Record Breakers

For most of the Challenge this year I have been focusing on endurance and distance; after all the whole reason it started was for me to be able to build up enough fitness to be able to finish the Avenger earlier this year. But since completing my final race of the season earlier this month I have been adding some variation to my training, with things like Spin and Pump classes.

Now I have to say something here: I never minded doing gym classes, but always saw them as something for people who could not manage to train on their own, whether due to lack of motivation or needing to have other around them to keep going. But after the last few weeks I am willing to put my hands up faster than an Apprentice contestant trying to shift the blame for a failed task onto a teammate, and admit I may have been wrong.

Record Breakers

Whilst the classes I have been doing have been limited to 45 minutes or an hour max, the amount they manage to cram into such a short time really makes it worth it. Rather than long steady paced rides, I have been doing interval and hill based training that I can honestly say I would never have been bothered about doing to the same extent on my own. Yes, you won’t get the same endurance benefits as say a 3 or 4 hour bike ride, but the improvements in my sprinting and speed have been great, and what is great is how quickly I have been able to see the results.

As well as the normal tracking I have been doing on each individual session and distances completed year to date, I also built in a PB tracker to my Chile Challenge spreadsheet (just to clarify, some people might call this a PR or Personal Record, but over here we tend to use Personal Best). This focused on the three main triathlon events and my most regular training sessions: a 1 km swim, a 30 km bike ride, and a 10 km run. Of course I am not suggesting I will be entering Record Breakers or anything, but any semi-serious triathlete should to have an idea what sort of times they are pulling off during the season.

Now looking at the first of these, I don’t really track my swims in that much detail. This is mainly because I rarely go for an all out swim session, but tend to do it after another training session to warm down or stretch out. I also can’t compare it to my races which are either 1500m or 750m, and finally I never remember to wear my watch or check the clock beforehand. If I had to hazard a guess I would say my 1 km time would be in the region of 18 or 19 minutes (based on my 1500m time), but perhaps at some point I will get around to measuring it.

Personal Best

The two I have bothered recording (mainly as they are much easier to track using my various gadgets) are my bike and run times, both of which started the year just on the hour mark. Fortunately these have come down a bit over the year – by a bit but good for me – with my run times hitting 59 minutes in February, and 58 in May. I am currently on 57.52, but the aim is to try and get it down towards 55 mins by the next race season.

Today however was bike day. Now on the face of it, this would not have been a great time to try breaking records, having knackered myself with yesterday’s Combat / Pump combo – particularly my glutes from all those squats, which are a major part of bike riding. So this was supposed to be a recovery ride. Except this was my first pure (i.e. non-class based) ride in some time, and I found I was really getting into it. So much so that I hit the 15 km mark in 29 minutes, and realised I still had plenty in the tank – which I could only put down to those crazy interval sprints I have been moaning about over the last few weeks. So rather than slow down in the second half, which I would usually do, I pulled off a great negative split (doing the second half faster than the first) and managed to beat my all time PB by a minute – up from 57.42 in July to 56.47!

So having spent this year building up my endurance, here’s to hoping that a winter of interval training will see my speed picking up over the next six months, in time to smash my race PBs next race season. All together now “R-R-R Record Breakers”!

House of Pain

In my last blog I mentioned that whilst I was busy doing my spin / swim combo, my wife was off doing back-to-back gym classes. I  also stated that it was crazier than a lot of what I have been doing this year, knowing there was no way you would catch me dead doing step class followed by zumba. Firstly there is far too much dancing involved, and sadly I am insufficiently coordinated to get through that many steps without shattering an ankle or worse. And secondly I am a bloke, and there are no men in either of those classes, mainly for that reason.

Unfortunately like all men, I also have a Marty McFly-esque inability to say no to a physical challenge, so when my wife pointed out that today we could be doing back-to-back Body Combat and Body Step – both of which have a reasonable turnout of men in the classes, and involve either punches or weights so are not too girly – I was trapped by my own undeniable logic. If she was going to do both I kind of had to…

Combat and Pump

First up Body Combat. For those who have not come across this, it is a series of mixed martial arts routines choreographed to music (generally of the mid-90’s happy hardcore variety). It is pretty good for cardio, flexibility and general fitness, so I use it to mix up my triathlon training to help with stamina for the latter part of races. Now I have been doing this class on-and-off for the last five years, so am fairly au fait with the moves, but the thing is for that exact reason, they change the whole program every quarter with brand new moves and music tracks, to make sure you don’t get too comfortable (read: lazy).

