December Round Up: 280 km

This is it: my final post of 2014 and more importantly the finish line for the Chile Challenge!

After 52 unbelievably tough weeks of training, and five different races ranging from sprint to half-iron distance triathlons, I have finally reached the end of my journey. It has been a fantastic experience which has raised over £1500 for charity, and I can honestly say I have loved every part of it!

Finish Line

As for this month, I have previously mentioned that by some miracle I had left myself exactly 220 km to cover to achieve my goal of 4,270 km for the year – the exact length of Chile from tip to top – and in true Ironman tradition I wanted to split this evenly. So I ended up doing 5 kilometres (200 lengths) in the pool, 175 km on the bike, and 40 km on foot (just to be clear this was not all on the same day…)

Amazingly I actually managed this within the first couple of weeks, so have been able to spend the remainder of Christmas relatively subdued, with just (it has reached the point where I can get away with the word ‘just’ for this) a 50 km bike session and a few long walks to make up the extra – I wanted to exceed the target a bit just in case I later discovered the border was a bit further than I thought, after all Chile does have previous in pushing their border north. Actually, best to least it there…

Arica CalamaArica

In terms of the geography, the final leg of my virtual journey took me from Calama in the middle of the Atacama desert, through Iquique (with its fantastic surf beaches) and onto the border town of Arica. From there it is literally a stone’s throw to Peru, and the finish line!

Peru Border

 

So that is it – the end of the Chile Challenge – but just like Rocky movies, there will be a sequel next year! What it will be is still under wraps (read I have not decided yet) but I have hinted a few times about Ironman 70.3, so this will by no means be the end of this blog.

In the meantime thank you to everyone who has followed me online and supported the Challenge, I hope you all have a very Happy New Year.

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Too Much Time on Your Hands…

I have not written much on here in the last few weeks, mainly as I have either been struggling to cross off the final few miles towards the Chilean border, or partaking in various family festivities and therefore too inebriated to type.

Funnily enough this blog was an unexpected highlight of 2014: something I initially started writing to help track the distance I was covering, which in time turned into one of my favourite parts of the Challenge, and one that I expect to carry on into next year with whatever I end up doing next.

I honestly never expected anyone (except maybe my Mum) to read what I put on here, so it has been a great surprise that some people seem to have actually liked the odd post, with a number of people I don’t even know following me (I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that) and plenty more ‘likes’ and comments along the way.

95 post later, part of the reason I have written so much on here has been the amount of time I have had to think whilst exercising this year. When you regularly train in two hour plus sessions there is only so much you can focus on counting your laps, watching the pavement or changing your music, and inevitably you end up in your own world with your mind wandering.

Santa

I am pretty happy with most of what I have put on here, but there have been a few, er, misguided moments which I either managed to give  a miss, or could have got away without mentioning. So a bit of a lighter theme this week, and in true Christmas countdown tradition this is my Top Five blog ideas that were best left on the training field:

5. Five reasons why Rocky IV is the best training film ever – To be fair, I still stand by this one and if anything part of the reason I never got round to writing it is that I struggled to narrow it down to just five. Personal highlights included the Back-to-Back Russian Training Montages (natch); Rocky’s midnight Lambo drive to the majestic ‘No Easy Way Out’; Apollo’s Dance with James Brown and Duke shouting ‘No Pain’ over and over again. I am not sure anyone else would have cared though, as this was probably just that bit too personal…

4. Fantasy Triathlon Team – The Ronseal of posts, this was sort of like fantasy football but with various different participants, ranging from comic book heroes to action movie stars creating some sort of triathlon relay team. For example a thin Steven Seagal in full Navy Seal mode kicking off the swim leg, Jackie Chan doing the bike leg in a comedy Project A style, and Tom Cruise with his head down & sprinting from just about any of his films to finish things off. Totally Random.

3. Music Posts – I really did write these for myself, and that is probably fairly evident from the lack of comments or likes on these during the year. The Led Zeppelin Spin Class was probably the height of insanity, but in my defence I did come up with it towards the end of a particularly painful class when other senses (vision, hearing, movement) were starting to shut down, so I knew not what I was doing.

