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!

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I am Isoman

It was about halfway through the third lap of the 5 km swim where I really started to question what on earth had I been thinking to sign up for this. Now I know I have done some long bike rides and even reasonably long runs in the past, but this was brand new territory for me, and the voices in my head were asking some tough questions, chiefly: Who in their right mind signs up for a race that badges itself as ‘harder than Ironman’?

As I mentioned in my last blog, it was just over 12 months ago that I first came across the Isoman, with this ‘new kid on the block’ race debuting in one of my local parks. It has one of those concepts that is so simple you wonder why no one has done it before. In short, most long distance triathlons are heavily weighted towards the bike leg, so competitors who specialise in the swim part of the sport do not benefit as much as they should. This goes back to its origins in Hawaii, when Naval Officers decided to see which of them was the fittest, and set up a race based on the 2.4 mile Waikiki swim, 112 mile Oahu bike ride and 26 mile Honolulu marathon.

Pie Chart Pie Chart

The Isoman corrects this by reducing the cycle element and (significantly) upping the swim, to create an event which (in theory) should see each leg taking roughly the same amount of time to complete. Being someone who considers themselves to be a marginally better swimmer (more by default than anything) this ought to be the perfect race for me, and with the added incentive of an early bird discount I was booked on less than 24 hours later.

Isoman Is Coming

Race Day – 2 July 2016

As usual I had been watching the weather forecast like a hawk for the last 10 days, and amazingly enough it turned out to be alright, with a reasonably sunny day forecast, although anyone reading this in the UK will know that does not necessarily mean much! It had tipped it down the night before during the pre-race briefing, which did not help with the nerves as the last thing you want before a bike ride in particular is a wet road.

Start time for my race was a very civilised 9.30 am, meaning I did not actually have to leave my house until after 7.30, a massive bonus compared to a pre-4.00 am wake up at Ironman last year. The lunatics folks doing the full Isoman had already started their swim, setting off at 7 am, aiming to be more than half-way through by the time my lot got in. The half-Isoman wave I was in was actually fairly small, just 48 of us, with no age group or gender separation, just all in at the same time, which I was much happier with.

Isoman Transition

The transition area was a decent size with nice roomy bike racks, personally labelled for each competitor. I was pretty pleased with my kit in mostly matching black and yellow, which happen to be both my school and rugby team’s colours. As usual I had a wander down to spy on other people’s kit, and noticed that as usual, my bike was worth less than most people’s wheels. I should have known really when my car was one of the only ones in the car park with a bike rack on it – all the others had carefully taken their bikes apart and put them in the car rather than outside, possibly wrapping them in cotton wool at the same time. At least that is what I would do it my bike was worth that much! With everything set up I wandered down to the jetty to get ready to start a seriously long swim.

5 km Swim – 2 hours 22 mins

Yes, you read that right. All I can say is imagine if I had been doing the 10 km… The first thing I noticed when I got into the water in full wetsuit was that it was actually surprisingly warm. And whilst that can sometimes be a slight worry in open water (let’s not go there), it was genuinely not too bad – around 18 degrees I believe – I have certainly swum a lot colder. The visibility was less good, possibly a bit churned up by the earlier swimmers, in scuba terms it would be about 2 inches and very murky. Good thing I had been practising my sighting in the pool. Not wanting to waste too much energy given what lay ahead I stayed fairly still until I worked out why everyone was swimming to the other side of the lake, as this was a deep water start.

isoman swim

Fortunately, and I guess understandably given the distance we were looking at, this was easily the most laid back start lines I have ever experienced. Gone were the usual elbows and feet to climb over each other, in favour of a nice courteous spread of bodies, as people decided there was enough to contend with in the swim itself rather than expend unnecessary force fighting for a few seconds gap. Obviously many of the people who had signed up for this fancied themselves as more swim specialists, so we took off fairly quickly and a lot of them soon pulled away as we spread out.

Isoman Lake

The first lap was a bit of a feeler, as although I knew the park well, I was not sure what it would be like, how best to navigate the buoys and so on. It was a fairly simple clockwise loop with an island in the middle to swim around, and I had the benefit of having a load of faster swimmers in front of me to follow so managed to not get lost.

At the end of the first lap came one of the bits I had been looking forward to most of all – the pit stop! Now every race swim  I have ever done before is done in one continual go without stops. In fact one of my favourite triathlon stories involves multiple World Champion Chrissie Wellington and her legendary coach Brett Sutton, who loses his rag during a training session when he spots a swim bottle by the pool, lambasting his team as you can’t have a drink during a [3.6 km] Ironman swim, so you should not get used to it in training!

But this was a 5 km swim, and we could. Not only that, but they had the triathlon equivalent of a swim-up-bar, that you could stop at on every lap, perch your feet on a rocky surface, and gorge yourself on drinks, gels, bananas and so on. On my first lap I was reasonably fresh but thought I would give it a go, so just had a bit of the carb drink I had set near the edge before setting off. It is amazing how thirsty you get when swimming for a long time, and you can understand how sailors end up going crazy with a huge thirst when surrounded by water you can’t drink.

Isoman Swim up

On later laps I was a bit more adventurous, downing a glass of coke (apparently it kills off some of the germs in the lake) and piece of flapjack. The other cool thing was you could sort of dive off the ledge and under the floating arch that marked each lap, which felt a bit like when the pros have multi-lap swims where they climb up and dive off a pontoon each time: very professional.

After a surprisingly easy first lap I thought I was in the zone, until my brain started dealing with the monotony by mentally ticking off each landmark as I swum passed them:

  • Further than an Olympic triathlon swim
  • Further than a half-Ironman swim
  • Further than I have ever swum in open water
  • Further than a full Ironman swim
  • Further than I have ever swum before. Ever.
  • And then still going…

I encountered the last of these around the end of my third lap, and as I started this blog, it was where I started to get a bit scared. By now my shoulders and sides were really starting to ache, after literally thousands of strokes. Trying to do anything to distract myself I did another thing I sometimes do in races and worked out how many strokes I would be doing. In a pool I usually swim around 18 strokes per 25 metre lap, although that includes a push-off the wall. This would be more, although my wetsuit would make it a bit easier too. I decided 20 strokes per 25 metres would be fairly conservative, so at around 80% this meant I would be doing at least 4000 strokes of pure front crawl along the way. They is a lot of reps, and went some way to explaining the pain.

