November Round Up: 367 km

The penultimate month of the Chile Challenge has ended with two amazing coincidences, which I can honestly say were not planned, and in fact I only realised one of them as I sat down to write this.

Firstly, those with hawk eyes may notice that this month’s distance is exactly the same as October’s. And I mean exactly the same at 367 km or 103.1% of my monthly target. This was the one I only just realised when checking my spreadsheet, although to be fair it is split slightly differently, with slightly less on the swim and run side and more on the bike. But nonetheless the end result is the same, which says a lot about the consistency now being achieved, which should serve me well next year when I can finally stop tracking every mile I complete!

The second fact is that this puts me on 4050 km for the year, out of a total distance of 4270 km. Magically this leaves exactly 220 km remaining, which those of you into triathlon will know is something of a special number for us: the distance of an Ironman triathlon! Again this was totally unplanned, and it was only on Friday afternoon as I put in my final spin class of the month that I realised this was going to be my December target.

Fortunately I won’t actually be attempting an Ironman (yet) as exciting as a way to finish the year it would be, it would also probably see me laid up well into the new year! But as with the rest of the year, I will be working hard to hit it, preferably before the festivities start  – I am pretty sure my body would not thank me for attempting a 10 mile run straight after Christmas dinner…

Iquique sign

As for Chile, I am now so close to the border the migras are going to be after me. In relative terms, I am just north of the city of Iquique, however as I have no interesting photos of that part of the world I will talk about the places I have passed through since laving San Pedro: Calama & Chuquicamata.

Now this is proper mining territory – home to the largest open cast copper mine in the world – the backbone of the Chilean economy. From a tourism point of view this is probably the Chilean equivalent of Birmingham, perhaps not the first place on your list or guidebook, but well worth the visit if you get the chance.

The story behind Chuqui is somewhat sad: a community established specifically to work on in mines, which subsequently saw the population vacated as the mine grew, partly for health reasons and simply to allow more room to dig. This has turned the area into a ghost town, truly as spooky as it sounds, with everything preserved almost exactly as it was the day the last people left, with schools, shops and even what remains of the hospital (after much of it was covered by a landslide) simply empty shells.  A visit to the mine is truly awesome, and words simply cannot describe the scale of the place, and the giant dozers used to ferry the copper from the depths to the surface, looking like ants from the other side of the crater.

Chuqui 1Chuqui mine

The city of Calama is much the same, a huge place in the middle of the desert with lots of sand. But the people are great, and the streets (or statues) paved with copper, including this statue which sums up the area in every way. If you are lucky your visit may coincide with one of the festivals, and you might catch a glimpse of possibly the coolest cowboy we saw on our whole trip, in the red shirt below.

Chuqui statuecalama dance

Any yes, as I have been doing all year, I put the needs of the challenge ahead of my own, and managed to have one of the coldest swims I have ever experienced… It turns out that despite being in the middle of the desert, north of the tropic of Capricorn, leaving an open pool uncovered at night in the middle of winter does not make it any warmer. The staff as probably still talking about the crazy gringo who thought it would be a good idea to take a dip in August! Still it has all been worth it, with just one final stretch left to get across the line.

Calama swim

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Winter Training

I have to be honest, until now I have been a bit of a pussy about winter training.

It has not always been this way. When I was growing up my favourite sport was rugby, which has a season running from September to April, inevitably meaning training and matches took place on freezing, dark winter evenings (nothing stops a rugby match). I remember plenty of sessions taking place in the snow, where coaches would berate anyone soft enough to wear tracky bottoms. Maybe it was the camaraderie of a team sport that allows you to ignore any sense of cold, or perhaps the adrenaline of full contact, who knows.

Snow rugby

But fast forward a decade or so, and I started triathlon training, centred largely in the last few years around races in September & October which involve most of their preparation over the Summer. As a result I seem to have stopped any outdoor work between around November & February, and I have realised now what a huge mistake this has been.

Due to the fact I have set myself a ridiculous challenge which involves covering over 4000 km during 2014, I have to keep training this year to ensure I hit my target – another 250 km still to go before Christmas. Yes, I can knock it off with some long bike sessions, but I still want there to be variety, and having kept things up since the half marathon I am trying to get in a decent run on a regular basis.

Last week I mentioned I did my own duathlon, but things were somewhat different as it was reasonably warm. But in the last few days winter has properly kicked in, with sub-zero mornings necessitating a full defrosting of the motor, and judging by the scenes from New York worse is still to come.