2. Top Celebrity Moustaches – During my Movember phase I came up with a list of well-known characters (real or fictional) known for their facial topiary, which included Tom Selleck, Ron Burgundy, Hulk Hogan, Clark Gable, Merv Hughes and Eddie Murphy. In the end this one was simply too off track even for me, and it never saw the light of day. Although there is still next November…

1. A Triathlon Christmas Carol – The bittersweet story of a thirty-something office worker who spends much of his time being grumpy. Then one Christmas, say around 2013, he is visited by three spirits: The Ghost of Swimming Past, a friendly chap who shows him how much he used to enjoy spending time in the water and suggests it would be a good idea to do a bit more in future; The Ghost of Cycling Present, who explains how if he wants to become a real triathlete then there should be a lot more work on the bike as he should  learn to deal with hills and valleys as well as flat roads; and The Ghost of Running Future, a terrifying vision of cold winter runs, boiling cross-country hills and exhausting half-marathons, who tries to convince the guy he will one day actually enjoy this sort of training.

The next day he awakes with an ambitious (or insane) idea, to change his boring ways and raise some money for charity by completing a virtual triathlon of 4,270 km across Chile over the course of the next year, and write a rambling blog about it along the way. Actually I still like this one and maybe one day will get around to writing it up – or maybe I really have consumed too much in the last few weeks. Who knows! Until next time…

The Finish Line…

Stop Press: At 7.31 pm tonight I completed my final 1 km swim in the pool to cross the Chile Challenge finish line. 4270 kilometres over 12 months, and by far the toughest thing I have ever done.

More to follow soon, in the meantime a well earned rest…!

Top Five Runs of 2014

After spending a lot of this year talking about my love hate relationship with running, I thought I would be a bit more positive today and compile a list of my top five runs in 2014. Whilst admittedly there was hardly a ‘long list’ to chose from, I am quite proud of how much of the England I have managed to cover this year: literally all corners of the country, with the north east, south east, south west and midlands all represented below, and the north west (Manchester & Chester) and London only narrowly missing the cut.

The irony that none of my runs which actually took place in Chile are on here is also not lost on me, although to be fair I did not really get in any particularly long or exciting sessions in whilst I was over there. Perhaps next year… Anyway, on with the list:

5. Half Marathon, Birmingham- 19/10- 21.1 km in 2.08.40

Run Map Bham

I could hardly present a list of my top runs of the year without mentioning my main foot race. Not only was it my furthest distance (ok the Avenger was equal but I spent half of it hobbling around the run section) but my most inspiring run of the year, giving me something to train for after the summer and also to benchmark against from the previous year. Although it might look from the above map that I started halfway through, that is mainly because my watch took a while to locate me – perhaps wisely choosing to avoid the less salubrious parts of the city. Despite previous experience on this route the hill at the end never fails to catch me out and sap any last energy, but the great support and organisation ensure I found something from nowhere to enjoy the final straight down Broad Street.

4. Beach Run, Cornwall – 26/5 – 8 km in 1.03.25

Run Map Newquay

What better way to spend a holiday than an early morning run? My thoughts exactly. This was a beautiful run along the cliff-tops of Newquay on the north Cornish coast. As you can see above I managed to get a bit of Rocky III beach training in, although the picture does not really do justice to the hills which were a lot tougher than you might think. Other great sights along the way were the zoo (sadly no animals hanging around to race against, probably a bit scared of losing to me) and a picturesque lake. As a bonus everyone must have been out on the lash the night before as the roads were empty, meaning it felt like I had the whole town to myself.

3. Woods Run, Peak District – 1/6 – 10 km in 1.06.42

Run Map Woods

This was one of my first ever trail runs, and as you can see from the map I guess I got a bit lost. To be fair tree canopies all seem to look the same. Fortunately once I worked out which direction I needed to run along the river (!) it turned out alright and I was able to appreciate the surroundings without fear of having to spend the night in a Bear Grylls style homemade shelter, eating worms for the protein content. Actually that might have been fun, but I did enjoy the run, and as with many others on this list it was an incredibly peaceful (if somewhat tiring) way to start off the day.