Having been away for the last few weeks on various work related events, this was my first time doing the latest ‘release’ which came out at the beginning of October. In fairness it was not too bad, with a few new moves thrown in, but plenty of combos that were similar enough to old favourites. It so happened that this week I was the only guy in this class, so again like all men, felt I had an obligation to put that extra effort into my hits. Please don’t ask why. Anyway, despite being slightly rusty, I managed to get through the 60 minutes with no real problems, other than downing most of my (only) electrolyte drink by the end of the class.

Once we got through the final series of moves – a plank session which lasted far longer than it should have – the usual scrum happened where the Combatants tried to get out, whilst the Pumpers (?) started filing in. Straight away I saw one of the main appeals of Body Pump – just like a triathlon you use loads of kit! Having done this before my wife kindly helped me grab various barbells, dumbbells, plates, steps and mats, which were all laid out in a neat little space, which became increasingly little by the minute as more people streamed in. By the time the class started there was barely room to move, let alone lift weights.

The class started as they all do, with the leader asking who was new to it, and like a goon my hand shot up identifying me as the only noobie there, and instantly guaranteeing that my technique would be scrutinised throughout. The advice I was given was to make sure I used relatively light weights as there would be a lot of reps, but as per paragraphs two and four above, I obviously did not pay enough heed. The thing is, during the course of the last decade I spent most of my time in the gym lifting weights in a misguided effort to bulk up (I later decided I would rather go the other way), but on getting into triathlon this reduced significantly. So much so, that whilst doing the Chile Challenge during 2014, I have been so focused on training in the main three disciplines and losing weight to get faster, I have not lifted a single barbell in anger, and have lost a lot of my old strength, particularly in my upper body. So this was going to be a real challenge.

The class involves about 8 or 9 tracks, each focusing on a different part of the body – legs, biceps, shoulders, abs and so on. There is some commendable usage of the equipment, such as using the stepper as both a bench press and tricep dip station, and the weight plates for overhead tricep presses and Arnold presses. As I should have expected, there were a lot of reps for each, often very fast and in time with the music (from the same stable as combat naturally), and being a) new to the class, and b) already fairly tired from the one before, it turned out to be a killer! My squat technique in particular was singled out as needing some focus “Back Straight!” as was my overhead press. Next time I might use some slightly lighter weights to get through all of the reps without having to skip any out…

House of Pain weight

Despite these niggles, the class actually went well, but the biggest problem was the heat. This might sound strange for late-October, but with the whole gym currently undergoing a refurb, the aircon has managed to break. The combination of 20 odd people lifting lots of weights to music meant the place was quickly like a sauna, and as well as ensuring everyone felt twice as tired, it also added an element of danger to training, with sweaty palms trying to grip barbells or trying to keep balance during the heavy lifts. It also did not help that I had finished off most of my drink in the class before. I guess it will have helped with the calorie burn anyway….

Unbelievably we finished the class off with the same move as combat: planks. Except this time it involved side-planks, a relatively new one on me – but no less painful – ending up with the same trick of “hold the position until the music stops… only a few seconds more… and a bit longer…” and so on. Clearly all Les Mills instructors are taught to lie about how long is left in a track to extract the maximum pain from participants!

Either of these classes on their own would not have been too bad, but back-to-back there were few parts of the body that had not been destroyed: by the time we staggered back to the car neither my wife nor I could actually lift our arms to open the door properly for the short drive home. Would I do it again? Unquestionably! I can see some massive fitness benefits both for triathlon and in general, and whilst perhaps it won’t be every week, I can certainly see this becoming a regular combo for us.

Swimming in the Moonlight

This has been something of a sad week for the Chile Challenge, with the final race of the year on Sunday, and now the final outdoor swim of 2014 last night.

Night Swim

The evening started off well, as this was my first session since the half marathon and I was a bit unsure whether my legs had fully recovered, but they seemed to get through ok. I thought I would give the Friday RPM spin class another go (see blog from 2 weeks ago) and discovered the regular trainer was not in this week. For a brief moment I had an image of her being carted off in cuffs to Arkham Asylum for battering a student who dared step off the pace during one of her interval sprints, but it turned out she was just on holiday. Allegedly.

To be fair the covering trainer was not much better, in that although she was a lot more smiley, she still took us through a full on interval session involving plenty of pain. Clearly there is a certain type of person who becomes a spin trainer. I suspect they are all descended from the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket…

R Lee Ermey

Anyway, suitably ground down I decided to have a nice relaxing swim to cool down. The outdoor pool is probably the best thing about my gym, so I was pretty happy when I got to the door just as the lifeguard was about to close up at 7pm, and he agreed to keep it open a bit longer for me. Result.

The pool looked great – it was properly dark outside by then and with just a few lights on, the shimmering light reminded me of the opening scene of Jaws. Except it was a pool. With no sharks. And I was fully clothed – or at least in my trunks but you get what I mean. Basically it was very dark. In fact as I only had my tinted goggles with me it was near pitch black, which only added to the atmosphere.