Well, that and the whack in the eye I took from a lady with pink goggles who had mysteriously slowed down in front of me and managed to somehow elbow me in the face which any other time would have resulted in a shiny black eye. Fortunately my goggles managed to cushion the blow, so other than a  a quick heads up for her to apologise, we both moved on and put it down to a racing incident, the cold water doing its job of numbing any ocular pain I had coming.

As I had suspected the weather was a bit hit and miss. It had started in perfect sunshine and I was grateful for my tinted goggles, which not only looked the business but reduced the glare. At this point it had all changed, and at one point I noticed it had started raining, not really a concern for half-drowned rats in the lake, although I did realise my bike kit was going to be soaking wet when I got around to putting it on, cursing myself for not covering it up like I had planned earlier.

By now the quarter Isoman triathlon guys had also started, and I began to be overtaken by orange capped torpedoes, some of them looking like they had literally been shot from a submarine such was their speed through the water. Still, having been spread out from the rest of my field after 3 laps it was nice to have a bit of company, and after convincing myself not to give in and push for the final lap, I got far enough around that I had no option but to push for the end, the added incentive that I really needed to stop at the portaloo in transition giving me some extra speed towards the finish line. After giving it my all for over two hours I found myself staggering to shore and up the slope into transition. And that was a third of the race done…

tired swimmer

I know how this guy felt…

Transition One – 9 minutes 51

Given that they had already played with standard triathlon rules in extending the swim, the organisers had decided to break with convention on the inbetween bits too. Rather than the usual scrum you get with mer-folk leaping out of the water and straight onto a bike, this had a whole 8 minute window built in, to give a chance to get back, dry off, get some chow down and even use the facilities if needed. I made the most of it doing all of the above (I noticed someone in the full race took nearly half an hour which must have included a kip as well – can’t blame them) before trundling off with bike in tow. After managing on my third attempt to get my tired leg over and clip in, I was off.

50 km Bike -2 hours 6 minutes

There are pros and cons to taking part in a race close to home. The good thing was that I knew at least part of the route, given that I go past it on most weekends to do my weekly shop and had scouted a section of it the night before after the briefing. The bad thing is knowing just how busy that first few miles of road can get, particularly on a Saturday lunchtime, which I will admit had been giving me a few sleepless nights. Whilst my last race had the massive advantage of being large enough to have closed roads, this one most certainly did not, so it was with some trepidation that I steered my bike out of the park and onto the dual carriageway to head into town.

Amazingly I managed to join without any problems, walking my legs up by pedalling hard to get into a decent gap. The next dodgy part was also incident free, as we went uphill and onto a large roundabout, where again a fortuitous gap opened up in the traffic and saw me speed off in my exit (I did check back to ensure it was not one of those ‘gaps’ which leads to  a major pile-up. The last part of the opening section involved a sort of corkscrew climb away from the dual carriageway which I had been just as worried I might not have had the legs for after the swim, but remembering a tactic I was to employ many times during the ride, I accelerated into the climb as much as I could, to create enough momentum to get close enough to the top before I really had to push.

isoman bike

After those first few miles things changed a lot, as we started to come out of town and into the wilds. It was a massive change going from Redditch, a town which could be described in parts as a ‘concrete miracle’, to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country in the Worcestershire countryside. There was also a real lack of cars, and the next half hour or so went incredibly smoothly, as I ate away at the distance and looked like I would be on for a cracking time.

stoke prior windmill

Of course things never actually turn out that way, and around the halfway mark things started to get tougher. First up was the unravelling of my bike nutrition strategy: I had planned on a two hour race, with a carb gel every 20 minutes (caffeine gels on the hour marks), and had two 500 ml electrolyte drinks. As I hit the hour mark I realised I had been concentrating so much on the ride I had only consumed one gel, and still had half of my first drink bottle left alongside a very dry mouth, leading to me downing most of the rest of it and getting a nice stomach ache as a reward.

The reason I had been concentrating so much, is that the even had a bit of a reputation for signage problems. In the first race the year before, there had been a totally separate bike race going on locally on the same day, and somehow both had managed to put up yellow arrows, causing chaos as knackered triathletes ended up riding miles out of their way whilst accidentally following the wrong lot of signs. Luckily the I did not hear of anything similar happening this year, but it still meant a lot of worrying when there was a long gap between route markers. This became even more pronounced when we split from the full distance course and I lost sight of any other racers, leaving it just down to me and my thoughts.

Isoman elevation

Isoman Elevation Profile

It was around then that I realised other races I had done previously had described the bike route as ‘fairly flat’, which ended up actually being quite hilly (see Ironman Staffs for example). This one had described the course as ‘undulating’, which I had not thought much of, but now realised this meant ‘very steep in parts’. I dread to think what those which actually admit the course is ‘challenging’ (the preferred nomenclature) other than I assume you have to pack  a set of ice axes… Oh yeah, and it started to rain as well.

Now I have a confession to make in that I rarely ride my bike outdoors, except for racing. Whilst I have racked up hundreds of hours doing RPM and spin classes at the gym, I had not actually used my bike since Ironman last June. Some people will probably think I am daft for that, but to be honest I am not really that much of a fan of weaving through traffic, particularly given how many incidents I see on the other side of things when in my car (not caused by me of course).

