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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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!

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

Music of the Month: October

A bit of a late entry here, mainly due to all the training I have been getting in over the last few weeks!

Keep Calm Warm Down

Having finished my final race in October it took a while for some of the aches to wear off, so after plenty of stretching and resting I thought this month would be a good one to put together some of my favourite tracks to warm down and chill out with after a heavy session:

  • Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
  • Man Against the World – Survivor (from Rocky IV)
  • Ready to Start – Arcade Fire
  • Street Spirit – Radiohead
  • Oblivion – M83
  • Leave This Island – Maximo Park
  • Cemetery Gates – Pantera
  • Brand New Start – Paul Weller
  • There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
  • Shape of my Heart – Sting
  • Through Glass – Stone Sour
  • Underdog – Turin Breaks
  • Wet Sand – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Now We Are Free – Hans Zimmer (from Gladiator)

Next month: Final stretch tracks to get over the finish line!

October Round Up: 367 km

Getting so close to the end now!

This month has seen a few key events in the Chile Challenge: The final race of what has been a fairly long season is now complete (Birmingham Half Marathon); the outdoor pool is now closed which for me marks the end of the Open Water swim season; and the clocks have gone back which means we have probably had the last of any remaining good weather, meaning more time will be spent in the gym over the next few months – although I did get in a good 12 km run around town this morning so maybe it is not quite all over…

San Pedro Volcano

The all important question though, it where the heck am I? Well after passing through Antofagasta last month, I have taken a bit of a cross-country route through the Atacama (basically to get somewhere more interesting to write about!) to the desert oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. I have to add that is not actually me on the bike below, but some sort of doppelgänger. Possibly my identical hand twin…

San Pedro Sign San Pedro Church San Pedro bike

Not if you have been fortunate enough to visit Chile, chances are you have probably gone to San Ped, as it is probably the main tourist attraction in the area – possible the whole country. It genuinely is a cowboy town: dusty streets with wild cacti on every corner, a 500-odd year old whitewashed church, and  genuinely stunning scenery in all directions. Basically, the perfect place to stop on a 4000 km challenge.

San Pedro Geysers  San Pedro Luna

San Pedro also makes a perfect base to visit some of the local natural wonders, which include the Valle de Luna (above right), Valle de la Muerte, Geysers de Tatio (above left) & the stunning Licancabur volcano. I could go on for ever baby. More of a wildlife fan? As well as spotting vicuñas and guanacos hanging around the outskirts, how about watching flamingos having a drink at sunset in the salt valleys. Or what about stargazing in some of the clearest skies in the world with near perfect views of the milky way, perfect for a bit of night training (bonus point for anyone who can identify the constellation in my photo below right, which would help you navigate on the move).

San Pedro Guanaco San Pedro Flamingo San Pedro Stars

Anyway, that is enough on the town as I am starting to sound like the local tourist board – on with the training! Having now completed all of my races for the year, this really is when the Challenge is going to come into its own, to keep me motivated to chalk off the final 600 or so km remaining to get to the border. Fortunately it is also a time to start planning events for next year, to ensure I have plenty of motivation to get through the cold winter months, so keep an eye out for more soon!

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!