Swimming Dark

NB. It did not actually look like this picture, but there seem to be a lot of  fairly inappropriate results when you search for images of late night swimming on Google… Or is it just me?

As I swam it made me think of my favourite Thin Lizzy song, except I kept changing it to ‘Swimming in the Moonlight’ in my head. To be fair it was less ‘long hot summer night’ as ‘ice cold autumn night’ but I still loved it. I had the whole pool to myself, and it was almost totally silent and very relaxing, with just the underwater lights shimmering around me. I feel I should be more poetic here, but unfortunately that is not really my strong point. Maybe I should have opted for Nightswimming my REM.

The water was really warm, and this was even more noticeable in the cold night air to the extent that there was a lot of visible moisture evaporating off the water, looking like a low cloud around me. It was so thick it was actually quite difficult to breathe at points! My wife, who is a science teacher, could probably explain this much better than I could in terms of the volume of H2O vapour I was taking in relative to O2 in the air, but she was busy doing back to back step classes inside, which in my mind is even crazier than a lot of the things I have donethis year. Yes, I am pleased to say I have managed to convert her to be addicted to training as well, so another win for the Chile Challenge!

With the clocks going back tonight, the outdoor pool will be closing now until Easter, which is a real shame as I will always swim outside where I can rather than indoors. So this will unfortunately turn out to be my final open air swim of the year – but what a way to go out!



Race Report: Great Birmingham Run – 19/10/14

Sunday had something of a bittersweet feeling, as it was not just my final race of 2014, but the culmination of a hell of a year.

Bupa Great Bham Run

This was my second consecutive Great Birmingham Run, which unlike most of the others I have completed this year meant I actually knew what to expect for most of the course, and it did help out a lot. In particular the dreaded hill section (around miles 10-12) which although it still hurt a lot, I was more prepared this time around to conquer it.

The Build Up

I spend the day before getting into the zone by watching back-to-back Dark Knight movies: something about the music really helps me psyche up, and I took this all the way through by listening to the soundtrack on the way to the race (the Hans Zimmer one rather than Prince!) and watching Gotham afterwards! In fact I actually ran most of the course alongside a guy dressed as Batman, accompanied as always by Robin, Bananaman and … er Luigi!

Things started well in the build up area when I spotted a Soreen van with samples of my favourite malt loaf. Much to the embarrassment of my long-suffering wife who had kindly come along to be my supporter/driver/ photographer/kit carrier, I then attempted to fill my bag with as many free samples as I could to ensure I won’t need to worry about my mid-morning work snack for the rest of the month. I even got a photo outside it, although implore you not to stop reading just because of this. I will be writing more about my take on sports nutrition soon, but all I will say for now is this is about as good as you can get during longer distance races.

After a week of not being able to train outside due to rain, and with Hurricane Gonzalo due to reach us just days later, I don’t think anyone had expected it to be sunny. I hold my hands up here in that is was probably my fault – most of the races I have had this year have ended up being much hotter than planned, so I guess the sun just has it in for me. Obviously I had not brought sunglasses or cream, so another unintentional Monday morning red face was inevitable. Still, it was better than it raining.

Batman RunningBham Run Soreen

The Start

As usual there was a great atmosphere around the course, and it was great to see that the official starters were two of my local heroes – Triathlete Jodie Stimpson (see Commonwealth Games blog from July) and Warwickshire batsman Ian Bell – both of whom looked even smaller in real life than on TV.

There are so many people in this race that you are split into separate left and right sides, with a staggered start. Unfortunately I ended up on the left which meant having to wait an extra 10 minutes or so before I could get away, so I had a lot of hopping about on the spot to keep warm. Ahh, that brings us to the group warm up – Something we seem to escape in triathlons, presumably on the basis most people are well prepared for their race, or possibly the fact you start in the water – But I digress. Those who have done similar events may be familiar, a Mr Motivator type guy  gets hoisted up in front of the crowd with a banging soundtrack and goes through a series of stretches, squats and general lunacy, to make sure everyone is ready. It is a bit of fun, but I was fairly capable myself, and as mentioned it was another half hour before I actually got to cross the start line.

Now the important bit – The whole race was televised live on Channel 5, and whilst most of the focus was on the elites at the front there were a few clips of us real racers, and having Sky+ the whole thing I did what everyone does in such situations and watched it back later to see if I could spot myself. Amazingly I was in the only clip they showed of my wave starting, with real pictorial evidence below (I am circled bottom left). Now I am not quite going to suggest it is going to get me VIP entry anywhere soon, or even time to apply for Celebrity Big Brother (although it probably would qualify me). That said, autographs will be available on request.

