Sporting Heroes: May

Confession time: I seem to be building up a list of who to feature each month, which to be honest it is getting far too long to actually fit into 12 months, so I can see a series of special editions coming up to actually be able to feature all the ones I would like.

Wolverine Rooftop

My decision for this month was confirmed last night though, about 15 minutes into the new X-Men film with the entrance of the legend that is Wolverine.  And just to confirm, although the focus is on Hugh Jackman, it is specifically in his role as Wolverine that he qualifies. Much like my feature on Paul Walker in Feb, this is where I stretch the sporting element of the blog (probably too late to change the title this far through the year), but the key is to have someone who inspires me to get out and train.

Although it is now de rigueur for the leads in superhero films to bulk up: I had a wide choice of candidates  for this column including Chris’s Hemsworth & Evans having a bulk-off as Thor & The Cap in Avengers, as well as DC characters such as Stephen Amell in Arrow (with the insane pull-up ladder) & Henry Cavill as Supes. And that is just the good guys, with Tom Hardy seeming to double in size when he played Bane in TDKR.

But the question is, how much of this would have happened if it was not for Hugh, way back in the late 90’s in the first X-Men (where as with all of the subsequent films, he has all the best moments)? Let’s not forget how controversial it was for him to actually play Logan, given his height, build and relatively unknown status at the time. Looking back it is hard now to imagine anyone else in the role, so much has he made it his own. And the crazy thing is, that 15 years later, he seems to have got even more like Wolvie. He barely seems to have aged, the growl is even more pronounced, and then we come onto the look. Suffice to say, my wife seemed to enjoy the film for some different reasons to me (although Fassbender seemed to add to this too)…

Let’s not beat around the bush here, Hugh has the look nailed, and the amount of training that goes into keeping that is massive. I mean the guy is 45! I read a lot of magazines which feature some of his workouts and he really hits it hard, which obviously shows with the results. Having spent this year focusing on my long distance goals, I can’t actually remember doing any weight sessions, other than a few sets of chin ups and squats, but I reckon if I did then with the sort of commitment this challenge requires I could one day look like this. If I trained solidly for the next few years. Maybe. An idea for next perhaps…

I will freely admit I am a massive fan of Wolverine, to the extent that my cat is called Logan, and although her claws are not quite adamantium, they are extremely sharp, and she also likes to try and stalk other animals far larger than her. Although I have not yet been able to take her for a training run (like Rocky & Butkiss) I am holding out to be able to do it one day.

Another thing about Hugh is he also seems a really genuine guy. There has been a lot of publicity for the new film, and my personal highlight was his X-FM breakfast show takeover, where he was both hilarious and interesting. If you missed it, I highly  recommend trying to find it somewhere online to peruse at your leisure, as it was a real one off. Perhaps in a few years when I become the Wolverine, he will have something to fall back on!

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Training: Cornwall Style

I have spent the last few days in perhaps the only place that stands alongside Chile for me, God’s own country of Cornwall. Although it was primarily for a holiday, I could not resist getting in a bit of the unique training opportunities this would give me towards the Challenge.

Beach TrainingRocky beach

Rocky III Beach Run

My first session was a great early morning run. First task was getting up before 7 am on Bank Holiday Monday after a Portuguese BBQ and bottle of wine the night before, but surprisingly I actually made it up and out without any problems. Obviously too good a chance to miss. At that time in the morning Newquay was all but deserted, and this gave a real sense of freedom whilst running along the cliff tops, starting near Tolcarne beach, across Lusty Glaze and then down onto Porth beach.

Then the adrenaline really kicked in, and I had little choice but to switch on Eye of the Tiger and practice my sprints, just like Apollo & Rocky.  To be fair it is not as easy as it looks, as the sand gives next to no grip, and there was a plenty of streams leading down to the sea to dodge, but it was definitely worth it and should add a lot to my off-road running in the next race. My only regret was not having some of the eye-catching numbers paraded by Sly in the montage sequences…

A run back took me along the front and running up the (135) steps from Tolcarne, then down past Newquay zoo and into the park. A quick lap around the lake and gardens and then back to the hotel for 8 am and 8 km covered, taking in plenty of hills, steps, rocks and even sand. All in all a great start to any day!