Confession number two, is that despite a lot of racing I don’t really know how to use my bike gears properly. I head people go on about ‘the big ring’ and so on, but I have no real idea, all I do is mess around with the gears until I find the most comfortable position and pedal away. If I get to a hill and it becomes tough, I change down until things work again and keep moving, making a note for the next time around. I am sure if I knew more about them I would be able to do more, but maybe something to learn for the future.

cycle hills.jpg

The combination of these factors – hills, nutrition, lack of time in the saddle, and potential misuse of gears – seemed to really take an impact on my back around the 25 km mark, and I had to keep changing position to avoid being in agony, particularly as I knew I still had the half marathon to come. I am still not sure why it felt so tough, given I had done two much longer 90 km rides for the Avenger & Ironman,so I can only put it down to tiredness from the swim. My hill tactic of speeding into the base had actually been working pretty well, and I even managed to get to the top of one particularly long but steady climb of about 2 miles without putting a foot down, but after going over yet another dip I saw one of those mountains cyclists must have nightmares about, and knew that would be it.

To my delight however, there was already someone at the base of the hill who looked like they were about to climb off. I soon realised it was the person I had been chatting to before the race as we were next to each other in transition, and she had been debating whether to use her wheelchair or crutches in the swim. Yes, those of you who thought this was a tough challenge, something more to think about. She had obviously kicked my ass in the swim, but seemed to be struggling more on the bike leg.

Pedalling up I played the knight in shining armour (well cyclist covered in sweat on a cheap old bike) and offered my assistance, but it turned out she was just having a rest before attempting the hill. Now seemed as good a time as ever to switch to plan B, so I hopped off and suggested walking up the hill. This was where I employed my secret weapon, my mountain bike shoes. Heavier than the proper racing shoes I assume everyone else was wearing, these have a big advantage in one area, that they have deeper tread so make walking up a road easier – a good thing as I seem to find myself doing it fairly regularly during long races.

salted caramel

After checking my companion was fine, I legged it up to the top of the hill, using the opportunity to knock back another energy gel (salted caramel – mmm) and some more drink, before hopping back on to make the most of the descent on the other side. From there, things finally started to look up again, as my back had eased up and I was full fueled. Whilst in the past it felt like every time we came across a sign pointing towards Redditch we were turning the opposite way, this time we actually began to head towards home, and the last 15 km or so went past in a bit of a blur. Before I knew it I was trundling back into the park and home to safety.

Transition Two – 4 minutes 21

Isoman T2

After racking up over 4 hours of pain so far, I had a fantastic moment getting back into transition as I noticed my wife had come to watch the race, having been unsure earlier that morning. Given this was a fairly low key race, it was fantastic to have some support, and seeing her there gave me some real motivation as I get into transition and changed into my run shoes. As before the organisers had played with the rules and given a 5 minute window for transition, so it was great to know I did this in less.

Half Marathon – 2 hours 38 minutes

After the isolation of the bike course, it was great to have some faces for the first part of the run at least. Having done a couple of Parkruns there earlier in the year I was again familiar with some of the route, the majority of it being on paths ways and therefore easier to run on.

Surprisingly I always look forward to the half-marathon in a long race. I say surprising as I am definitely not a runner; the main reason really is it means the end is approaching! If also at least gives some potential for rest when needed – on a swim or bike you can’t really stop and there is a limit to how much you can slow down without drowning or being run over – but on in a race like this I think it is perfectly excusable if you need to take time out for a bit of a walk / hobble. It is nothing like a normal half or even full marathon, where you would usually come in fresh, having done some stretches and perhaps a proper meal first. In this you have just dragged your carcass around a lake for a few hours before ragging it around the countryside on a bike for a few more, so there is no shame in taking it easy to make sure of a finish.

One tactic I learned from Ironman was to ‘walk the feed stations’, in other words don’t try to be a marathon hero and grab a drinks bottle on the move from an outstretched arm, but slow down, take in what you need and keep moving, but nice and slowly. This way you get a bit of a break without loosing too much of your rhythm, and get to actually drink / stuff your face without spilling too much of it everywhere.

Another thing you are always told about racing is never try new kit on the day, but I did have one thing I was doing for the first time, my new elastic lock laces. Any non-racers, just skip ahead now as this may well be the most boring thing you have ever read. For the rest of us, how have I not got around to these before! They are amazing. I have always had problems having to stop / start to keep tying or tucking in my laces before, but these were nice and snug, easy to get on, and did not need adjusting once during the run. Lovely stuff.

lock laces

Lock laces in action (not mine)

The run course was mainly on tarmac, but had a slightly strange first kilometre off-road, winding through a bit of scrub land, presumably so they could make up the distance. It was far from my favourite part of the run, although a nice couple did offer me a handful of Jelly Babies along the way, and I was more than happy to break the ‘don’t take sweets from strangers’ rule I learned as a child. It was interesting having others on the course, as all my other runs had been done on closed pathways. Being a Saturday afternoon the park was full of families, most of whom were happy to step aside from the sweaty lunatics running towards them, although of course there were always a few kids who had to be awkward and stay in your way, resulting in a number of last minute leaps off the main path.

Isoman run map

The rest of the route was ok, although not the most spectator friendly. You may be able to see the words ‘Industrial Estate’ featuring prominently on my run map above, which says it all really. We did two loops for the half marathon, starting off by transition where everyone was watching, before going deeper into the middle of nowhere until I started to get that feeling from the bike that I might have missed a turn and could be going the wrong way. On the plus side, it was mainly flat, so aside from the pain which had worked its way down my body from my shoulders on the swim, my back on the bike, and was now concentrating itself around my knees, quads and hammies.

Although I said I liked the bike, the one problem is it gives you too much time to think. On the swim I tend to go into a bit of a trance and filter out any thoughts (which is actually quite nice), whilst on the bike I tend to be thinking about navigation and avoiding any other vehicles. The run though just had me thinking ‘what on earth was had I been thinking signing up for this?’. As the pain got worse the race was beginning to look about as good an idea as Ross Geller’s leather trousers, and it felt at times like I was wearing them too. Cruelly the run was in a sort of figure of eight, so the loop took us back towards the transition area, before sweeping off to the side to add even more distance before the halfway point.

