April Round Up: 447 km


Another month gone, another target smashed!

At 447 km, April has been the best so far this year, making up over 125% of the monthly goal and giving me a bit of breathing space ahead of target for the year. It also marks the end of the build up phase, leading up to around 80 km per week on the bike and 10 km running. The improved weather has also helped, as has my new rules on outdoor swimming, which added a lot more distance in the water, and I am now ready for phase two which kicks off in a couple of weeks with race season…

So where does this put me in the Chile Challenge? Well after 1500 km so far I am finally in the Northern regions of Patagonia, stopping off in the beautiful town of Puerto Varas. This is the heart of the Chilean Lake District, home to crystal clear glacial waters edged by forests and snow capped volcanoes, as demonstrated in the below photo.

Puerto 3

This is also a fantastic part of the world for sport, and perhaps the ideal location for the Chile Challenge – perfect (although very cold) waters to swim in, clear pathways to cycle and loads to see on foot. There is even more opportunity to do a quadrathlon by kayaking the lake, or something totally different swinging through the forest canopies (as I am doing on the left!)

.Patagonia SwingIMG_1085

Swimming in the Rain

Singing in the rain

I love the weather in this country, but it can make training tricky to plan ahead. One minute it is sunny, the next tipping down with rain, and then back again. This weekend has been a great example, and the only safe way to get around this is unfortunately training indoors – unfortunately sods law is you then spend it looking out the window and avoiding the glare reflecting of gleaming cars outside.

One area you can’t really go wrong though is the outdoor pool – in fact I actually prefer open air swimming in the rain, as the crazy kids, side-by-side gossipers and generally anyone who does not have their head down in the water tend to stay inside, as demonstrated this afternoon where I had the pool to myself. There is nothing like the feeling of freedom you get swimming outdoors, lying back looking at the sky, weightless, head partially submerged to drown out any sound. If it is really going for it you can even (sort of) replicate the washing machine feeling of the start of an open water race, only without the side effect of being repeatedly whacked in the head and ribs by others. I really can’t understand why others don’t catch on.

And as I am sure everyone does when in such a solo situation, I thought I would shake things up a bit and try some butterfly. Now there is a good reason I only do this when on my own, and I am pretty sure that had it not been pouring down, the pool would have been half empty by the time I reached the other side. I am pretty sure I have written about others doing this in a busy lane and it is just plain wrong. The stroke is also about as knackering as you can get in the water, and although I had just done 80k on the bike, that was all lower body, so this was trying to get the blood going up top. It is also why I have huge respect for the likes of Phelps, Thorpe et al who can smash 200m (!) at full pelt. I also wish I could get a picture like this one whilst flying down the pool.


Top tip for those thinking of giving this a go: Make sure you leave your towel inside whilst you swim, if you are actually planning on using it to dry off afterwards…


Music of the Month: April


When I was younger and started playing guitar during the Brit Pop era of the mid-90’s (20 years now, who can believe it was that long ago!) it was also the heady days of happy hardcore, trance and all that malarkey. I have to say, back then I was not a fan of any of that kind of music, and it was not until a few years ago that I really worked out what it is best suited for (other than drink-heavy nights out) – Running!

In fact during a fairly long 15k run around the countryside yesterday I realised that about half the music I listen to on the run is classed as ‘Electronic’ on my iPod, and that with its fast pace, steady beats and often uplifting melodies it helps with speed, focus and motivation to keep things going the distance.

So on that basis, it seems only right to be April’s music of the month. Here are some classics, and a few more recent ones too:

  • Madeon – Finale
  • Unicorn Kid – Feel So Real
  • New Order – True Faith
  • Pendulum – Watercolour
  • Prodigy – No Good
  • Late of the Pier – Broken
  • Calvin Harris – Ready for the Weekend
  • Daft Punk – Superheroes
  • Anamanguchi – Prom Night
  • Faithless – Insomnia
  • The Chain Gang of 1974 – Sleepwalking
  • M83 – Midnight City

What’s Up Doc?

Heart Image

Last year I read an interesting book on Ironman Triathlons by a guy called Andy Holgate. One section that particularly got me was where he wrote about a gym induction which threw out various results saying he was too large, heavy, etc, yet he was able to complete some huge racing distances the instructors had probably never considered.