Newquay SwimPoint Break

Operation Point Break (ish)

Part two of the adventure was supposed to involve some surfing, however that fell down on one fundamental issue, I can’t surf there was no waves! Yes, the sea was about as flat as it gets, and combined with fairly dull weather it was not one to spend sat floating on a board for an hour hoping for a bit of action. You can see how gutted Bodhi is in the above photo when he found out.

Fortunately I had a back up, in that given I already had my wetsuit ready, it was perfect conditions for some open water swim training instead. I am not really sure how far I did, but working out at my usual pace I covered around 2 km in 40 mins going across the bay and back again, although it may have been a bit less as it was again a lot tougher work with the few waves there were which seemed a lot higher at water level. I did manage to get in a bit if body surfing though which was fun.

The session was not without a few mistakes though. My first was sporting my fetching scuba diving hood and goggle combination, which whilst my head was warm and my eyes salt-less, looked very strange. I can only imagine the terror in some of the younger surfers as a strange man beast emerged from underwater near their legs, with a smooth black head and bulging red eyes. I must have looked nearly as crazy as Gary Busey, and some of them may never venture into the water again…

My goggles also did not seem to want to stay waterproof, and this meant I had to stop every few minutes to empty them. Although it was good practice for mid-race clearances (roll on your back and let the water out), it was a pain and may well be the last time they make it into the water either.

Finally, it only clicked when I got out that I had neglected to use my Body Glide (wetsuit lube) and as a result for the next 48 hours have looked like I narrowly escaped a lynching, with a huge red ring around my neck where the seawater well and truly did it’s chaffing work. Aside from that it was some great training, and who knows, hopefully I may be doing a coastal triathlon before too long to put this training into real action!

Music of the Month: May

EVH

Before I got into triathlon and other outdoor sports and decided to try and lose weight to speed up my racing, I spent a lot of time in the gym lifting weights and the like, trying to do the exact opposite and bulk up. Whilst the end goals of these could not be more different, there are actually a lot of similarities: both involve spending a lot of time working out, diet plays a major role (although what you consume obviously changes), and each needs a lot of motivation.

As I have mentioned before, music plays a massive role in the latter of these for me, and whilst some of the monthly themes I have had before are not necessarily the most appropriate for the big equipment (fast dance music makes slow heavy lifts a potential hazard!) there is one genre that happily straddles both sides of the gym, as well as any decent car stereo with the windows down.

Of course I am talking about Rock, and specifically of the ‘Classic’, big hair, air guitar nature, which in my book is anything from between 1960 – 1990 (ish). Fast or slow, heavy or smooth, funky or chilled, these are the kind of tunes that get you over the start line early, and keep you going through that tough final mile:

  • Guns & Roses – Welcome to the Jungle
  • AC/DC – Shoot to Thrill
  • Deep Purple – Highway Star
  • Thin Lizzy – Out in the Fields
  • The Cult – Fire Woman
  • Judas Priest – Breaking the Law
  • Iron Maiden – 2 Minutes to Midnight
  • Motley Crue – Kickstart My Heart
  • Ozzy – Crazy Train
  • Whitesnake – Here I Go Again
  • Toto – Hold the Line
  • Van Halen – Dreams
  • The Police – Message in a Bottle
  • Eric Clapton – Bad Love
  • Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
  • Queen – One Vision
  • The Clash – Train in Vain

The Best Laid Schemes…

I know I said yesterday I was looking to get in a good few hours on the bike today, but in the end it did not happen for two reasons. Firstly my leg still did not feel right in the morning; and secondly the weather was just too nice! Those reading from sunnier climes may not understand this, but we only get weekends like this a few times a year in the UK, so you need to make the most of them.