When I did finally finish my first lap it was great to see my wife and some supporters again, and probably good for her to know I was still alive after a lap that must have felt as long for her as for me. This was not exactly the most spectator friendly course, as aside from a few minutes at the beginning, middle and end, you had no chance to see your family of whoever was cheering you on. I did prefer the fact that both Ironman and the Avenger had three laps, so whilst it meant a bit more time going over the same ground, you felt a bit more motivated along the way.

On the plus side, unlike the Avenger, I was not going to be doing the last lap on my own this time, as there were still plenty of people on the course doing either the full, half or quarter Isoman. They did have a system to help identify people, based on Gold, Silver & Bronze, although as they could not get swimming caps in those colours it was actually Yellow, White & Orange. This meant opportunity for some smugness when you overtook orange people who had been doing a lot less, but equally additional pain when a yellow runner zoomed past, considering what they had been through already.

No Pain

I remember a lot less of the second lap, although that may be down to my brain having mentally blocked it out. At one point I passed a guy wearing a ‘one hundred marathons’ t-shirt, and later discovered this was his 107th. To be honest he looked nearly a hundred himself, and fair play, anyone who can do that number and race a course like this at that age deserves huge respect.

I know I had to do a fair bit of run / walk along the way, probably a bit of staggering and a lot of swearing too. As I have mentioned on here before, my own way of motivating myself is to repeat the ‘No Pain’ line from Rocky IV. Under normal circumstances I keep it to myself, saying it over in my head, but this was not normal circumstances and I found myself shouting it out loud, mainly when I was on a stretch on my own, but at times I am sure there were some startled runners around me.

Finish – 7 hours 21 minutes 56 seconds

Isoman Finish

Finally though, I was on the last section of the race, the final straight mirroring the end of Parkrun. As I got closer to the end zone I could hear the band playing on the stage getting louder, and caught a glimpse of my wife on the line. I even managed a smile as I was able to tell the lady standing on the lap splitter that it was my final one this time, so I could turn left and head towards the finish, taking in a few cheers and high fives down the chute. One massive hug later and it was finally over!

Isoman After

So how did it rate compared to the other longer races I have done: The Avenger & Ironman? Different, for sure. Looking back, I actually really enjoyed the swim, as whilst it hurt a heck of a lot, I was pleased with the rhythm I got into and actually pretty happy with my time. All three races had fantastic bike routes, and despite the fact this was almost half the distance of the other two it seemed to hurt even more, although that could just be short-term memory failure, and possibly due to a different focus in my training this time, The main let down in this one was the run, with a bit of an ugly course in parts, and less chance for supporters, but in the end you are always going to be limited to the location. After all, what do you expect to see from a Torquay hotel bedroom window?!

So what next? A well-earned break I think, before some thoughts about how to follow this one up. In the meantime, I am happy to say I can now call myself an Isoman!

 

2015 Round Up

Coming up to two years of writing this blog I have surprised myself a bit that I am still going. I initially started at the beginning of last year as a way of helping me track my progress and to motivate myself through the Chile Challenge and it served its purpose pretty well, giving me a way of sharing various training and race pictures, and somewhere to dump those random thoughts you accumulate during long sessions.

At the end of last year I thought about closing it down: after all the challenge was complete, the sponsorship money collected, and my body well and truly knackered! But then something else came up which would make 2015 even bigger than before – Ironman!

So at the end of the year I am still here, and have a few more achievements ticked off the list, and a few more medals on the shelf. First up was the Tewkesbury Sprint Triathlon (1.31.16), an indoor swim and beautiful bike course, slightly let down by a run around a commercial park, but still a decent way to start the season (and a nice mug at the end to celebrate!)

tewkesbury mug

My other big race was of course Ironman Staffs (7.17.12),  a fantastic event from start to finish, with the most amazing feeling crossing the finish line. It really was a great weekend, maybe even once in a lifetime, but one all triathletes should experience at some stage in their career.

Ironman Staffs Medal

It was not all swim-bike-run though, as this year also marked my first ever obstacle race – the Colour Obstacle Rush in Sheffield – wit my wife and various other family and friends. I have no idea what the time was as my old GPS died part way through, possibly asphyxiated by powered paint, but this was never about how quickly you could complete it; in fact at times we actually slowed down to make the experience last longer as we traversed bouncy castle mazes and half-heartedly dodged each others paint grenades!

COR10

Aside from racing, I managed to really ‘get into’ fitness classes, something I had actually been doing for a while, but this was different. Along with my wife, who became equally obsessed, we started going to 3, 4 and even 5 classes per week, including RPM, Body Attack, Combat, Pump to name but a few. The culmination was our trip to Manchester for the One Live event which involved 6 different classes in a 9 hour or so day, the closest I have got to triathlon endurance indoors!

One Live LogoOne Live Kit

After all that, what do we have to look forward to in 2016? Well the big race is already booked in the calendar, the Isoman. More on this to follow, but let’s start by saying it begins with a 3.5 mile swim which is really going to push those boundaries… The obstacle races will also continue, with the Colour Rush back in the diary, a new Rough Runner race to kick the season off, and on the indoor side there will be plenty of new classes to look forward to.

So I guess that returns me to my first question of whether to continue writing this blog, and with all this to look forward to the answer is going to have to be yes!

I am Iron Man!

After months of build up and years of waiting I have finally done it – I am Ironman! Here is how the day went…

Morning

They don’t mess around in the Ironman world, challenging your mind and body before the event even starts! Having spent around 7 hours registering and sorting transitions the day before, race day begins harshly with a 3.15 am alarm call, which feels like it has only been moments since I managed to finally got to sleep. Dragging myself out of bed I pull on my tri-suit and down a bowl of porridge (which turns to be the closest I come to solid food for nearly 12 hours).

The journey to Shugborough is actually a lot easier than expected, probably because no sane people are out roaming the country lanes of Staffordshire at 4 am on a Sunday, other than an ever-increasing convoy of competitors as I get closer. It makes a nice change beginning a race without having to sort transition there and then, so I am able to park up and jump straight on a shuttle bus to the lakeside start.