In my own job we have a biennial health check, which involves a morning in a fancy clinic doing all sorts of tests, presumably to ensure I am safe to sit behind a desk for close to 8 hours per day without keeling over. After the training I have been putting in so far this year I was pretty interested in the results, and to pay homage to Andy here I through I would set out some of the key sections to give an idea of what statistics can do, and see how they compare (NB. VO2 was not part of the test, so I had to work out myself).

  2012 Result 2014 Result Average for Age
BMI 28 27 20-25
Body Fat % 20% 19% 14-19%
Waist-Height Ratio 54 52 40-50
Resting Heart Rate 60 54 71-74
Blood Pressure 124 131 90-120
VO2 Max N/A 53 34-40
Activity Level 8 8 6

So what does this tell me? Well, unfortunately at 5’7 and 12.5 stone I am out of luck in the BMI stakes, although coming from a line of front row rugby forwards this was always a likelihood. On the plus side the results are improving, and hopefully by the summer I should be sub 12 stone, which will put me on track to hit most of the ratios (and at least they are moving in the right direction…).

I also apparently have higher than average blood pressure which was news to me, given how relaxed I usually am at work even when things are busy, but nothing to be overly concerned with at the moment, so I will see how that pans out. Maybe more chances to go swimming at this time of year will help restore my zen abilities.

On the positive sides, the work I am putting in on the road is clearly paying off, and even at this relatively early stage in the reason my RHR & VO2 (assuming I worked it out correctly) put me in a pretty high fitness bracket, which should be useful for some of the three hour+ races I have coming up, meaning there is a reasonable chance I will make it around the course. And pleased to see it looks like I will be safe to continue my daily rush hour commute into Birmingham, although I will keep taking the stairs to the office rather than the lift just in case!

Kitting Out Part Two – The Bike


Last week I managed to pass the 1000 km mark on my bike, so I thought it was about time to pop the hood (so to speak) and share a few details of what I have spent the equivalent of more than a working week riding so far this year.

As I have mentioned in other posts, the bike leg of a triathlon makes up well over 50% of the race, and it is probably for the best given how much of your budget disappears in this discipline.

First up the of course the bike – Until this year I have raced all of my triathlons on a Carrera Fury (see top left photo). Whilst having a pretty cool sounding name, the main problem here is this is a mountain bike. As the name suggests, it goes really well off road, however a flat race is a different bag of tricks, and it is not exactly fast, even with various upgrades such as slick tyres and better pedals. In fact, after being overtaken for the umpteenth time by people far bigger and less fit than me, I could only compare its speed to driving a tractor around an F1 track. So as much as I love the bike, with some long races coming up this year it had to be time for change.

So enter Mark 2, the Carrera Zelos (see top right). Not only is this a real road bike, so designed to be racing around a track or road, but it has plenty of other features I love. First glance, the paint job is black and gold, which matches the Cornish County Rugby colours. Standard features include a decent Shimano chain set, alloy frame (a lot lighter than the MTB) and Tektro dual pivot brakes.

But the bits that excite me are the upgrades I have added (not shown in the above photo as that is a display model – live race photos to follow later this year) such as SPD 540 pedals and Token Aerobars, which are helping transform it from a road bike into a full on triathlon bike. For those who are not familiar with these, the pedals allow my shoes to clip into the bike, making it essentially a part of my foot and allowing a lot more power and efficiency, whilst the aerobars clip onto the handlebars and enable a more aerodynamic position, as well as a welcome change of handgrip which is more than useful in long rides. I will probably write more on these another day to explain how important these features are.

In terms of other riding kit, there is still plenty more to add (oh no, the budget does not stop there). For a start, a bike helmet is usually mandatory when racing – in fact you are often not allowed into the transition area without wearing one, and there are plenty of rules around ensuring you have it on before touching the bike during a race. I have not yet managed to spend a few hundred quid on something ludicrously aerodynamic (I would be better off losing the weight myself first) so mine is a fairly standard Bell helmet. I probably need a bit more practice putting it on under pressure though, as halfway through the first lap of my last race another kindly rider shouted to me that I had it on back to front…

It is also no use having fancy pedals without the right shoes, so I have a pair of DHBs which although made for mountain bikes, do the job pretty well and also have deep enough tread to make running around transition possible, which pretty much cancels out the few extra seconds they take to put on.

The final bits on the bike leg include sunglasses with interchangeable lenses (dark, clear and even yellow for when I want to look like a special forces sniper) depending on the conditions, and of course the obligatory MAMIL uniform of various cycling tops – the current favourite looks like the Dark Side of the Moon album cover – and *shame* far too tight cycling shorts that are absolutely necessary for the full effect.

