A Muppet Chile Challenge

It’s that time of year again where, just like Michael Caine in the Muppet Christmas Carol, we can look back over the past, present and future of the Chile Challenge. Ok ok, I realise revisiting 2016 is probably fairly low down man people’s lists of priorities with the year we all had, and that talking about Christmas in January is about as welcome as turning up at an Ironman with a bike as cheap as mine, but I have been meaning to get around to writing an update for a while now, so please bear with me for a bit…

The Ghost of Chile Challenge Past

muppet-carol

It is almost 3 years to the day since I started the Chile Challenge, and a lot has changed since then. For those who joined late, the original point of this blog was to give me somewhere to both track my progress whilst I Swam, Rode and Ran 4,270 km across Chile from the comfort of my own county, and also as an outlet to spot the many random thoughts that entered my head during all that long distance training.

The centrepiece was to be the Avenger Triathlon, my first half-iron distance race (110 km in a shade under 8 hours on the hottest day of the year!) as well as a number of other smaller triathlons. Looking back over the photos, even at the time of the Avenger I must have been at least a stone heavier and a lot less fit than I am now, and still have no idea how I reached the finish line on my own and in that heat.

After successfully knocking off the last few kilometres of the challenge in late December, I had to decide what to do next, and with the usual psychology of a long distance amateur (forgetting the 90% of the race where you were in so much pain your limbs wanted to shut down and only remembering the finish line endorphins) I decided to go all out and entered Ironman Staffs.

Ironman was my ‘A Race’ around which the rest of 2015 was planned, and to this day is still the event I am most proud of completing, finishing in just over 7 hours. Although it was not the longest (the bike leg was 3 km shorter than the Avenger) or even the toughest (see the Isoman below), it was definitely the most memorable, and I will never forget lining up against Javier Gomez et al in transition, even if that was as close as I got to them for the rest of the race!

Whilst the rest of the year involved more new triathlons and runs to pad it out, I also began to get into Group Exercise at my gym, starting off with Body Combat and RPM, and stepping up into, well Body Step Body Attack, Body Pump and whatever else Les Mills could come up with, culminating with a weekend at One Live in Manchester involving 6 back to back classes, an indoor Ironman in itself! This more intensive training gave me a new focus on exercise, and helped me shift that spare few kilos as well as meeting some great people and learning that fitness does not necessarily have to be a solitary activity.

So onto the ghost of 2016 past, and what happened over the last 12 months. My main race last summer was the Isoman in Redditch, an Ironman with a twist, with the swim nearly doubling to 5 km (2 hours 20 minutes!), a potentially lethal non-closed road ride around the North Worcestershire countryside, finishing in a rain-soaked run around my regular Park Run venue (actually it was 5 park runs, but starting off already knackered!).

isoman logo.jpg

What else? Well six of the first twelve weeks of last year were spent on the move in various chain hotels around the country, with highlights including early morning runs around Canary Wharf and a new experience of Aqua Cycling, as well as a lot of time on the same old dodgy machinery in the various hotel gyms. Les Mills Live made a return, well two actually, one down in London (pretty good) and the other back in Manchester (a lot better), as did our work football tournaments, where we seized defeat from the jaws of victory at home in April, before recovering to a win in Leicester in October.

After planning to do one for years, last year was also my first ever (proper) obstacle race, organised brilliantly by my wife. Rough Runner saw a team of us yomping around the Cotswolds and navigating a series of Takeshi’s Castle inspired obstacles, giant inflatables and the like, although in the end it was the hills and rabbit holes that proved more deadly for more people than any of the equipment. It also allowed us to achieve  lifetime dream for most kids of the 90’s with a run up a travelator straight out of Gladiators to finish up with!

Away from physical training, I managed to get in some great Scuba last year, including visiting wrecks in Cuba and cave diving in Greece, as well as managing to get my first sports related injury in over a decade when I managed to rupture my ear drum due to pressure changes. Who would have thought after all those challenges it would be the slowest moving one which would catch me out?

The Summer rounded off with my third Birmingham Half Marathon, where I managed to knock another 5 minutes or so off my PB but still could not quite crack that two hour mark: who knows, maybe there will be a chance to do it next year…

The Ghost Christmas Present

muppets

Right, time to live in the now, and cover what has happened since I last wrote at the end of October. Well… actually not that much to write home about (which is basically what this is as I am fairly sure only my parents read this far into my scrawlings). Most of my time (and I mean most – I wonder at what point I can start claiming overtime!) over the last few months of 2016 has been spent at the gym getting in as much training as possible to avoid losing my fitness over winter and piling on those extra Christmas pounds.

crawley-runA fortnight in charming Gatwick was a lovely way to spend early December, although I did manage a great night run around the town of Crawley (proudly showing off my luminous tights), the constant expectation of mugging adding at least a few extra mph to my legs. As for my work Christmas party, does bowling count as exercise (and offset all that drinking)? Well have you seen the Big Lebowski?!

lebowski

After a year involving some pretty exotic travels, I was fortunate enough to end 2016 in the fantastic city of New York, and whilst there was little opportunity for intensive training (particularly in sub-zero temperatures) we did manage a heck of a lot of walking all over town, from Downtown (Wall Street, One World Trade Centre and the Statue of Liberty), Uptown (an incredibly long walk through Central Park to find the Home Alone 2 house!) and all over Midtown (Top of the Rock and Empire State – by lift not steps! – as well as up and down Fifth Avenue and Broadway). In fact the closest I got to physical exercise was probably cheering on the Knicks to victory at Madison Square Gardens, another ambition completed!