2. Cuckoo Trail, Sussex – 21/9 – 16 km in 1.43.19

Run Map Cuckoo

One of my later runs this year, where I started out aiming to do about 10 km, and ended up doing a bit of a Forrest Gump and kept running for my furthest non-race distance of the year. This was a purpose created cycle / running path (hence the long straight line on the map) and perhaps it was the fact that the first half was almost entirely downhill that caught me out – as the rule is what goes down must come up. At least when you have to run back to the start! It did feel great though, and was one of the best ‘runners highs’ I had all year, of course with some great scenery on the way.

1. Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol – 15/6 – 10 km in 1.06.42

Run Map Bristol

Here we are: my top run of the year. This was at the point I was at my peak fitness in the summer, just a week or so before the Avenger. To make it doubly impressive this was after a fairly late night after going out for my  birthday (and watching England get a hammering in the World Cup) so I had a few drinks to get over… Not only did I get to run past yet another zoo along the way (no intentional theme here, honest) but there were some truly spectacular views from Clifton Down and the Suspension Bridge. It was also a perfect summer morning, but the main difference from most of my other runs is that there were other runners about. In fact there were loads of us, and it felt great to experience some of that camaraderie with the others, giving the good mornings and seeing them enjoying themselves as much as I was.

Bristol Bridge 1

After all that, maybe I do really like running a bit more than I give it credit. Interestingly all of these runs took place on Sunday mornings, the last 4 all at 8am so I guess I can safely say that is my optimum training time. Hopefully next year I will be posting a Top 10 list with even more great sessions to write about!

 

Treadmills: A Necessary Evil

I am pretty sure if there was a Family Fortunes survey with the question “What piece of gym equipment do you hate the most?” Les Dennis’ top answer would  be the treadmill – At least that is what I hear from talking to others I train with and read in sports magazines. People moan about the monotony, the boredom, and so on. Yet, my gym has 8 treadmills, as well as 4 sets of other similar machines (which look far too complicated to use) and they are pretty regularly the busiest pieces of kit.

Treadmill

I spent much of the beginning of this year training indoors as having not done much exercise in the winter before I needed to get my fitness up to a reasonable level; but more recently have tried to make sure I am outside as much as possible. I definitely prefer the fresh air, the varied terrain and of course the changes of scenery. Also, unlike cycling, I feel a lot more comfortable running outside where I live as you can stick to the pavements and can reasonably easily hit your top speed for a sustained period without too much fear of death. But whilst I am not saying it is all you should be doing, there are some advantages to indoor running: as well as a central heating and a lack of traffic, you can set constant speeds, gradients and even heart rate zones. Not that I really do any of that, but it is nice to be able to set a pace to give you something specific to aim at.

I also have a trick I specifically use on treadmills, where if I start feeling tired I push the speed up a bit. It might sound crazy, and I am not recommending this, but somehow my body seems to then adapt to a faster pace and settle down again. After a bit longer I do the same again, and basically keep pushing it until I really cannot keep the pace, and then reset to the original level, where the reduction in pace makes it feel a lot easier and keeps you going. I guess the disadvantage is if you need to be sick, as that would probably not go down too well with my gym buddies…

A while ago I was discussing training with someone who had entered a race fairly early on in the season, around March time. They had not done much running before, and I recommended they get in some treadmill sessions to ease into it. Others we were with disagreed and said would be too boring, and they were far better outside. Unfortunately the cold winter bit in, and after a few speculative voyages they gave up and pulled out of the race. Had they been able to build up their abilities on a treadmill in a bit of warmth who knows what could have happened. I feel like this story should end with ‘needless to say I had the last laugh’ but that might be a bit too Alan Partridge.

Having kept up my training throughout this year I am pretty comfortable training outdoors at the moment (although pneumonia is probably only around the corner) but occasionally needs must and I find myself inside. Today was first time in ages have used a treadmill and it turned out to be a good session, and I hit a new 10 km PB 52.12, a fair bit faster than last time around. In fact earlier on this year I would feel pretty pleased (and also nauseous) if I finished in under an hour. Even more so given I had put in a 2 km swim earlier on in the day. So whilst the outdoor training certainly helped me get faster, it was built on a foundation of gym sessions. Needless to say, I had the last laugh…

An Evening Well Spent

Tonight is my wife’s first work Christmas do (of two), which means I have the evening all to myself. So naturally I have done what all married guys in this position would do: a marathon session at the gym (or is that just me?)