And making the most of it this morning meant some fairly vague pottering in the garden whilst my wife put in 90 minutes hard labour doing a fantastic job washing the motors (two coats of wax Biff, don’t con me!), followed by some tough lying in the sun. To be honest I would have helped but am not allowed to touch her car! After 5 months where just about every Sunday has been spent racking up miles on the bike or on foot, a bit of recharging was well earned.

Pool Buoy

That said, you can never keep a Chile Challenger down, and by this evening I felt up to some training, and what started out as a quick dip to test out the legs, turned into a full on 2 km blast in the outdoor pool. It also gave me a great chance to get in a longer version of my favourite pool session, using the pool buoy (the funny shaped float that goes between your legs) to minimise the effort going through my hamstrings. For those who are into this sort of thing the session is not the easiest to explain but goes:

  1. 10 laps front crawl warm up
  2. 2 x laps front float leg kicks
  3. 4 x 2 laps pool buoy, alternating position at thighs & ankles
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 for as long as needed
  5. 10 laps front crawl cool down

Usually I do this in 1  or 1.5 km blocks, but as mentioned it seemed a perfect fit for today as I was trying to minimise the strain on my lower body, and felt good enough to keep going. It also suits my triathlon swimming style, which is very upper body. I am sure the elites manage to do a better job of kicking hard to get some extra speed going, but given that the rest of the race involves heavy use of the old legs in the bike & run, I like to keep them as fresh as sensible in the longer events to avoid collapsing before getting half-way through. But anyway, the good news is everything seemed to hold up well, and fingers crossed will be back to 100% next week.

Hamstrung

Grid Foam Roller

In my last report I mentioned that my leg muscles were hurting a bit more than usual after the race, and it turn out I must have pulled a hamstring, as 6 days later I can still feel it. Unfortunately that has meant that after training in some shape or form for 10 days out of 12 in the first half of this month, I have now been on self-enforced rest since Monday. I had planned on getting back into the swing of things today, but still having a few twinges combined with fact it has been the hottest day of the year put a stop to that.

I am not used to being sidelined through injury, and can only really remember a couple of occasions in my sporting career where I classed myself as being unable to train. Quite impressive seeing as I have endured 11 seasons of rugby and 4 years of ninjustu where we kicked the crap out of each other three times a week, and the last few years of triathlon racing. My most notable incident to date was my last ever rugby match in the 2000 season where I did my neck in playing in the front row, and had to have a crash-for-cash style neck brace for a few days, which I was far too embarrassed to actually wear around uni campus!

I am not exactly sure when I actually managed to do the damage last week, without any particular ‘snapping’ moment to pinpoint, but suspect it was somewhere on one of the hills into a headwind, and probably not helped by the run afterwards. To be honest I probably did not warm up as much as I should, not helped by the relatively early drive to the event for the start, but it has taught me a bit of a lesson to make sure I stretch properly for the upcoming events.

It has put me a bit down though, as this is the longest I have gone so far in 2014 without getting some training in. I know people say if they work out a lot and then go a few days without you start to get cravings – for the endorphins I guess – and it really is true. At the moment all I can think  of is knocking off a 50k bike ride or good long swim outside.

In an effort to cheer myself up I have bought some more training toys: First up is a bright orange ‘Grid’ foam roller, to help stretch out my muscles after long sessions. I already own a ‘stick’ style roller, which is ok for certain parts of the body but does not really go deep, and having used the Grid at the gym enough times it seemed about time to get one myself to try and use regularly. I know some people say you can get good results with a tennis ball, but to be honest that would not really get me as excited, although I will give it a go at some point soon.

Other purchases included some Under Armour compression shorts to try and help with the hammies – I already own a set of Compresssport calf guards which do the job further down pretty well, so look forward to seeing how these work. Lastly being a real geek, I got a book called Triathlon Science (to go with my already owned Triathlon Anatomy) as I like to research the theory behind the sport to try and best avoid this sort of thing in future. I have also made sure I have been taking on plenty of protein for the body – most notably an awesome BBQ coming up in the next half hour…

So armed with new kit, clothing, equipment, books and nutrition I expect a full recovery by tomorrow, and lets see if I can start racking up some more mikes again!