Winter cycling

I decided today was time to man-up, so ignoring the icicles trying to block to door, and leaving behind my water bottle which would no doubt solidify within minutes, I gave it a whirl with a 7 km effort.

As an aside, I was wondering at what point in a triathlete’s career do you reach the point when you will not get out of bed for less than 5 km? I can’t remember, but anything less than this just does not seem worth the effort of getting ready. To be honest it is edging towards 10 km, and I am wondering if I will reach that point before I reach the one where I simply can’t get out of bed…!

I digress. The run turned out to be amazing. My watch told me I hit the first km in just over 4.5 minutes, pretty much unheard of for me, and I found I could just keep going. It must have been the cold air keeping my engine from overheating, as the second km was just over 5 minutes, and the first 5 km in 27.25 – a new PB! Even the last kilometer (entirely uphill) was under 6 minutes, my normal target pace in a race. I did have to add a hat, gloves and long sleeved top, but at least managed to keep to my normal shorts, and to be fair once I got going I could easily have done without the extras.

At around the halfway point I had to get a photo to prove I had done it, and realised I was not too far from a Rocky IV look. Yes, it wasn’t actually snowing, and I was not being chased by guys with binoculars (that I know of) and yes, I need to go a bit more on the facial hair but you get the idea. I will make sure when it does inevitably snow I dust off the grey tracksuit and find some steps to practice on.

Winter Training seriousRock4 beard

Serious faces, separated as birth (by about 30 years). Next year I am definitely going for the full beard.

I have to finish off by saying that whilst I am now converted to cold weather exercise, I am not a fan of training in the rain. I just does not work for me at the moment, but let’s see what happens in the next 12 months…

Swim Rage

I have a reputation at work for being a pretty calm person, to the extent that I am often told it can come across as too laid back and should be careful people do not mistake it for laziness. I am pretty sure I have always been like this, and think it probably comes from playing a lot of sport when growing up, being able to burn off all my excess energy on the pitch.

When I was at uni I really got into swimming, and particularly having paid good beer money to join the campus pool felt I needed to get my monies worth so ended up going a good few times a week. I have tried to keep it up ever since as I find lapping up & down a pool is by far the best way to relax: head ducking under the water to drown out ambient noise; tinted goggles creating tunnel vision by blocking out peripheral distractions; and regular controlled breathing lending itself to a meditative state. It also gives plenty of time to clear out any anger, a resistance free way of punching through the water to emerge (hopefully) stress free.

Lane Rage

Unfortunately though, it does not always work out that way. One of the reasons I love swimming so much when the outdoor pool at my gym is open, is besides the fantastic feeling of being outside, it means there is almost twice as much space to accommodate all the members. Even if the open air side is packed, you can usually switch to the covered pool and have it almost to yourself. But at this time of year I should be so lucky. And with a lot of people crammed in together, the stress busting benefits are somewhat reduced, and you sometimes find yourself in new territory: Lane Rage. Allow me to explain…

Hulk

The thing about this is whatever your attitude to swimming is, pretty much everyone reading this will have experienced their own version in the pool at some point. The main reason is that there are so many different types of swimmers and most pools simply do not have room to accommodate them. As someone who spent 4 years as a lifeguard in my youth I have spent plenty of time watching swimmers over the years, and am therefore going to categorise (i.e. wildly stereotype) some of these, which like politicians each have their own unique way of annoying me:

