at this point, I was in a bit of pain. I plodded on slowly, and walked up the worst of the hills. This probably helped. By about 4km into the run, I was feeling a lot more comfortable. At the half way point, I took the offered water, swallowed some, breathed some (oops) and poured the rest over my head. Still far too many hills, so a few walk breaks at times, but most of my kilometre splits were sub 6 mins, which meant that I was doing well against goal times.

Peta was spectating at the finish, when I saw her waving, I returned her wave, it was lovely to see her there (she'd caught a taxi to the finish, rather than spend four hours waiting to see me during the race). I was able to gather a few more places nearing the finish, I was determined not to lose any places either, so when I noticed someone trying to pass, I picked up my pace. So did she. I picked up some more. So did she. It was an all out sprint to the finish. I have zero idea who won - there is noone with the same time in the race results. My theory is that she was from the second swim wave, so I was racing against someone who was beating me by 20 mins.

Peta came to meet me, I think she was torn between giving me a giant hug and staying well away from the dripping sweating monster, and we headed to get race tshirt, biscuits and tea, and we watched the prize giving, which was a first for me in a race, it did show that if you want lots of cheering, join a big tri-club!

I must have twisted my ankle (or sprained or strained or whatever) during the run - I even think I know when I did it, slipping off the edge of the road, and remember thinking, 'ooh, that could have hurt, lucky escape there' - presumably adrenaline got me through. Hopefully it will recover quickly enough.

So I am now a triathlete, and hope to remain one for a good while yet. Lots of things to learn (I need to improve my cycling, my core strength, and do better on hills on the run, improve my transition times, and continue to improve my swim, which may no longer be my 'weak discipline', particularly taking proportion of race time into account).

Final times: swim 1100m: 31:42, bike 34km: 1:21:30, run 10km: 56:11, total: 2:49:25.
Position: 239th male (out of 263 who started, 253 finished).

Merrell Mudman 2009

After doing Hellrunner last year, I was inspired by offroad events, and decided that an offroad duathlon, or even triathlon, was the race for me. Once I had my mountain bike, I searched for an appropriate event, and found the Merrell Mudman, and entered. The race is a 7.5km run, then 3 x 5km laps on the bike, then another 7.5km run. Later I realised that this is actually like doing Hellrunner, but where you stop half way and get on a bike for 15km, and then finish the race.

The leadup to this race has not gone so well - I had little time to prepare for the race itself, in terms of putting decent offroad tyres on the bike, putting elastic laces in my shoes for quick transition, and my fitness may well be down after a fairly inconsistent training schedule, packed around a weeks skiing.

I got up at the planned time, ready to set off at around 8.30am, to collect my hired car. Due to the lack of choice, I'd had to plump for the Honda Civic, which I imagined would actually be more spacious than the usual Audi A3. However, the A3 is a hatchback - the Civic has a boot, so I couldn't just put the back seats down to use the entire space. In the end, the wheels went in the boot, and the bike went on a shower curtain on the back seats (I'd realised I'd have to protect the car somehow).

In my haste to leave, I'd forgotten to bring my race instructions, but I wasn't too concerned, I knew vaguely where the event was, somewhere near the A311 just off J3 of the M3. However, I may have been spoilt in previous races by signage - I didn't see a single sign on the entire road, and frantically drove around for nearly an hour looking for suitably army looking training camps (including one point where I asked a bloke with a gun for directions). In the end I finally got hold of Peta for directions, and it was simple after that, but it was nearly race start time as it was!

At the site, I unloaded the bike, changed into racing gear (tri shorts, tri top and running shoes) and then took rucksack, helmet and bike to racking. By the time I get to racking the race had already been going 5 minutes, so they let me prop my bike up, put my helmet on it, drop my bag and jacket and get running.

It was obviously no time to be worrying about position. The only thing I was really competing against was the course, with its seven hills per run lap. I'd call the first lap a draw - I overtook 3 people, while trying to maintain a sensible pace. Most of the time this pace was dictated by the course - the hills were so steep that I could only walk up them. And then too steep that I could only walk down the other side. The hills take up the middle third of the lap, so I'd picked up a reasonable rhythm again by transition.

At transition, I quickly took my running shoes off, put my cycling boots on, put my helmet on, and pushed my bike to the allocated mounting point, and set off. I'd already been lapped by people finishing their first bike lap by this point! I really need to work on my transitions (one of the 'laces' on my boot wasn't secure, and wrapped itself around a pedal) and perhaps more importantly, my technique - there were a few points where I pretty much fell off because I misread what the course did, and stacked it! The hills on the bike lap are fewer (thankfully, because it was hard enough walking up them, let alone while pushing a bike), but still hard, and they were the few opportunities for me to overtake. By the end of the first lap I was pretty shattered, particularly my lower back, but the second and third laps were relatively ok - I was relieved to finish on the bike, and change back to running shoes. Perhaps offroad duathlons aren't for me!

I'd noticed that I was getting blisters on the first run lap, and that didn't improve on the second. I'd made the classic error of running in untested circumstances - worse, I'd changed two things! The elastic laces were one thing - my shoes didn't feel quite so secure in them, but that might be a matter of tweaking them. I'd also decided to run in my cycling socks, rather than my running socks - I think in retrospect that was a bad idea, as it's the running where my feet really take the hit.

It didn't really matter, as by now the course was well and truly beating me. There seemed to be more hills the second time around (it was exactly the same course) and I was running less and less. By the end of the hills, I was pretty broken, and could only manage a run-walk, probably about 50:50 (although one of my 1km splits was 6:30, compared to what I think of as a fast pace for me of 5:00, and a slow run pace of 6:00, so maybe I was running a bit more than I thought). However, I knew that whatever I did would be just as far, so running would finish it all quicker, which kept me going. I walked the last few smaller hills before it levelled off for the last 500m or so, and then just ran the rest to the finish.

The support in this race was fantastic - all of the marshalls were really encouraging and enthusiastic, although some of their encouragement wasn't always helpful (e.g. not far to go now, near the end of the first bike lap). The finish was just as good, with people cheering and clapping as I finished. The cup of water was also a welcome gift. The goodie bag was one of the better ones, and there were plenty of freebies from Lucozade too. I heard a few people come in after me, so I wasn't last, but it was certainly not my favourite race ever!

I'm not going to rule out any more offroad events (I'll certainly do more runs) but I want to improve my bike technique before I do more multisport offroad.

Run 1*: 0:54:29
Bike: 1:18:28
Run 2: 0:57:58
Total*: 3:10:55

* I suspect these are both 5 minutes longer than they would be, due to me giving everyone else a headstart.

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