The mood on the bus is pretty quiet, so I take the chance to get in the mood with a bit of the Rocky soundtrack (the only way to prepare for a race!) as we approach. Once we arrive though, things began to kick off with a really buzzing atmosphere and I am staggered at the amount of people here. My last race of this distance had 250 people; this has over ten times that number!

As I wander into transition to check my bike is still there from the night before the first person I see is one of the pros, Will Clarke, part of the GB Tri team at the Beijing Olympics. And then the man himself, Javier Gomez appears, looking absolutely freezing in a jacket and beanie hat – Galicia this ain’t! Everyone is suddenly super excited, and to be fair he takes it all in his stride, happy to pose for pictures with anyone willing to approach. He is about 50 odd places away from me (in a field of 2700 bikes this is practically next door) so close I can see what type of gels he has on his bike, and for a moment I feel a little embarrassed at the fact my steed is one of the cheapest in the whole park. but actually that is what this is all about. As I have said before, in how many other events around the world can you race against your heroes?

As the clock counts down we make our way to the swim start. In typical Ironman style there is loads of music, and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck seems to be the de regueur song of choice. I chat to some of the other guys in wetsuits & green swim caps who are about to set off with me, and most of them are also doing this for the first time, so there is a mixture of nervousness and excitement, no one really knowing what to do so we just shuffle about in our bare feet. trying to stay warm. The announcer introduces the pros one by one, they make their way to the edge and a minute or so later are off, meaning only one thing: It is my turn now. As they say in Bad Boys – This shit just got real!

Swim – 41.26

Staffs Swim

There are so many people around me in the water I barely notice the claxon signalling the start, but there is no way of missing what was just a few moments before a relatively calm lake, becoming a washing machine on full spin, as 500 arms and 500 legs simultaneously start splashing. Before the start I had planned to try to get to the side to avoid the worst of the scrum, but once I got in the water  I was too caught up in the moment and missed any opportunity, and as a result found myself right in the middle of everything – Nothing for it but to get the head down and go for it!

It takes around a minute just to get through the starting buoys and into some clear water, but with most of the nervous swimmers hanging back and most people looking to pace the swim, we all find a little space eventually. I guess it is the adrenaline but I feel like I  am flying away, and although I am conscious of being whacked by various flailing limbs, do not register any pain. At one point someone switches to breaststroke far too early, and as he effectively puts the brakes on right in front of me I end up doing a flying head-butt into his ribs. Nothing I could have done, so I shrug it off and continue, doubtless him doing did the same and thinking twice about stopping in the middle of everyone space next time.

After about 5 minutes I realise my first mistake, in that having expecting a cloudy day I am wearing clear goggles rather than my tinted ones, so as the sun beams down from a perfect blue sky I can see absolutely nothing on my right side except its glare. This is bearable on the first half of the swim, but makes things a lot trickier after we turn as I can no longer see the turning buoy’s properly so have to rely on watching the other swimmers to ensure I am heading the right way. At one point one of the yellow buoys actually seems to be getting further away from me and I fear I must be swimming backwards, until I realise it is actually the race leader from the wave that set off 10 minutes after ours, who has already caught us and is working his way through our group…

It is not unusual to feel very tired towards the latter stages of open water swims; remember this is nothing like a pool swim, as you have no opportunity to touch the sides and rest, or even ease off as if you do slow down someone will just cannonball into you as mentioned earlier. There is also the cold to deal with, the slight discomfort of wearing a wetsuit and good old-fashioned exhaustion from swimming. But I have none of this here. The chilly 16 degree water feels like a bath to me, and looking back I honestly do not remember feeling particularly tired. You also lose all track of time, and given this is a single loop race with no direct line of sight to the finish line it is hard to know exactly where I am, and I can not tell at points if I have been going for 5 minutes or half an hour.

Finally though, the finish rises above the horizon, the unmistakable sight of a huge inflatable Ironman arch, and I haul myself up the slipway and onto my feet and the next stage.

T1 – 7.22

This is by far the longest transition I have ever done, in fact it was almost as long as the swim in my last triathlon (despite the fact my time was actually one of the faster ones for this leg of the race). To explain why, it starts with a 250 metre run from the swim exit to the transition tent, across a mixture of terrain from gravel to grass, which does not do my already frozen feet any good. From there I have to locate my transition bag on a rack of thousands which is not the easiest in a half-dazed state, change out of my wetsuit into my bike gear, and then hand back the swim stuff to be transported back for me. The krypton factor had nothing on this sort of mental and physical challenge!

Having handed my transition bag in the night before I  discover I have made all the usual mistakes such as forgetting to unzip my bike top in advance and then being unable to do it with my icicle fingers, so I have to force my head through the gap like the rhino giving birth in Ace Ventura. As with my goggles earlier, I have made the same mistake with my eye wear: my yellow, light-enhancing glasses making the sunshine about ten times brighter than it already is, ready to test my retinas for the next few hours. Once ready I run out the other side to search for my bike amongst the two and a half thousand others, and make my way onto the next part of the course.

Bike – 3.48.17

Staffs Bike

The first thing that stands out to me on the bike course is the amazing closed roads. Now I have completed plenty of triathlons and the bit that always scares me is having to dodge traffic, with cars who tend to either hover behind you like a crazed stalker, or zoom past in full boy racer mode. And as for lorries, well they just do the latter! But we are extremely fortunate in this race to have the roads shut off for us, providing all the space we need, and giving me a massive confidence boost which I am able to translate into a bit of extra speed.

I tend to do most of my bike training indoors, and for some reason always forget how to use the gears on my bike properly, so it takes about 30 minutes or so of fiddling and clunking about until I settle on the best gears for hills and flats, but after a while I get into my rhythm and the first third of the race goes along at a fair pace. At this point I realise my third mistake of the day (after the goggles and sunglasses), as the cycling gloves I painstakingly pulled on in T1 turn out to be on the wrong hands. This means the soft gel padded bit is on the back of my hands, and the thin (aka useless) bit is doing nothing to protect my palms from chafing.