So there you have it, the full bike gear. I know that everyone reading would really like to see it for real, so give it a few weeks and I will post some action photos which will show this all up and running, although I have to warn you, it really will be blink and you’ll miss it speeds!

Sporting Heroes – April

Mo Farah

We are finally into the first out-and-out athlete for this column, and after last weekend it feels appropriate to be one of the biggest heroes in the country – owner of fairly unique celebratory stance and someone who everyone feels they could be mates with – the great Mo Farah.

Not content with being one of the stars of the 2012 Olympics and winner of however many races since, Sunday saw Mo’s first attempt at the London Marathon. He finished a very credible 8th place against a very experienced field, in 2.08 hours which is marginally faster than I completed the Birmingham (half) Marathon last October!

After years of having some slightly unexciting long distance runners in the UK, most of whom hark back to the 80’s and could hardly be called inspiring for today’s generation, it is great to have Mo now leading the way, and I really hope we will now see more exciting young runners breaking through in years to come. If Mo does stay with the longer distance racing then even better, as you would fully expect him to take the British record before too long, and with the Commonwealth Games coming up this year, and who knows by the time of the Brazil Olympics.

I can certainly say Mo has inspired me personally, as someone who until the last Olympics had never run a 10k before (and definitely straight after a swim & bike race) by helping put a bit of joy into running and making it an exciting sport – whilst in the past I used to change the channel when the 10,000m races came on, they are now a highlight for me, which in turn reflects in my training. So here is to another great year of watching Mo win, and sharing his genuine enjoyment of winning with us, and also to me breaking his 2.08 in my race later this year…!

First rule of Chile Challenge is…

  • “First rule of Fight Club is…”
  • “Smokey this is not ‘Nam… there are rules”
  • “Follow the rules Frank”
  • “That’s a pretty good fuckin’ rule”
  • “The rules are, there ain’t no rules”

Walter rules

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, some great characters have quotable lines within their films about the rules they follow. In the above cases Tyler, Walter, Frank and Stiffer all have a clear outlook on life, and it serves them well. As the bad guy from Grease demonstrates with the last one though, if you have no rules, you lose the race!

So as promised, I have been working on new ideas for the Chile Challenge over the last few months to mix things up. One of the biggest problems I have had so far is with swimming. As much as I enjoy it – for a start it was the reason I got into triathlon – it makes life difficult with this challenge due to the fact I cannot swim as fast as, say, a shark.

So whilst I can cycle 30 km in an hour, or run around 10 km, I can only swim at around 3 kph, and by the time you throw in time to change and the insane business of the pool whenever I want to go (see earlier blogs for more on this) has meant I have only swum 4 km in the first three months of the year (less than 1% of total distance), and I have concerns that it will affect my overall fitness and also race times if this continues to be low.

So I have decided to add a new rule, timing it to coincide with the opening of the outdoor pool at my gym. So from the beginning of April to the end of October (when it closes again) every 1 km I swim will count as 5 km towards the challenge. In the grand scheme of things this should not affect too much, but helps me out a lot, and in the last 9 days I have managed to get 3 km completed already, which translates as 15 km to the cause.

I have made a few other rules too in recent months, which are as follows:

  • Cross Training (elliptical training for my North American readers) will count towards Running total at par
  • Classes will count towards Other total at 8 kph
  • Unusual events (such as the Celtic night the other week) will be measured case-by case (although that also ended up as 8 km)

So that is it for now, but I am sure I will be back later in the year with some more rules to add!

We need to talk about Doms…

Ahh Doms, my old adversary… for so much of this year I though I have evaded you, but waking up this morning with that familiar feeling I knew you were never far away.

For those of you who don’t spend your life at the gym, you may not be familiar with the name, but you will probably have known Doms at some point in your life. This is not actually a person, and instead stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This is the aching feeling you get after exercising particularly hard or lifting heavy weights – not straight away (hence the delayed part), but usually a day or two later when you wake up and realize your legs / arms / body no longer works.