With everything back to reality now, the last few weeks have been gym, gym, and more gym, seeing progressively more New Year’s Resolutioners appearing in classes, and basically getting back into the normal routine of daily training. So what is planned for 2017?

The Ghost of Chile Challenge’s Future

marley-and-marley

Right, this is most scary ghost in the film, so I will need to keep things brief (and go for Marley and Marley instead – I think I need to end the Muppet theme now). I have already hinted at my main goals for this year in earlier posts, but essentially I am going to be taking some time off from multi-sport racing (i.e. triathlons) to focus on individual events.

First up in the current plan is the Silverstone Half Marathon, a race around the famous racing circuit which is home to the British F1 Grand Prix, where I am hoping a nice flat(ish) circuit will finally help me break the 2 hour barrier so I can stop banging on about it. The event takes place in early March though, which is going to prove tough for someone who is does not usually start training outdoors until the clocks go forward and it warms up a bit, although that is the whole point of starting things early this year.

There is a bit of a gap until my next booked race, which I will look at filling in with something or other soon, but September kicks off the first ever 100 mile Velo bike event in Birmingham, a ride I could not turn down given how beautiful the route looks, going right through Northern Worcestershire & Herefordshire and almost past my front door. With 15,000 riders it will be by far the largest event I have ever taken part in, and being 50% further than I have ever ridden I know it is going to be a killer (although not bookmarking it with a swim and run will help) so it looks like a lot of time in the saddle in late Summer.

It is the last race of the year that looks the biggie though, the new Birmingham Marathon in October, another lifetime ambition to be fulfilled. At this stage it still seems a long way off, but like much of this year, I can imagine it will come about pretty quickly!

This is It!

In less than 12 hours from now I will be standing on the edge of a lake, about to enter into a crazy 8 hour triathlon, which will push me right to the limit of my abilities. Yes, it is Ironman Time!

Ironman Badge

After all the admin panic I have talked about earlier this week I am now at the point where I just need to turn up and race. Today was pretty hard work though, a proper 7 hour day nearly as much time involved preparing for the race as it will take to run it. I have been out (with my very patient wife!) between 10 am and 5 pm: driving to the venue, queue to get in, registering, being briefed, setting up for T2, driving to the swim, hiking through a forest into T1 to rack my bike, and finally being able to come home. And all in the pouring rain! But enough of that, the main thing is now to look forward.

It will come sooner than I realise too, as I have just set my alarm for 3.15 am tomorrow. Yes, you read that correctly, 3.15!! This is to allow enough time to get ready, have some porridge, drive to the venue (again), get a shuttle bus to the lake, drop off my final bits in transition, and start the race!

For anyone who is interested you will (well might, I have not actually tried it myself) be able to watch the race and track my progress (athlete number 56) here: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/coverage/live.aspx#axzz3cxqpwy2K7

What I Talk About

One thing I will miss tonight is ‘Ironprayer’ which I feel could have given me some luck, but instead I am going to leave you with something different. This week I have been re-reading one of my favourite books as some last minute motivation for the race, the fantastically titled ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, by writer, runner, fellow triathlete and all round awesome guy Haruki Murakami. He has a passage towards the end which I think gives a bit of insight into why we do this, so I have taken the liberty of including his words below.

“Those of us who participate in triathlons are unusual people. Think about it for a minute. Most all the participants have jobs and families, and on top of taking care of these, they swim and bike and run, training very hard, as part of their ordinary routine. Naturally this takes a lot of time and effort. The world, with its commonsensical viewpoint, thinks their lifestyle is peculiar. And it would be hard to argue with anyone who labelled them eccentrics and oddballs. But there’s something we share, not something as exaggerated as solidarity, perhaps, but at least a sort of warm emotion, like a vague, faintly coloured mist over a late-spring peak. Of course, competition is part of the mix—it’s a race, after all—but for most of the people participating in a triathlon the competitive aspect is less important than the sense of a triathlon as a sort of ceremony by which we can affirm this shared bond.”

And with that, it must be nearly time for bed with such an early start. Good luck to everyone competing, and I will let you know how I get on!