 

Race Report: Stratford Triathlon 11/5/14

So I made it through the first race of the season relatively unscathed, and here is how it went:

400m Swim – Time 7.47 (mins)
Not only was this was my first pool tri, but my first time in a 33m pool so I was pretty interested to see how this would go. I have to say it was really well organised, with everyone lining up in order of race number (Go #66!) and getting in the water to set off at 15 second intervals. There were three wide lanes, which allowed you to work clockwise, doing 2 up and 2 down in each lane, before moving into the next, and getting out on the far side. To be honest I barely noticed the extra 8 metres in each length, but I am sure it made it better than if we had been in a normal sized pool as it never really seemed overcrowded. The main issue I had was the swim cap; my wife likes to say I have a golf ball head, but this must have been made more for people with football sized barnets, as about halfway through mine started coming off, and at least twice I had to stop and readjust (I was worried about being DQd if I swam on without wearing it) which cost me a few seconds. Other than that though it all went to plan, and I was pretty pleased to beat my 8 minute target.

T1 – 2.19
One of my better transitions: After successfully negotiating some steel steps with my wet feet from the pool to the car park (if they got through the whole day with no casualties here I will be amazed) it was a quick change into bike gear. It was noticeably faster not wearing a wetsuit (although I did have my trisuit on instead) and the warm water also gave the bonus of not having fingers & toes that felt like calypso ice lollies! Luckily it was still before 9am, and transition was relatively quiet which mean there was plenty of space, and I was on my way without any real issues.

23k Bike – 56.45
The first half of the bike leg flew past, with the only incident being a brief stop as I had not properly attached my tool kit to the crossbar (adding about a minute), but it was otherwise incident free, particularly as it was the first time I had really pushed the new bike on the roads. The second half was much tougher, with more main roads and a horrendous head wind uphill at around 18 km, which made progress sluggish, like a wet sponge. It also did not help that despite the race distances being in kilometres, the distance marker signs were in miles, meaning fewer along the way and also the need for mental arithmetic to work out speed in kph – normally a strong area for me but not quite the same half-way through a race! It was also a bit isolated, as for large portions with no one in sight either in front of me or behind, creating a few mind games of whether I had somehow missed a turn and was speeding off in the wrong direction. There was also a bit of a lack of supporters on this part, but more on this later.

T2 – 1.08
As before, this went fairly well, other than being a bit too tired and having just taken it off, trying to then put my right bike shoe on my left foot. I had some lighter velcro trainers to put on which are quick to put on, although with hindsight may have been the wrong choice.

5k Run – 28.44
I had been expecting to run through town, or at least on proper roads, but it turned out this was an off-road foot race, meaning my choice of faster trainers instead of trail shoes may have cost me a bit of time and grip. Fortunately there was only a bit of mud, and some of the course did have a path, although you quite often had to step off-road when getting around others. This was a two lap run, and at least meant there were plenty of others on it, and even better you could always convince yourself that those overtaking you were on their first lap…

At laeast there were some supporters at the finish line, and below is my official event photo in full glory.

Stratford Tri Finish

Ratings
Being the first race of the year I thought I would come up with a clever, Giles Coren style rating system to allow me to compare the different events as I complete them. Unfortunately I can’t really think of anything that exciting, so am going to go fairly standard, as follows:

Build Up & Admin *** (out of 5)
I entered the race fairly late on, as more of an afterthought to use as a warm up / test run for the longer events later in the year. Alongside the fact it was a pool based sprint, there were actually few pre-race nerves, and if I am honest I had not thought that much about this over the last week or two. That said, the organisation was very good, with the ability to ‘check in’ the day before, and even get your snazzy (marker pen) race number tattoo, meaning it was a lot easier on the morning. (although I can still see it two days later despite all the showers…). Refreshment-wise, there were a couple of freebies on registering (two packs of porridge and one gel), and some cups of Hi-Five on the run, but I was expecting a bit more, although understand being a sprint they did not need huge amounts.