Due to the volume of training I am doing at the moment, Doms can cause a lot of problems as if it gets too bad it could potentially disrupt sessions and put me behind, so I have been using various strategies to try and mitigate its effects, which in fairness have actually worked fairly well. Some of these include:

  • Stretching, massaging, foam rolling and even the ludicrously expensive Vibro Plate machine as part of warm ups / downs
  • Compression clothing, such as my classy calf guards and obviously well fitting trainers
  • Various nutrition strategies including cherry juice (apparently a lifesaver) and (my own favourite) milkshakes
  • Alternating hot & cold showers (I have not quite gone down the ice bath route yet)
  • The fact most of my training involves 3 sports and the same muscles, swimming (back & shoulders), cycling (glutes, quads, hammies) & running (same again but in a different direction).

Unfortunately I ended up breaking most of my own rules on Friday night whilst at a Ceilidh (nope, I had not either but if you are too lazy to Google it the closest comparison I can make is the lacrosse match in Last of the Mohicans, a kind of organised chaos set to Celtic music, with plenty of injuries but everyone enjoying themselves):

No warm up (check), impractical clothing (check), beer instead of electrolytes (check), room hotter than the sun (check), unfamiliar moves involving jumping up & down with one particularly crazy dance involving some kind of helicopter spins (check check)!

This was a lot more intense than I had expected, and at one point I seriously thought I was close to having a heart attack and started to worry for my Dad, until he apparently pointed out (in the way only he could) that he was actually the safest of all of us as he had a pacemaker to kick in if things got rough!

Fast forward 48 hours and I was in a bit of pain this morning around my calves, although on the plus side it did not stop me getting another PB on the bike – two sets of 30km negative splits on the bike (59 & 57 mins), which I was pretty happy with and is getting me closer to a sub 3 hour 90 km before the Avenger in June…

Hulkl Doms

A Serious Note

Today’s blog will not be about the challenge, but instead I thought it would be appropriate to say a few words on last night’s terrible news about the severe earthquake off the coast of Northern Chile.

Chile QuakeOf course it is still early on, and it will take time to understand what the full impact will be once those evacuated return to their homes, but hopefully the worst of the quake is now past. This is a part of the world which is fairly used to natural disasters, as the proximity of the  tectonic plates down the coastline make this one of the most susceptible regions to seismic and volcanic activity on the planet.

This area means a lot to me personally, as my father in law is from the Antofagasta region, as well as the fact that the finish line for the Chile Challenge will be in Arica. Furthermore, in August of last year I was actually in this region, just south of Iquique in San Pedro de Atacama, and fell in love with it so much that I will be returning again later this year. While I was there the local people could not have been more welcoming, which only makes it all the more difficult to hear of this, however I have no doubt they will show their strength and pull through together to get through this.


March Round Up: 438 km

Coyhaique bike

As I said on Sunday, the end of March brings plenty of things to look forward to for the Chile Challenge: warmer weather, lighter evenings and more chances to train!

Despite that, the first three months of the year have proved a great start to the challenge, with March in particular being the strongest so far clocking up over 100 km per week. As always the bulk of this has been on the bike (345 km), but a few other areas have seen some diversification such as 3 combat classes (@8 km each) and the brick sessions I mentioned last week which saw some extra running tacked on.

As a round up of the first quarter, my figures are as follows:

  • Swim – 4 km – Well below expectations, but should come back in the next few months with the outdoor pool
  • Bike – 887 km – More than I ever imagined and 80% of distance so far, with PBs falling nearly every week
  • Running – 77 km – Again, more one to pick up with the weather (much as I love the treadmill..) but going ok
  • Other – 136 km – The surprise package, but I need to vary things to avoid going crazy and spread the pain around my body!
  • Total – 1104 km or 25.9% of the challenge completed so far

So where does this fit into Chile I hear you ask? Well to misquote Charlie Sheen’s Dad in Apocalypse Now (I loved them both in Wall street by the way): ‘Patagonia, shit I am still in Patagonia’. But that is alright, it is a very long part of the world, and I only expect to come out the other side in May.

Right now I have  just reached the city of Coyhaique, a fairly remote place even by Patagonian standards that you probably would be best to get to by on a bike anyway. With a population of around 50,000 and … err… well it has a ‘happy rock’ where people go to party according to the mighty Wiki, and I am sure some other exciting things, but it is mostly about the views.

That said, it is also the place to visit the unique and stunning Marble Cathedral, at General Carrera Lake, the second largest in South America, and no doubt a pretty amazing place to swim in the open water if you ever had the chance! In all seriousness this place looks stunning, and if you have never seen it I strongly recommend looking up some pictures until my next update at the end of April (many thanks to whoever took this photo).

Coyhaique Marble Cathedral