Bham Run C5

The Race

Looking back at my last blog, I had banged on about how much I liked my GPS watch. Obviously this was an ideal time to be using it, helping me work out how fast I was going to pace myself, and more importantly how much further I had to keep struggling on for! Unfortunately this was the one time it managed to let me down: I had expected it to take a while to lock onto satellites, being surrounded by fairly tall buildings and not to mention thousands of others trying to do the same, so I switched on about 15 minutes before the start, but it just would not connect. Even as I crossed the line I still had no luck, and in the end it took another quarter of an hour before it finally worked out where I was. This meant that I had already clocked up 3km: far faster than planned and using up more energy to boot, as well as giving me a bit of mental arithmetic to do working out where I really was. It also messed up the pretty map I have shown below, as I managed to teleport halfway across town from the start line!

Birmingham Run Map

As well as my superhero chums there were plenty of other costumed wonders in this race such as Wolverine & Spider-Man, and even one guy who had a caged gorilla suit like the one in Trading Places, but the headliners in Brum are always the Wolverhampton Jamaican Bobsled team who do this every year in full costume. They start in the first wave and I guess the early downhill plays into their hands, but I assume Sanka is on brakes and slowing them down, as I caught them up around the same time my GPS found me. Fair play for the commitment though, as I would not have wanted to wear this get up in Sunday’s weather.

Birmingham Jamaica

I suppose I should say a few words about my own performance in the race. It is a road course, and it is hard to get too lost or really do anything unusual. The biggest difference between a running race and triathlon is you are allowed music and headphones which is great for motivation (power song was Noots by Sum 41), but as just about everyone else has them you don’t get quite as much interaction / banter as in a tri. On the other hand, with 20,000 participants you are a lot more squashed together so at least this is not quite as lonely (as say the Avenger when I spent nearly an hour without seeing anyone).

A word needs to be said about the support for this event though, as it is fantastic. The race goes through a lot of residential areas, and there were tens of thousands of people out and about, cheering us on, and even offering drinks and sweets to keep people going. It really is the best part of this race, was enough on its own for me to have done it again this year.

And the hill. As mentioned it is the one part of the course everyone talks and worries about. The TV commentary describes this as one of the toughest half-marathons on the calendar, which is a surprise as you would not have thought of Birmingham as being particularly undulating. There is a small hill just after the 3 mile mark, which this year caused me no trouble, and if the main hill came then it would probably be ok. But it comes after 1o miles, waiting until your legs are already well and truly shattered before rearing its long neck and finishing you off. But this year I was prepared, or so I thought.

There is a golden rule in racing that you should not try anything for the first time in the race, be it clothing or nutrition. I always adhere to this, and in a triathlon earlier this year I received a new energy gel in the goodie pack, which looked perfect for this race: a Gu Double Espresso gel. A small pack, it had a fair bit of caffeine in it and looked just right to help me up the last section. Having consumed well over a hundred different gels this year I did not expect it to be any different, so downed it at the bottom of the hill – how bad could it be? Turns out very. It had the consistency of an actual chocolate fudge cake, which sounds great, but with an already dry mouth having finished my water bottle a mile or so earlier, it immediately filled my whole mouth and refused to move. As my nose had blocked itself up I therefore could not breathe: not the best position to be in at this point. Somehow I eventually managed to gulp it down and fortunately there was water available at the top, but there is a definite lesson to be learned here…

The Finish – 2.08.40

As with the start, the finish of this race is always fantastic. You run the final mile all the way down Broad Street, lined by tens of thousands of supporters who make a huge noise, while the Chariots of Fire some plays on speakers. I took out my headphones to take it in properly, as it was being drowned out by all the shouts anyway – I presume a few were for other racers too, but they probably just had not managed to watch back the Channel 5 footage of me yet…

I managed to get in a proper sprint finish for the last 200m, which ensured I was able to dramatically collapse into the barriers immediately after crossing the line, but I am sure only a few hundred people saw me so I probably got away with it. And that was it – my final race of 2014 completed, three minutes faster than my previous time- and leaving just a few short months of training to complete the remainder of the Chile Challenge. That is assuming my legs ever recover, as two days later I am so stiff I still can’t climb up the stairs properly…!

Bham Run Finish Bham Run J&A

Kitting Out Part Three – The Run

There are three main reasons why running is my least favourite element of a triathlon: Firstly it is by far my weakest discipline, which means I have to work hardest to get through it; Secondly it comes at the end of a race so you are inevitably knackered by the time you come to it, creating permanent associations with painfully dragging my ailing carcass around the course; and Finally because it usually does not involve as much kit as the other stages!