  • Old Dears – Found at almost every pool during the daytime, these painfully drag out their breaststroke, usually side by side chatting. They will be in the water for ages taking up a whole lane, and afterwards boast about the fact they swim for an hour, despite only completing a dozen lengths at best. Although they seem harmless, the pile ups they cause in other lanes mean they are often indirectly culpable for much of the stress others feel in the rest of the pool.
  • Hyper Teenagers – Another group of regulars, these play with their oversized floats & footballs, ignore the lane ropes and end up drifting in and out of the lane section whilst their parents ignore them from the Jacuzzi. These used to be a nightmare when lifeguarding, and are equally bad when in the water. I know this sounds very grumpy old men, but there you go.
  • Amateur Swim Coaches – Inevitably when I try to get in a quick dip after work the slow lane is occupied with a kid’s swimming lesson. This is absolutely fine as they keep themselves to themselves. What does get me though it parents who are too mean to pay for the lessons but try and copy the coaches in teaching their own little ones to swim, usually whilst the lesson is actually going on in the adjacent lane, therefore just crowding out everyone else. This summer I saw the most extreme example one evening, with one poor kid being belated by his Dad for not trying hard enough, whilst having to work his way through every bit of training equipment imaginable, including fins and a snorkel.
  • Middle Laners – My pool is split into three lanes: Slow, Medium & Fast, and the average user seems incapable of understanding where they sit in this trinity. I read something once about our tendencies to categorise ourselves in many things – politics, intelligence, etc – as average, on the basis that as there are always some people a bit slower and some a bit quicker, then we must be somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately this mindset does not work well in the pool, as it ensures the middle lane is inevitably overcrowded with people kicking each other as they are unable to comprehend why others are travelling at a different pace.
  • Wannabe Olympians – Usually guys between 35-50 who honestly believe they can do butterfly, but look more like they are participating in an epic battle between a hungry hippo & angry croc. They take up an entire lane, splash everyone and make next to no progress, coming up wheezing on the far side with some sort of delusion it is worth thrashing their way back down again.
  • Speed Demons – Onto the route cause of today’s blog, having encountered one this very afternoon. It is great that you are a quick swimmer, but some consideration for others would be nice. Easily spotted from a distance as (usually) men with Speedos and swim caps (despite being bald and in a warm pool). Even with my own lane rage I always try to be aware of others (once a lifeguard…) but these are people who look to mow you down like you are competing for position in an Ironman. Perhaps they are so focused on themselves they don’t get lane rage, but it just winds everyone else up. My friend today was actually not too bad, but there has been so many occasions where they would rather cut you up with a mid-lap overtake, including a couple of kicks to the face for good measure.

Swim Rage

There is one solution to this – make sure you time your swims when the pool is not too busy – but if is easier said than done at this time of year. I thought for example that 5pm on a Sunday evening would be fairly quiet, but encountered almost all of the above groups tonight, so will have to add this to my list of no-gos. Still, there is always 6am on a Monday…

Spinning Themes

I will be the first to admit that I have written some random posts this year, many of which have been as a result of having far too much time to think whilst on long distance training sessions. As I have said before, when you are tiring out during a two hour plus session, with headphones on blocking out all external distractions, you have all sorts of thoughts entering your mind.

And such was the situation on Friday evening, during my now regular Group Spin class. Although I have only been attending for the last month or so I am really getting into this one, and have talked about the benefits it is giving me from my traditional endurance based cycling, with sprint and hill sessions adding so much variety to my training.

The coach of the class likes to vary it a lot, and has taken all the best bits of the ‘official’ courses she has taught in the past such as Les Mills RBM, Body Pump, etc, and mixed it into a more bespoke class for the regulars. Each class also has a theme (not just ‘pain’ although that is a very regular feature) with recent examples being The Magnificent Seven and Star Wars. To be fair some of the songs are a bit tenuous, but it does add a bit of fun to it as well.

So during this week’s effort, about the time I was passing out to the sounds of  an ‘Adagio for Strings’ remix (as an aside, I always used to think that was such a gentle song… maybe a more appropriate theme for this week would have been Vietnam War Movies) I started to think about what themes I could create myself to train in my own time.

So straight after the last session I though I would get in another hour or so on the bike . You see what has happened to me in the last 12 months, I have actually gone insane. Seriously, even the instructor looked at me like I was nuts, and it could turn out to be a schoolboy error, as she will probably try and make sure that next week I cannot even get down the gym stairs, let alone drive home.

I had a look through my iPod for some initial ideas, and going about halfway through the collection found myself on Led Zeppelin and started creating a playlist in my head. So I present to you below, the first ever (possibly) Led Zep themed spin class playlist:

led

As a quick explanation, the aim is to keep up with the pace of the song whilst riding, which translates as roughly one spin to each beat, so a 95 BPM song would be about 95 RPM (amazing how easily you can find info on any song online). In reality most classes tend to use electronic dance music as they tend to be more consistent pace, but John Bonham’s genius on the drums means these have a lot more variation in the tempo, which of course adds to the fun.

The first few tracks are the build up to the session, to get the blood flowing through the legs at a reasonable pace but without tiring out. Most of course have fantastic solos from Jimmy Page, which is of course a chance to sprint even faster, whilst the verses tend to allow something of a recovery period – except those I have called ‘Sprint’ which are flat out all the way through. These ones are also usually fairly short, so those I will repeat the song to get the most out of it.

The spin bikes have adjustable gears to add some difficulty, so you can still go out on those with a slower BPM. When you hit the longer ‘Climb’ songs these tend to be a much higher gear, standing out of the saddle to really push your quads and hamstrings as if working your way up a mountain. On this note I have had to commit a bit of sacrilege in only putting on the second half of Stairway but lets be honest, the first half is just too slow for this. In fact the hardest thing here was working out which songs to actually put in from my collection.