Given the roads seem to be getting busier (at least that is the excuse I used) I left nice and early, and managed to get in a quick 10 km bike session before my weekly spin class. I know I have been talking about this a lot recently, but it really has been one of the revelations for me this year, and I can really feel the benefits.

Towards the end of last week’s class, our coach mentioned she would be throwing in some Tabata training this week, which given by that time most of our senses (hearing, sight, movement…) had shut down by then, no one thought to question. Now I have never actually heard of this, but it turns out to be a bit of a killer.

Tabata

Although it was only one track in the session, it was essentially one really long climb on the bike, with gears getting increasingly tougher all the way through in 8 separate stages. The image above says it all. Basically instead of interval sprints, it was hill sprints. The soundtrack was also a little different, in that it had a robotic woman (possibly the same one you get in sat-navs) who kept telling you to speed up, then slow down, etc. Like I said, a bit strange, but great for legs. Needless to say I loved it.

Following what was a pretty tough session, I decided to put in a bit more on the bike (from the look of concern I got from the coach I may be in trouble here, as she was clearly worried I was still able to walk, let alone carry on racing), and seemed to put in an unbelievable 30 km in under 45 mins (evidence below). Now given this put me at an average of over 40 kph when I am normally closer to 30 this might be a bit out, but I will take it regardless!

IMG_5088

In an attempt to really finish myself off I thought I would put in a final 40 lengths in the pool. I have no idea where I got the energy tonight, particularly after a full day’s work (despite what my colleagues might say to the contrary) but even after I finished tonight I still felt really energised, The only thing I can think of was hearing a bit of Steel Panther on Radio 1 this morning, which really pumped me up to the extent that had I not been in my work stuff i would have started running, but that feeling must have lasted all day.

After all that, it was time for the other thing men do after a good workout: a protein bomb, aka KFC and a large milkshake, willingly assisted by my cat Logan (on the chicken not the drink!). I think the 1570 kcals is contained probably cancelled out what I burned off tonight, but that is not the point. For a minute I felt slightly uncomfortable dropping in straight after the gym in my tracksuit, but needn’t have worried as it turned out everyone else in there was dressed in the same way, so I fitted right in…

Even now I still feel strangely over energised although I will probably pass out with exhaustion any minute; maybe it will be time for round two tomorrow!

The Final Countdown

This is it: the final stretch. After 11 months of hard work, it has all come down to the final 220 kilometres. As I said earlier, leaving this – the exact distance of an iron distance triathlon – was certainly not planned, but has turned out to be one of those happy accidents, giving me a great target for my final month to ensure I keep going.

Final Countdown

Until now I have been using a variety of different means to build up my miles for the Chile Challenge, in fact if anything I have been trying to use as many as possible, firstly to add some variety and ensure I don’t get bored, and secondly in an effort to improve my all round fitness. This has seen me doing all sorts of things, from scuba diving to country dancing and various different gym classes along the way.

I have also tried various tricks to try to add some balance to my training and ensure I don’t get too one-sided, as it would be easier to achieve this distance on the bike. This led to me adding a multiplier to count each kilometre I ran as three, and those completed in the pool as five.

220

But now the end is in sight I am going old school, back to basics, and laying down a final challenge for myself. An Ironman in the final month! Just to clarify, I am not going to do an actual Ironman, as it would be a bit late to enter and I don’t have time. But I will be doing the equivalent for my final 220 km, with no distractions from golfing, surfing, or whatever else I have been counting this year. So this will be at least:

  • 5 km Swimming
  • 175 km Cycling
  • 40 km Running

To kick things off with I have just done a 15 km run, so am already well on the way to doing this. In fact it could have been more had my GPS watch not died after 4.5 km, followed by my back-up phone after 14.5 km, and fearing I was probably next for the chop I thought it would be best to head home! Lesson learned – charge your gadgets… But other than that it was a solid start to the final month, so here is to the other 205 kilometres!