Course & Scenery ***
The fact transition was in a car park made it very accessible, but was not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing starting location. Having previously run all my triathlons around Dorney Lake, it was nice to be able to see some countryside, and also to have one large loop on the bike to avoid boredom (my last Olympic involved 8 laps of the same route…). The flip side meant that particularly as I was in one of the first waves I saw very few people on the bike, but this was made up for on the run, which was a polar opposite as in parts the paths were too narrow for multiple bodies to pass, and in one place had to use my arm to dodge a low tree branch which nearly took me out altogether! I think they need to find some sort of way to take in local sights though, as given what is in this town the race could be so much more.

Atmosphere & Support **
Sorry to say, but whilst the marshals et al were friendly enough, the nature of the course did not really lend for fantastic support. There was a balcony in the pool but I would be amazed if anyone noticed whilst going all out underwater. The bike leg went well out of town, and I had expected a few interested spectators along the way, but not a single one: just a few slightly perturbed motorists at having to overtake along single carriageway country roads. To be fair it was still fairly early on a Sunday, but even a few would have been nice… As for the run, I had expected to be running through the town with crowds of supporters, or at least past the famous theatre, but it was back-o-beyond stuff through some back fields, with only a few keen family members lining the first few yards of the route.

My performance ***                      Overall time 1.37.13 placing 348th out of 536 competitors
A decent start to the season, which inside my target time of 1.40. It was also a PB, although to be fair I can’t really compare this to the previous races I have done on the MTB, so I will have to wait until the next sprint to really see how it went. Writing this a few days later I have recovered fairly well, although a bit of pain in the right hammie, which will hopefully ease off for the weekend, as I need to get back into major training ahead of the next race. More on this soon, but lets just say it is going to be a big one…

But for now, I am pleased to say – First race of the year, Stratford Triathlon, Done – Pow!

‘Tis the Season…

To misquote Vince Vaughan in Wedding Crashers – “What do you like better: Christmas or Triathlon Season? Err… Triathlon Season!”

Ok, that is not strictly true, but the point is that as things warm up, evenings get lighter and the football season draws to a close, we are now getting into Tri Season. This might seem a strange concept as technically it can be done all year round – as I am demonstrating with the Chile Challenge – but it is not the easiest sport to partake in the UK winter given our slightly unfavorable climate. Yes, there are events such as the ‘Ballbuster’ in November but to be honest they do not really waive my flag (yet) and my current view is if you are going to be enjoying the event it may as well be in reasonable conditions.

In one of my favourite films, a character called Yorgi has the line: “Most people talk a lot, but few are up for the moment”. I am fully aware that despite everything I have been writing here, I have not yet completed any races. Well that is about to change, and I am pleased to say that I have my first of the year coming up this Sunday – The Stratford Triathlon.

Stratford Tri logo

This is a first for me in that it is pool based, which given how cold open water is even in a wetsuit at the moment is nice, and I am looking forward to seeing how it pans out. In actual fact, this is supposed to the the largest pool based triathlon in the UK, and the start is sure to be interesting as rather than a mass brawl, competitors set off staggered every few seconds (my start time is 8.46.15 am!). It will also be my first go in a 33m pool which is cool, and will make me fell a bit better about being indoors for that part.

Fortunately the rest of the race will be outside, riding and running around the beautiful Warwickshire countryside and seeing some of Stratford’s iconic sights – although it is as yet unconfirmed if anyone will be doing it in full on Shakespeare get up! I am doing the longest available distance which is only a sprint, but the main thing here is getting in some practice with transitions to the new bike, in preparation for some of the bigger events I have lined up later in the year. Time-wise I am hoping for 1.30-1.40 but as I don’t know the course it depends a bit how many hills, how much traffic, etc there is, so I won’t be too competitive yet.

Funnily enough the actual time this will take will be much less than my normal Sunday training, so I have also decided to bring in (another) new rule to take into account the reduction in training leading up to a race (tapering in Tri speak) and the recovery time afterwards for the extra exertion. So from now on, and distance covered whilst racing will count double towards the Chile Challenge, starting this weekend…

So check back on Sunday (or Monday if I am too tired!) for an update on how I get on!