The peak of the set is Achilles Last Stand, a true monster of a song which barely lets up for 10 minutes, which comes in near the end to really make sure the session adds some value. Finally, the reggae sounds of  D’yer Maker give a bit of a chill out vibe to the warm down, something that never fails to put a smile on my face at the end of a long session. So there you have it, the first of my cycling sessions. I will see how I get on with it in the next week or so.

Maybe I need to get out more…

 

Lunchtime Duathlon

There are a loads of statistics about at the moment on how Triathlon is the UK’s fastest growing sport, increasing by over 10% per year and so on, but most people are not aware of some of the other multi-sports on offer around the country. A few examples are:

  • Aquathlon – Just the swim & run (there is a great one of these in Penzance I hope to do one day)
  • Quadtrathlon – A triathlon with something extra thrown in, like climbing or kayaking
  • Biathlon – Ok this is skiing and shooting so a bit different, but you get the picture

By far the easiest of these to do though is a Duathlon: typically a Run, Cycle then another Run. Not only can you do it fairly easily all year round, but it is easy enough to do on your own as a training session (a bit like a brick session) or even as part of the Chile Challenge should you so wish.

Quadrathlon

I am fortunate enough with my job that I work from home every so often, and have already covered in a blog earlier this year other inventions such as my indoor triathlon and ‘Cycle2Work’ (using an indoor turbo trainer in the lounge). But having reluctantly ‘agreed’ to put the turbo in the shed earlier this season I have now invented another equally exciting session, which I call the Lunchtime Duathlon.

This involves a 2.5 km run to the gym from my house, a 20 km ride on the spin bike, and the 2.5 km return leg home. Having tested this out the other day, the runs take 15 minutes each (for me) and the bike 30, so all in it is almost exactly 60 minutes  a perfect 1 hour session! In an ideal world you have a sunny winter’s day, dry and warm enough for the outside run leg, but not too hot that you regret the indoor element.

Lunchbreak

Now it might sound strange that I am cutting out the swim leg here, as I have always said this is my favourite part of a triathlon, but there is some logic here. Swimming adds a lot of time to any session, something vital when on the clock. For starts there is the changing: whilst it is possible to whip a wetsuit off in under 30 seconds, just try putting one on in that time! And if you are indoors, then the problem would be the other way around – just imagine the look of horror on the other members’ faces if you crashed into the changing room like some sort of human tsunami and threw on your bike kit before flying out the other side…

The other question you may have is why would you do the bike session indoors? Again, plenty of reasons here, which I could spend a whole new blog covering. Yes, of course I prefer training and competing outside, certainly when running, but it is not always best on the bike. For starters I do not live in the best (read safest) area for riding, and even when I am out on the bike the roads near my house are not the most exciting. More importantly, you cannot realistically ride at a consistently fast pace outside around here. Yes, you might get more unpredictability of hills, wind, whatever, but inevitably you will have to slow down for corners, to brake, to dodge other traffic and so on.

Indoors, you can set a resistance and just go all out for the full session with intervals, hills, flats, whatever floats your boat. In this case I can set a 20 km distance and just go for it, making sure I get the maximum speed and distance out of a fairly short time. So realistically this way makes much more sense to get value for money in a short time. And let’s face it, when you are at a point in your life when you are trying to squeeze as many miles into your lunch break to get further on something like the Chile Challenge, you need a Lunchtime Duathlon in your life.

I’m Ron Burgundy?

Although the triathlons and races may be complete for this year, the Chile Challenge still lives on with around 500 more kilometres to complete by Christmas. Fundraising has gone really well beyond my initial expectations, currently standing at £775, and will be over £1000 once I can fund match some of it through my generous employer.

But as with all things there is always room for more, so in a somewhat vain (that word probably has more than one meaning here!) attempt to get a few more sponsors before I reach the end, I have resorted to crossing into another charity’s territory – the Movember ‘tash.

As someone whose only previous experience with facial hair was a misguided attempt at a goatee during my first term at uni over a decade ago, I am slightly surprised anything has actually grown at all. I will admit that the first test was not telling my work colleagues what I was doing, and apart from the odd few, it took the best part of  a week before anyone realised…

But now I am nearly halfway into this venture it seems to be coming along ok. In fact if anything there seems to be an alarming consensus that I am turning into Ron Burgundy, to the extent that both my work colleagues and my own wife has started calling me Ron. I will let you be the judge below, but it may only be a matter of time before I start purchasing rambunctiously coloured suits and dusting off the jazz flute.