The Chile Challenge by Numbers

Just when you thought it was not possible to squeeze anything more out of last year’s posts, they pull me back in with an email from the WordPress admin team with loads of facts and figures on what I have written over the last 12 months. Now I am a sucker for statistics, so I though I would share some of the content of this email with you, along with a few numbers of my own from 2014 (and screenshots of my tracking spreadsheet):

Chile Challenge

  • 4330 – Total distance covered (in kilometres)
  • 176 – Recorded Training Sessions, taking 208 hours
  • 17 – Different activities measured (ranging from Skipping to Scuba Diving)
  • 0 – Units of alcohol consumed in January
  • 5 Days – Before anyone at work noticed I was doing Movember..!

Spreadsheet

Triathlon

  • 10,200 – Lengths swum (in equivalent 25m pool)
  • 104 – Hours spent in a bike saddle (with average speed 27.5 kph)
  • 800,000 – Strides completed (average stride length of 90 cm)
  • 63.02 – 30 km bike PB in January                   53.19 – 30 km bike PB in December
  • 65 BPM – Resting Heart Rate in January     50 BPM – Resting Heart Rate in December

Races

  • 5 – Number of distance races completed in the 4 years before 2014…
  • 5 – Number of races completed in 2014 alone!
  • 66 – Race number in the Stratford Triathlon (clickety-click)
  • 7.54.57 – Finishing time for the Avenger Triathlon, the main event of the year
  • 8,500m – Continuous of the hill climb in the Peak Triathlon
  • 8,055 out of 20,000 – Finishing place in Birmingham Half Marathon

Spreadsheet 2

Blog

  • 95 – Posts written
  • 870 – Website hits from…
  • 22 different countries around the world
  • 33 – Subscribers to blog (to prove it is not just my Mum reading it!)
  • 317 – Pictures included (thank you to everyone who donated via Google Images)

Sponsorship

  • £1750 – Amount raised for Bobby Moore Fund Charity (including Gift Aid & Fund Matching)
  • 27 – Sponsors from family, friends and colleagues
  • http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JamesUren if you want to add to this

On that note thank you so much again to everyone who sponsored me, it has really meant a lot and helped me get through the Challenge!

2014 Highs & Lows

As with all good media stories at the moment it is time for my review of 2014 and of course the Chile Challenge!

I can still remember the moment I came up with the Challenge, whilst driving home on New Year’s Day and trying to work out how on earth I was going to be ready for the half-iron distance race in June that I had daftly signed up for one evening over the Christmas period. I knew there would be a lot of training to do, and I loved Chile, and somehow the two just came together: a challenging yet attainable distance that could solve everything for me, whilst creating a different way to raise a bit of money for charity.

Map of Chile

The blog came later when I realised I wanted a way to keep myself and my sponsors up to date with my progress. Initially it was just going to be some training notes, but it turned out that I enjoyed it so much it almost took over the whole shebang. On the plus side, it has made it a lot easier to look back and review how things progressed last year, so rather than a long, drawn-out review, I thought I would add a few highs and lows from the last 12 months:

January – Cape Horn to Punta Arenas (292 km)

  • High Point – Starting the Chile Challenge of course!
  • Low Point – My ‘Dryathlon’ (no alcohol) being severely tested during a week working on London

February – Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine (373 km)

  • High – Six Nations Rugby: the perfect time for some long bike sessions
  • Low – Gym Fever – No outdoor training this month

March – Torres to Coyhaique (as seen on the Top Gear Patagonia Special) (438 km)

  • High – Setting up the Turbo Trainer and inventing Cycle-to-Work-from-Home
  • Low – Still no races yet this year…

IMG_2101

April- Coyhaique to Puerto Varas (447 km)

  • High – Finally some outdoor training!
  • Low – Huge earthquake in Northern Chile

May – Puerto Varas to Maipo Valley (360 km)

  • High – First race of the year (Stratford triathlon)
  • Low – Disappointing lack of scenery on the bike & run courses

HSBC Wetsuit

June – Maipo Valley to Santiago (484 km)

  • High – Finishing the Avenger Triathlon of course!
  • Low – Being unable to climb the stairs the day after the Avenger…

Avenger Finish Line

July – Santiago to Valparaiso (375 km)

  • High – Watching a fantastic Team GB triathlon performance in the Commonwealth Games
  • Low – A massive Tour-de-France style hill climb during the Peak Triathlon

August – Vina to Pisco (126 km)

  • High – Being in Chile and able to see many of the landmarks from this challenge
  • Low – Very little training due to being on the road most of the month

Welcome to Chile

September – Pisco to Antofagasta (421 km)

  • High – A new PB in the Dorney Triathlon
  • Low – Last open water swim of the year

Bham Run Soreen

October – Anto to San Pedro de Atacama (367 km)

  • High – A week in a hotel with an on-site gym – 6 am starts never felt so good!
  • Low – Another hill of pain in the Birmingham Half Marathon

November – San Pedro to Calama (367 km)

  • High – ‘Tache aided training during Movember!
  • Low – Increasingly cold weather on those outdoor runs

Winter Training Run

December – Calama to Arica (280 km)

  • High – Finishing the 4,270 km Chile Challenge
  • Low – Not knowing what to do next…

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.

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…

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!