This might seem a strange reason to give, and blah blah the sport needs to be accessible and so on, but the fact is that every triathlete I have met at any level loves the equipment triathlon involves. I have already posted on the swim and cycle legs earlier this year, and have a whole shed-load of stuff that I need to lug into transition and squeeze into for the swim and carefully lay out for bike transition, and I love all that.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am not saying it has to be expensive, and that is where a lot of people go wrong by just buying the top brands for everything. As much of the fun is the research you put into finding the best equipment for you by reading press, checking online and visiting stores, whilst trying to track down be best possible prices. By nature of my job I am one of the most cost conscious people you will ever meet, and you would be amazed at how a few pounds saved can make all the difference on even the largest purchase.

But running is a bit different, as it really can be done with minimal kit. Pair of trainers – check. Enough clothing to cover your body so you are not disqualified for indecency – check. You are ready to race! Technically. Of course in reality there is more than that available, and my own personal running kit list is as follows…

Running Shoes – I have three pairs to cover most eventualities, and have tracked down the (clean) photos so you can get excited over them too:

Saucony omni progrid 10saucony progrid trail

  • Tri – Decathlon Kalenji something or others – These were the first pair I bought and I did not pay too much attention in the shop, but fortunately they have worked out really well. They are ultra-lightweight with a velcro strap to slap on quickly, and I now save them for sprint races or below (5 km or less) where the time they save in putting on outweigh the lack of cushioning on offer.
  • Road – Saucony Progrid Omni 10 – The longest name and the first proper pair I have bought, specifically for the Birmingham half last year. I decided to go through the treadmill gait tests and so on in a decent running shop and this was the best of the recommendations. To be fair they are decent, my arches seem to be supported and I do not get ankle pain (other than what I would normally expect from a run). They were not cheap, although under £100 is actually reasonable for a pair like this, but I suspect I will have to replace them again next year when they wear out with all the miles I have been clocking up during the Chile Challenge.
  • Trail – Saucony Progrid – When I realised the Avenger involved a cross-country half marathon this year I realised I would need some proper footwear for it, so given the success I had with the road version I ordered these online from the same range. Again, they have worked out pretty well so I can’t complain, although to be fair I don’t really have a lot to compare these to.

Other Running Stuff:

Garmin 410compresssportteam america

  • Clothing – As mentioned the other necessary element is of course your clothing, and things like proper running socks can not be underestimated. I am not really brand influenced in this part, preferring price and comfort to choose my shorts and tops, but have to put in a quick plug for Tribesports, who seem to be a fairly new company (I promise I have no connection to them and no money is changing hands for this!) but I have bought some of their stuff this year and it seems really good quality – plus it is usually my favourite black & gold which is the colour of my old school rugby team, Cornish rugby kit, and of course my current bike – so winning all round.
  • GPS – Garmin Forerunner 410 – It now seems compulsory to have some sort of computerised device to wear for training, and I am actually going to stand behind this one. Yes, it may not be as necessary as say a dive computer, which has important life saving features on it, but it has made a massive difference to my training. Arguably you could just have a timer on your watch to work out how long you have been running for, but the feedback this has given me in the last few years when I have trained all over the UK, in terms of average speeds, distances, climbs, routes, and so on has been invaluable. I am going to write more on this in another post, but personally this is may favourite piece of running kit.
  • Calf Guards – Compresport – These are the long sock type things above, that basically help bloodflow through your legs to reduce cramp, aches, and so on. To be fair, I use these during and after training rather than racing (I am not really a fan of the look) but they are useful as anything that gets me back up and on the go more quickly is ok by me.
  • Cap, Sunglasses, Race Belt – There are various other necessary bits and pieces that help out but do not actually make me any quicker. The sweat-proof cap was a lifesaver on the Avenger when I would otherwise have burned to a crisp in the sun, whilst my ‘Team America’ yellow tinted glasses help me spot potential rabbit warrens and trip hazards to avoid. A race belt might seem small, but the time saved in putting on your number this way rather than using the old safety pin trick (not to mention the comfort) is worth the few quid they cost.

And that is pretty much it for my run kit. As mentioned I do like my gadgets, so keep an eye out soon for a bit more on the Garmin plus the other bits I use in a vague effort to improve my performance!

Cabin Fever

This week, I have spent my entire time in a hotel: Whilst this might sound glamorous to some, this was a bit more Alan Partridge or the Faulty Towers Major than a summer break in San Tropez…

linton travel

To clarify, I have not (just) been hanging around a hotel all day for no reason like some sort of nutter, but have had a work training week with about 20 others in Cheshire. This is my second course this year after a similar week in London in January (sadly before I started this blog so not previously covered) and the main similarity – aside from the obvious workplace benefits, for those of you reading from my office of course – was how much training I could fit in during any downtime.