I do however get  lot of love for my Pink Floyd cycling top (see above), mainly from blokes of a certain age to be fair, although given the triathlon demographics in this country that accounts for a fair proportion of the field, and despite the fact it is dark (side of the moon) coloured, I never feel over-hot wearing it.

I like to try to follow some personal rules on the bike, and one of them is you really should not get off and walk, but unfortunately I have to break this a few times. The first of these is actually not my fault, as on one of the earlier hills we hit near the start, whilst my legs are still fresh enough to conquer it, the guy in front of me falls off. This means I immediately have to do the same to avoid a massive pile up appearing on You Tube later, but it makes me lose all the speed I had been carrying into the hill, and I have no chance of getting going again. So I have to push the bike up to the top, although fortunately it is only about 20 metres or so until I am going again.

Bilthfield Reservoir

The second is more down to me, and occurs about two-thirds of the way through, in a place I now know is Blithfield Reservoir. The view from the hilltop approach is probably my favourite in the whole race, and I even slow down on purpose on the bridge in the middle to take it in, but I should have known better, as in triathlons what goes down, must come up again. And so we do, with an almighty steep climb straight after (I know it looks flat in the picture above but take my word on this!) and after holding out for over two and a half hours my legs finally decide they had enough and cramp up on me. As a result I have to swerve off course and dismount, and spend about five minutes pushing myself to the top of the hill. I even question whether I am hallucinating, as the solitary supporter cheering me on is dressed in a full Luigi (from Super Mario Bros) costume!

Fortunately after that there is a nice long downhill section which allows my legs to recover and gets me through into the Cannock Chase park section, which is just as stunning as the reservoir. Inevitably there is another hill though (as Javier Gomez later agreed in his winner’s speech, it was NOT a flat course!) and inevitably I find a new muscle group in my legs to get cramp in, which  results in further few minutes pushing my bike to the top.

This time though I have the advantage, as I know what goes up, must come down, and after a fantastic lap around the park filled with cheering spectators, hit the fastest downhill descent of the day on a nice wide, empty road. Checking my GPS I am clocking over 50 km/h, the fastest I have ever ridden by some way! I really feel like I am flying, and within a few minutes I find myself inside the grounds of Shugborough, passing my car in the car park (always worth checking it is still there!) and in sight of transition…

T2 – 5.05

… but was I taking my eye off the ball too soon? You may have seen the pro’s on TV approaching their bike transition line, unclipping and standing on one foot to coast in, but mine is not quite so graceful as my leg has other ideas and treats me to another massive dose of cramp – right in front of all the spectators! Not being able to come off the bike properly I have to do a slow motion crash into the barrier to be able to stop myself falling off and potentially ending the race prematurely, until a marshal appears and holds the bike steady for me to dismount. Using my saddle as a makeshift crutch I then stagger into transition, calf still in agony from cramp, manage to hang my bike up to move on into the tent.

The rest of the transition is a bit of a blur, as I again have to locate my kit bag (red this time rather than blue) before collapsing into a chair to try to change into my trainers. Unbelievably I am back out and on my feet relatively quickly, with just the half-marathon to go between me and eternal glory.

Run – 2.35.01

Staffs Run

This is my fourth ever half-marathon, and I have to say I am actually very pleased with my time considering how knackered I an right from the start. Partly because that cramp I acquired getting off my bike not only refuses to go away as the race goes on, but ends up staying with me for the next 48 hours, and the rest is probably my body getting revenge for the general punishment I inflicted on myself today. I am not sure how many people reading have run a half-marathon with cramp right from the start, but take my word for it, it does not help. As a result, the first lap in particular is more of a hobble at times, but as the race goes on I make myself ignore the pain and manage to get up a reasonable pace. About 30 minutes in my Garmin battery packs in (always good to know I can outlast a watch!) and I lose the ability to track my speed, although perhaps is is part of the reason I later finish about 10 minutes faster than I had planned.

Unbelievably for the third time in the race I had the wrong eye-wear, as having switched to dark sunglasses in transition the sun began to hide behind clouds, meaning I had to keep lifting them up to make sure I could see where I was going at points in the course – Hopefully this will be the last time I do a split transition race!

As before though, my running top proves to be a massive hit. I bought it last year for the Avenger but never ended up wearing it due to the heat, but there was no way I could leave it out today. After all, if you can’t wear an Iron Man top in an Ironman race, when can you wear it! Most of the other competitors are in serious running gear or club tops (this is not a place for people dressed as fridges or juggling footballs) so I am pleased I have something that is both functional and fun. The supporters certainly loved it, especially the kids who all gave me extra cheers whenever I pass. I just hope I have not shattered any of their illusions that Tony Stark might not quite be as fit as they thought he was!

As with the bike course, we have all been expecting a nice flat route, and it starts well with a lovely trek around the stunning grounds of the estate with thousands of my / Gomez’s screaming fans. From there we run into the adjoining village, before facing a hill around 1 km long which was less welcome. That said, although I walk a fair bit of lap 1 due to my leg, when I return on laps 2 & 3 I find I am able to jog up the hill and then really step on the gas as we descend on the other side. The course then winds its way back into the grounds and back to the start again for the later loops.

Having survived exclusively on carb drinks and gels throughout the race, it suddenly hits me about halfway through the run that I have barely eaten all day, and in that instant I transform from being too busy to think about food, to absolutely ravenous. The problem is there is not much food on offer on the run course, so despite feeling hungry like the wolf, the only thing available is half a small banana at one of the stations that I only pass once per lap. Thinking back exactly the same thing happened on the Avenger, so as a mental note to self I will need to bring some extra solid food with me on my next long distance run!

The atmosphere on the run is truly fantastic, and I spent a lot of time chatting to the others around me as we run together which turn out to be some of my best memories of the day. There are so many great people there, and with over 60% of the field Iron Virgins (first timers) and everyone is massively pumped by this point in the race, knowing they have met the cut off times and are on track to complete the course. My favourite moment is at one of the last water stations, where the guy running with me is so hot he ignores the cups being held out and runs to the main table, picks up the large jug of water and tips the whole thing over his head in an effort to cool down. I almost pop a rib laughing!