Ron Burgundy Tache

 

Keep an eye out for any more updates as the month goes on, and feel free to visit my sponsorship page. Until next time, Stay Classy.

 http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JamesUren

Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?

As I approach the final straight on the Chile Challenge I thought it was about time to talk about one of my favourite things: Gadgets.

Wonderful Toys

As with all gadgets, these range from necessities to nice-to-haves. Some are actual life savers, whereas others are pure convenience (aka pure laziness). The one thing these do have in common is all of these have helped me out in one way or another during the course of this year’s challenge. Queue ‘Whole Lotta Love’ style countdown and cheesy voiceover:

Nespresso

5. Nespresso Machine – First up in the top five is the 21st century equivalent of a rocket fuel tank: perfect for early morning training. Less than 60 seconds for a spot-on caffeine shot to ensure there is no drifting off whilst on the move. I will be honest, I am not one of those 5-cups-a-day-or-I-feel-faint coffee clutchers, in fact as my workmates would attest I pretty much only drink water during the daytime, but I do like a decent coffee once in a while, and you basically cannot go wrong with these. Quick and easy to make even when half asleep, and guaranteed to work every time. Anyone from Nespresso who is reading this, feel free to comp me a machine for the plug…

Start Stop Engine

4. Comfort Access System – A new entry (literally), which as mentioned is probably the height of laziness for me. This is basically an NFC key for my car, so I can unlock the doors and start the engine as long as I have my keys somewhere on me. Yes, I can hear the moaners at the back, it is totally unnecessary, but once you have it you realise how useful it is. After a long gym session I can leave my keys in my massive transition rucksack without having to route around the bottom with still-sweating paws, and just get in the car and move straight off. The same goes for getting into the boot when carrying all my kit back from transition. Yes, it infuriates my wife as I always forget to unlock her side, but as a new discovery this year I now can’t live without it.

Garmin 410 2

3. Garmin Forerunner 410 – Halfway through the list is the gadget I have probably mentioned the most this year. This is a fairly mid-range Garmin which I bought heading into last year’s Birmingham Half Marathon in an effort to motivate myself to train for my first proper foot race. When doing my research to buy this I wanted all the features, such as heart rate monitor, foot pod for treadmill use, wheel sensor for the cycle trainer and so on. 12 months on I barely use any of these (although I like the fact I can if I want to) having realised that it is the core features, which much like Herzberg’s Hygiene Factors are the most important part of a gadget like this: How far have I run, How fast am I running, and How long have I been running for? It might sound basic, but whether training or racing this is the most important data to me, as it helps me pace myself and get the most out of a session. I do also like playing with the data and graphs afterwards, but do not (yet) get that into the quagmire of data it throws out. Maybe one day…

Smartphone

2 – SmartPhone – Narrowly missing out on the top spot, this has been part of almost every session this year, tucked away in my arm holster like some sort of futuristic six shooter. Music, photos, directions, safety, pretty much everything you could need when training for a 4000 km long challenge. 90 percent of the memory on my phone is taken up with music, split into various playlist permutations to cover all types of training. Hill running in the snow? Whack on the Rocky IV soundtrack. Long zoned out cycle rides? A bit of electronica like Madeon or M83  to go in the background. Something to get the blood pumping? A heavy metal playlist ready made for a bit of rage. You get the picture. As for pictures, well almost all of the ones I have put up this year (except the ones ‘borrowed’ from Google Images) were taken on this, as you never know what you will come across on a long run in a new spot (Cadbury Creme Egg Car anyone?). To be honest it is hard to imagine not having this, but who knows how far technology will go.

Suunto Zoop

1. Suunto Zoop Dive Computer – As I hinted above, whilst the other gadgets on this lists are more nice-to-haves, divers will know that a proper computer really is a lifesaver. So it is only right that the top spot goes to my Suunto Zoop. Those who do not dive may wonder what you do with it, but it basically looks after you whilst underwater. Depth, time, air supply, ascent speed, gas mixes, safety limits… the list goes on. Of all the gadgets here this is also the one I have had longest, and (touch wood) it has never let me down, even when going down to close to 40 metres earlier this year. Yes, there are tons of dive computers on the market, ranging from tiny watches to full on touch screen monsters with all the bells and whistles, but this entry level model more than does the job and is always easy enough to actually read and operate underwater, which is kind of a big deal when your life is on the line. Enough said!