This might sound like a serious logistical task, but it turned out to require near military precision as the course ran from 8am to 6pm, with an evening meal following from 7pm until late. So aside from the propensity for cabin fever in spending this much time in a confined space with so few people, it meant my only chance of training was setting the alarm for the crack of dawn, with only a narrow window later on.

But like a true triathlete, the sleep sacrifice was made and I managed to get in seven sessions in the space of just five days, which involved four 6am swims in the narrowest pool I have ever used, and three late-afternoon sessions in the (surprisingly well equipped) gym, getting in a few intervals on the bike and treadmill. None of the stints were long by my usual standards – less than an hour each – and of course I would rather it had not been raining all the time so I could have trained outside, but this was a case of needs must, and it actually went very well!

doubletree pooldoubletree treadmills

This was by no means the first time this year that I have unintentionally managed to convince a bunch of work colleagues I am off my head doing this, but the funny thing is – despite the early mornings and intense sprint sessions – I really think it helps me work better. Early lengths in the pool help me wake up and stay alert for the day, whilst afternoon sprints on the machines gave me a chance to clear my head and run through the day’s events. Maybe it is not everyone’s bag, but it certainly does it for me.

More importantly for the Chile Challenge, this meant I not only got a few more miles under my belt, but managed to not injury myself before the next race by doing something crazy like football slide tackles, jungle training or generally getting hammered – see earlier posts for more on these…

alan big platePartridge Shorts

As for the Alan reference earlier, I was on best behaviour with my kit, making sure there were no incidents with perished lining on my running shorts, and no big plate at the breakfast buffet. In fact my only real Partridge worthy incident came on the second to last afternoon, where I tried to clean my boots in the hotel room bath and somehow managed to jam the plug shut, quickly filling the tub with six inches of dark muddy water. Panicking, I tried to lever it open, but somehow a stone had wedged underneath and it would not budge. After a good 10 minutes, having had visions of having to come clean to the receptionist to get maintenance to help me out (which I cannot imagine would have gone down well) I finally managed to lever it open using one of the free shampoo miniatures in the room. At least I did not have to resort to a mini-bar!

As for cabin fever, well anyone overhearing our random conversations on our final evening (ranging from how you could run a penguin farm in the UK, how to draw a Belgian Blue Bull, and what politicians our fellow course-mates resembled, alongside miscellaneous other topics which cannot be mentioned here) might go someway to answering that question. I am sure it was no coincidence that was the only afternoon I did not get in any training! So the moral of the story is when spending time away from home do as much exercising as possible to avoid going crazy, and be careful when washing outdoor clothing in the bath…

House of Pain

spin class

I was originally going to tack this onto the end of my football post, but as a special treat for my dozen or so readers this is now a whole extra post! Lucky you…

We pick things up the day after the match, with a fairly civilised breakfast – no Fear & Loathing style hotel room behaviour here. At this point it was mainly flesh wounds – cuts, scrapes, lost limbs, etc – rather than the deeper muscle aches which usually takes 24 hours to kick in. Easy street.

Having endured a morning’s light abuse whilst working from our Manchester office, and getting through a fairly knackering three hour drive home down the M6, I thought I would relax by heading to the gym with my wife for a nice gentle session on the stationary bike, with a bit of time for stretching and warming down in the pool. Or that was the plan…

Realising I had not been on the regular indoor bikes since before the summer, things just did not quite feel right and I could not get the settings I liked or comfortable with the pedals. The next thing I knew I was being tractor-beamed into an RPM Cycle class next door, like some sort of unsuspecting fly sleepwalking into a spider’s web, my brain far to tired to tell my dumb-ass body to get out. This was a new class for me, but having been to plenty of others this year how much tougher could it be?

Turns out a lot. The trainer turned out to have been sent from the planet Mean, to punish us all for our previous life sins: her first words into the microphone were along the lines of “You guys are going to pay for this so much tomorrow” followed by a maniacal laugh like Ozzy’s at the beginning of Crazy Train. Bearing in mind this was the first thing I had ever heard this woman utter I assumed it was just banter, but the rest of the blokes in the room looked slightly terrified, and it turned out she really was crazy.

As there were new releases due for the class this weekend, she put on what she described as a selection of her ‘favourite’ (read: painful) tracks. One involved an eight minute ‘endurance interval sprint’, a phrase which seemed to be something of a dichotomy given that sprints are supposed to involve short intense bursts and the other long steady pedals. It turned out you could do this, any yes, I did pay for it the next day…

During the sprints and steeper climbs the instructor kept doing these intense stares, fixing eye contact in a way that meant you did not dare turn away or slow down in case she came over and gave you an ass kicking. And these stretches seemed to last far longer than normal songs. By the time the hour was up I literally had to hobble away from the bike.