Finish – 7.17.12

Staffs Finish Line

Everyone talked in the build up about how the finish of an Ironman event is amazing, and they could not have been more right. Unlike my last race of this distance, where the only people who were still there when I finished were my wife, my sister and a few marshals packing things away whilst looking at their watches, there are hundreds of people lining the finishing chute, with a mini-stadium on either side, loads of music and the commentators half-way down calling out your name as you approach. I still can not quite believe the time I am on for, some 40 minutes faster than last year, proving that all that training over the last 18 months has been worth it.

Ironman Staffs Medal

Finishing is an unbelievable feeling, easily the best individual sporting achievement I have ever done, and in those few moments running down the finish chute and crossing the line, the stress of the build up in the months, weeks and days before the race, and all the pain I have incurred today is gone. I cannot stop smiling as I receive my finishers medal and hear those immortal words, “Congratulations, you are not an Ironman”!

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!

Race Preparation

Things are really heating up now with just two weeks to go until Ironman 70.3 Staffs!

Ironman Staffs 2

After months of hard training I am now at the point where things are starting to calm down with a bit of tapering before the big day (although six separate gym sessions in the last four days might argue with that statement). It is funny that having been through this before with the Avenger last summer I now have slightly different concerns. Whilst previously my main concern was whether I could actually finish a race this long, I now know I can go the distance, and by accounts Ironman Staffs is supposed to have a slightly easier / flatter course (we will see…) which should mean that will take care of itself.

Also unless the weather changes a lot in the next fortnight it is unlikely to be pushing 30 degrees C during the race which will make nutrition a little more realistic and help avoid near collapses on the bike due to dehydration. Finally the cut off time is a bit longer than the 8 hours I previously had (8.30 this time) which I assume has been done especially for me and more importantly might mean I actually finish ahead of someone!

So assuming I can actually finish the course, my attention has turned to the admin side, and I honestly never thought I would have more concerns on this side of the race then actually getting around it!

First up is the location. When I booked the race (which was a mission in itself – see my post from last year on the perils of online race entry) it was because it was less than an hour away from home, which fulfils most of my criteria of being able to get to easily by car and not having to spend money on a hotel the night before. Unfortunately it is the other side of Birmingham in an area I have never been to before, so spent most of yesterday afternoon location scouting in the car, firstly driving around trying to find the venue, which was severely hampered by a load of road closures which confused the sat-nav and the fact that in general it is in the middle of bloody nowhere (I am sure there should be a question mark in the picture below!). Once we actually found it this added to my confusion as the first thing on site is a huge great petting zoo, which is definitely a first for me, although I guess being chased by an angry goat will probably ensure people achieve their PBs!

Shrugb

Next up is parking, and funnily enough writing this blog has made me find another issue. I was just searching for the name of the venue which I keep forgetting and noticed that car parking needed to be booked in advance ‘if you want to park there on the day’. Now bearing in mind I have already highlighted the remote location there is not really a realistic alternative available, as parking miles away and biking in with all my kit is not going to work. So another £14 (yes £14!!) to grudgingly pay on top of the massive entry fees, has at least ensured I will actually be able to park at the race and get home afterwards, assuming I can find it first.

The next, and potentially most complicated part of the day, is that the race actually takes place over two sites. So here you go: You start off at the finish.Yes, although you park up at Shugborough, that is not actually the start location. That is around 15 miles away at a place called Chasewater, where you do your swim and then ride (via a convoluted 90 km bike route) back to the start / finish place. This also means that not only do I need to go along the day before to set up on multiple sites, but on the race day itself you have to get a shuttle bus from the finish to the start. To be honest it is giving me a headache just thinking about it, so hopefully it will all just work out!

chasewater

Oh, I forgot to mention that one other thing that makes this so complicated. I need to be there at bloody 5 am! So as if it was not hard enough finding the place in the day time, I am going to have to leave the house at around 4 am and find it in the dark, whilst managing to actually stay awake. This is because of this complicated set up, as I will need to get to the finish / start and check my running gear is all ok, then jump on the shuttle bus to the start / finish and again check on my bike stuff. I then need to be in my wetsuit and ready to go in the water around 7ish, for my 7.10 wave start.

That said I am actually really glad I have this start time, as my age group (30-34) is the first ‘normal’ start time, meaning some others won’t even begin until I am halfway around the bike course, which should mean I have some companions during the run, rather than the lonely, painful struggle I experienced on my last lap in the Avenger.

Gomez

Finally, there is just the small matter of the ‘elite’ competitors taking part. As this is such a high-profile Ironman event (televised and everything) there are some big names in the mix, and none more so than the current ITU World Champion and Olympic Silver medallist Javier Gomez, who is in the first swim wave of the day starting just ten minutes before me. That’s right, I will be hot on the heels of one of the fastest triathletes on the planet! Well, that is probably the closest I will come to him unless his bike falls apart (although I expect he can run faster than I can ride anyway), but it is an amazing thought that I will be that close. I wonder if he will give me any encouragement before the start? That’s if I can work out where the hell it is!!

Gomez

A Guide to Hotel Training

The other day I realised that in the last two years I have spent over ten weeks staying in various hotels, in both the UK and South America. Furthermore, given that I had been trying to accumulate as many miles as I could for the Chile Challenge, I managed to spend a fair bit of that time occupying their various gyms and training facilities, so although I am not quite yet Alan Partridge, I guess I am reasonably well versed in the game of hotel based training.