By the way, from the way I have written this you might assume it was awful. Au contraire mon frere: As someone spending most of this year doing a 4000 km virtual race across half a continent I absolutely loved it, and despite the pain I will undoubtedly feel tomorrow morning, I am sure I will be back again for more punishment next week!

The Rematch of the Century

Rocky 2 poster

In what may well turn out to be the most misguided attempt at pre-race tapering so far devised, this week brought the ‘eagerly’ awaited five-aside football rematch between our Birmingham & Manchester offices. After months of anticipation, trash talking, injury feigning and general diva behaviour, the opportunity to avenge a collapse not witnessed since our last Ashes tour down under – turning a five one half-time lead into a six five loss – was not to be missed.

Perhaps it would not have been so bad for me if the timing were not so familiar – back in June our match was in the week leading up to my half-iron distance race, leading to what could have been near permanent injuries as I hobbled up hills on the run course. And now this, less than 10 days before the Birmingham half marathon and a similar feeling of regret in my hamstrings, even more so as after my home run last week I managed to pick up a dose of man-flu, which meant despite a year of training I was hardly in peak condition…

With a pool of up to 20 potential players, surely we could manage a bigger turn our this time than just six per side, which last time gave only minimal chance of rest using rolling subs. As recently as last week there was a rumour we were looking at closer to eight on each team, which would have presented ample feet up time.

Power league

In the end with all to familiar style the numbers started dropping like flies, with excuses varying from family illness (acceptable) to lost toenails (I will leave you to draw your own conclusions) and it will shock no-one to find out we were back to six-aside on the day, guaranteeing at least 45 minutes playing time for each victim.

As for the match itself, it was a case of the less said the better: or different venue, same result. Despite the fact we mixed the teams up a bit, things were not quite even, and after a fairly tight first half (around 3-2 behind) we fell away in the final quarter to something horrendous like 8-3. Were it not for the fact that our best player – a former professional goalkeeper – was able to put in a man-of-the-match performance, we could well have been looking at a score worse than the aforementioned Ashes tournament. My own contribution involved mainly running around and chasing the ball, with little real success. The fitness definitely helped, but if I am honest it was more a case of making up the numbers.

But most importantly we had fun, and unlike last time the Wolverine captain of the opposition failed to cause any permanent damage to either team (despite attempts to play like box lacrosse) and the lessons learned from the last game resulted in a few less slide tackles and astro-burns than before. Like all good matches the post-race nutrition involved curry, beers & whiskey, and plenty of talk of what happen next time around. Knowing my luck it will probably turn out to be in the week before Ironman 70.3…

Man vs Train

If you think this is a bit of a cheesy title for today’s blog, you may have got off lightly. The problem with long distance training is you have far too much time to think when you are on the move for hours with only your headphones company, and as a result I had plenty of equally bad ideas flowing around my head whilst trying out my latest stupid idea on Friday, which included ‘Hitting a Home Run’, ‘(C)analyse This’ and ‘Down & Out Birmingham’.

This was actually an idea I had way back in January when I first began the Chile Challenge and started my current job in the city centre. Quickly realising that I was going to get bored with a 14 mile drive through rush hour traffic if I did it every day, I wondered what other ways I could get to work. Of course cycling is the obvious choice, but the main issues are getting to the office looking even more disheveled than usual (not to mention the sweat) plus the fact that central Birmingham is a terrible place to ride in general, with very few cycle paths and a few too many psychopaths (sorry about that one too)!

Man vs Train

Partly inspired by that crazy guy on You Tube recently who raced a tube train on foot between two London Underground stations (and won!) the idea I came up with was to get the train in first thing, then to run back in the afternoon and see how it compared. Simple. I originally wanted to do this before my half-iron triathlon in June, but like all the best plans never got around to it for various reasons. Then the other day I realised that with the Birmingham half marathon just two weeks away, if I was going to do it any time it would have to be now, and Friday made for the perfect storm: Far better than expected weather for this time of year; roadworks on my normal route into town grinding traffic to a halt all week; a reasonable level of running fitness to actually survive the route without keeling over; and most importantly a casual day at work.

Run in suit

The last of these nearly scuppered things just 24 hours before, when someone mentioned that because one of the head sheds was coming up from London we might have to turn up suited and booted on the day, but fortunately their meeting was off-site, so all seemed ok. Even so, I reasoned I could not turn up in full running regalia (it might be distracting for my colleagues…) but luckily I realised my trail shoes are actually quite smart, and combined with trousers and a plan running top meant it was a simple matter of changing into my running shorts at the end of the day. The final touches were swapping my normal work bag for a trail rucksack, and smart watch for Garmin GPS and I was ready to go!

Having scoped out the route the day before, I decided the best thing to do would be to park & ride from Longbridge. This was the first time I have commuted this way since 2007 and two things struck me: the carriages were much quieter than I remember (maybe I got an earlier train) and the fare was about twice as much as it used to be! Getting in was easy, particularly avoiding the roadworks on my usual route, and I probably took 15 minutes off my usual journey, although I am not quite sure I could get used to this yet…

Bham Canal 4

The return plan was basically to mirror the route back, running along the canal path adjacent to the train tracks as far as I could go. Things did not get off to the best start as there is no entrance to the canal at the nearest station, so I had to run nearly a mile in the wrong direction to get to the Mailbox stop, but it was worth it: The canal looked great in the late afternoon sun, with almost no one around, and I did not even see any shopping trolleys in it – although there was plenty of other stuff in there!

Bham Canal 1

Once I hit the path time started to speed up, and a mile so later I passed my old university flat. It made me realise that 14 years ago today I would have been on freshers week there, and walking this route on a daily basis. Despite it being so long ago, little had changed on the canal, although a lot for me. For a start, back then I was two stone heavier and would not have been able to run even a mile of the route if you paid me. For second, in the days before iPhones even existed, the last time I came this way I would have been listening to my cassette Walkman (ask your parents kids). How times have change, as they say.

Bham Canal 2

Once past the uni I kept going as far as Cadbury World, and then had to leave the canal behind in favour of a more urban route. This meant rather than a simple straight path, I actually had to do a bit of navigation, which never really goes to plan. Although I had an idea which general direction I needed to go, as usual I took one too many back roads leading to dead ends whilst looking for shortcuts. This took me to parts of Brum I did not know existed and probably won’t go back to in a hurry either, and by now the impact of a whole day at work before setting off was starting to kick in.

Bham Canal 3

But then, after hobbling out of yet another anonymous side-street thinking by now I must now be well and truly lost (and with no 3G to check Google Maps) I saw a beacon: Like the Autobot matrix come to light my darkest hour, the unmistakably huge Longbridge Job Centre was just 500 yards away, and with it the car park just one more mile away. This gave me enough of a boost to really run the last part of the route, and before I knew it I was at the finish (or well, the start)!

Bham Longbridge

So how did it go? Well unfortunately I did not actually beat the train, being unable to maintain the required 70 mph for a particularly long time (more like 7 mph!), but I did do 10 miles in 1 hour 45 mins, which realistically was a bit further than needed due to longer start and numerous deviations, stops to refuel, change music, take the odd picture and check the map on my phone. That said, I was great practice for the next race, and you never know, I might have another go before Ironman 70.3 next year.

September Round Up: 421 km

Back on it! After a quiet August, having spent most of it abroad, September turned out to not just be a return to serious training, but one of the best months of the year.

Anto Map

The best part for me is that this has also been the most evenly spread month so far, with a good split between the various triathlon disciplines. As well as completing the Eton Dorney Olympic distance race (in a new personal best time) I did 195 km on the bike, 45 km swimming and amazingly 131 km on foot – which even with the inflators I mentioned in a previous post is far more than I have ever done.

The main driver for this has been the switch in training for triathlons to gearing up for the Birmingham Half Marathon, and as much as I hate to say it I am enjoying the worlds oldest sport (possibly, I just guessed there but what else could it be?). It has helped that September turned out to be the warmest / driest / sunniest ever, which has meant it has been much more fun running around town than sweating away in the gym – plenty of time for that to come as winter draws in…

In terms of year to date distance I am now over 3300 km, so well past three-quarters of the way through the challenge: at this rate I might even have a Christmas break…

Anto 1

In respect of Chile, the long desert trail leads through the mountains, with long hours on empty roads and banking hot sun. The lack of people and artificial light makes for an amazingly clear sky, and I was fortunate enough to pass by Cerro Paranal, formerly the world’s largest telescope array, and more famously as the spectacular setting for the showdown in Quantum of Solace Less fortunately I was not actually allowed in, as apparently you have to be a real scientist (or Bond), but I did get to spend some time with a real life Zorro – or desert fox – who was surprisingly friendly and posed for plenty of pictures.

PaneralBond PaneralZorro

By the end of the month I had reached the port city of Antofagasta, which whilst not exactly number one on most people’s tourist trail, is my kind of place: an industrial town built on a mining and fishing heritage, just like much of Cornwall over here. Yes, it may not be the prettiest setting – although La Portada monument is fantastic natural wonder – but there is loads to see and few tourists. There is a great walk along the waterside, starting off with the Lobos Marinos (sea wolves) by the harbour, and taking you past the only Rugby Club I have seen in Chile – and any rugby town is a good one by me!

Anto PortadaSea Lobo