During the last fortnight I spent time in three different hotels around England for both work and leisure purposes (partly why I have not written on her in a while) and of course made sure I used the gym in each of them; however, I would not say each visit was entirely successful, partly through fault of my own but also due to other guests. So to help others avoid some of the same issues, I thought it was about time I published a quick guide to some of the Do’s and Don’ts of using a hotel’s leisure facilities:

Groundhog Alarm

Do – Make the most of the facilities. For me, having a fully equipped gym just metres from my bedroom door is like a kid having their own in-house sweet shop. Yes, my local club also opens at 6am, but realistically how often do I ever get there at that time? Exactly. But in a hotel you have fewer excuses: you are only a few minutes from the changing room, typically have extra time available in avoiding a commute, and (most importantly for a morning session) are likely to have someone making you a decent breakfast afterwards! Even better, you may be able to go more than once per day: in fact during my weeks in Chester and London last year I managed 20 visits in just 12 days, alternating between Groundhog Day 6am morning swims, followed by mid-evening gym time – Cashback!

Radison

Don’t – Expect too much from the equipment. It is always hard to guess what you are getting yourself in for when visiting a hotel gym for the first time, so be prepared for anything. Most places seem to describe themselves as ‘Healthclubs’, which can be vague and range from a five star joint with regular members and top of the range equipment to… well something a bit less exciting. Those without members which are purely designed for guests (particularly business focused hotels) tend to have the bare bones stuff they expect the average ad exec to make themselves feel better with when away from their families. Last night for example I was staying in a fairly plush place, but I have more equipment in my own shed than they had in the gym. On the upside there was a hell of a view from the top floor (note clever use of a mirror in the above photo of it), and what was there was in reasonable nick (most likely due to lack of usage). Unlike say, the one I used last week where the bar on the lat pull down machine fell on your head whenever you tried to change the weights! Also bare in mind many visitors will not train regularly so don’t know the unwritten gym rules, like not dropping weights on the floor, and putting them back in the rack after usage, and so on. So plan for the worst, and if the unexpected happens let it be a pleasant surprise!

Luggage

Do – Bring separate kit bag. Yes might feel a bit OTT turning up for a one night stay with multiple bags, like you are Prince Akeem from Coming to America, but one more bag is always worth it. Why? Drying! Having spent all that time away last year I mastered the art of drying stuff in hotel bathrooms and radiators whilst away for a week at a time, but if you are following the maximisation rule above you need to be training right up to the last morning. This is even more important for one night stands, so to speak. Assuming you have a while between checking out and getting home, the last thing you want is your damp smelly kit from that morning (or even the night before) leaching chlorine or sweat onto your suits, jumpers and whatever else you have had with you. Plastic bags just don’t work. Having a proper kit bag to put it in just works, ok.

IMG_5337IMG_5339

Don’t – Forget your kit. You might think the last point I made acts as a reasonable mitigant for this, but I had a real disaster last weekend. I had a carefully planned window between arriving at the hotel and going out for dinner to try out the hotel’s leisure facilities, but like so many best laid plans, it all went wrong. As I changed into my shorts and top I realised I had managed to bring two different right trainers. As in the right trainer from one pair, and the right trainer from a different (but fairly similar looking in a rush) set… Doh! Never one to give up on training I took a gambled that the hotel gym would be fairly quiet (see above) and went in without them. As expected there was only one other guy there, and he was a weights bro who hardly batted an eyelid at the crazy cardio kid who was just in his socks. I guess it is the sort of strange behaviour that lifters expect from us triathletes in general. Funnily enough I did actually get in quite a good session, although I would not recommend the treadmill (I went on in bare feet for extra grip) as the tread was a bit cheap and crap, and without any cushioning my ankles still ached a few days later.

Preston pool

Do – Respect other users in the pool. As I have written here before, I like to swim properly at my gym and expect others to do the same when using the lanes. As a general rule I only swim crawl, but I am conscious that in a hotel pool it is not always possible. Case in point, my hotel from last week (above), where I thought I would get in a cheeky 6am swim session. As soon as I saw the pool I realised this would not be a heavy session, given it was around 10 metres long, and had two jacuzzis at one end. I will leave it to your imagination to picture what a picture of it from above would look like. So I settled in with the other earlybirds for a gentle morning dip. But there it always one. You know the type: balding, all the gear, unnecessarily tight trunks for a hotel, first Porsche in the car park (probably), and so on. I was surprised he forgot his fins. And he decided it would be appropriate to do the splashiest front crawl right through the middle of everyone. Terrible technique, and complete disregard for other users, completely oblivious to the classic English tutting and head shaking going on around him. From a distance it sounded like he was dropping depth charges, and he could probably have located treasure at the bottom of the Pacific Trench, were the pool any more than 1 metre deep. Everyone else gradually got out to escape the waterboarding, although I managed to draw on my open water experience to outlast him, but it kind of put a downer on the session. Anyway, the point is, know your surroundings, and don’t be a selfish bastard for other users.

Starsky Towels

Don’t – Rely on the free towels. Despite the extra bag you might have with you, no one ever wants to bring their own towel to a hotel if it can be avoided, so most give you one when you get to the gym / pool. Now by all means make the most of them as they are of some use: perhaps to cover small shaving cuts or say, a face cloth for ants. I jest of course, buy they do always seem to be very small, geared more around being used to wipe down machines after use (fair enough), rather than to actually dry you off after a swim.  I am not sure if this is to save the hotel money on laundry or some sort of in-joke on me, but every time I wrap myself in it, it reminds me of the scene with the hand towels in Starsky & Hutch…

Calama Swim

Do – Get out and about. I know this is aimed at hotel gyms, but staying away from home gives you a fantastic opportunity to explore new parts of the world, specifically by going for a run. Yes, it is not always possible, and a number of my stays last year coincided with a combination of freezing cold and rainy weather with near permanent winter darkness, which is hardly conducive to exploring a new area. But when you can get out it makes it all worth it, as I showed last year with some of my blogs from places like Newquay and Bristol. That said, always take care when swimming in an outdoor pool in the desert – It might be pushing 40 degrees in the afternoon, but chances are it was negative overnight. Last time I tried that it was so cold I turned bright red and looked like I had been sunbathing too long. Or perhaps that tip is a bit too specific…