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

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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!).

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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

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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?!

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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

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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!

Déjà Vu

I feel like I have done a lot of things in the last month or so that I could write about here, but the thing is, I have already blogged about much of it in my other 120 or so posts: Hotel based training – Check. Aqua Cycling – Check Check. Outdoor swimming… you get the picture. So I thought today I would focus on a few of my main events from March:

Les Mills Live

Les Mills Live

Sounds familiar? Yes, I first wrote about this back in November, although at the time the event was called One Live and took place in Manchester (https://chilechallenge.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/one-live-manchester/). The name may have been re-branded and the location different, but this was basically the same thing: A full day of high energy gym classes, run by the Les Mills Group with all their latest tracks. To give you an idea of the key numbers involved for us:

6 Classes, 5 Hours, 4,000 Calories burned!

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As we now knew how the day worked, we were able to get in a bit earlier and book onto some of the more popular classes which sold out last time. This turned out to be a bit good, but also a bit bad as they were extremely busy, but I guess the atmosphere made up for it. My own classes & thoughts on the new releases were:

  • RPM (Spin) – First class of the day for everyone at the event, and it showed as the room was only about 20% full so a lot of empty bikes. In terms of the music, I have to be honest that I was not too keen on the first half, but the last few tracks were great and made up for it somewhat.
  • Body Attack – Normally one of my favourites, but so busy it was difficult to move at times (must have been 1000 people there). The sound system was also terrible in the room used so I could not actually tell what half the tracks were, but it was still fun to have that many people involved, and I am looking forward to trying this out back at my gym soon.
  • Body Combat – Pretty much see above, although at least there was a but more room in this one (useful when you are kicking at head height!). The tracks seemed a bit better, and to be fair this is in part all about watching the lead instructors on stage who seemed to defy gravity with their amazing martial arts technique.

Les Mills Live RPM

  • Sprint – My second bike based class of the day. This one is a more intense version, with a 45 minute class squeezed into 30 minutes, meaning you work just as hard but in less time, i.e. it is a killer! The class has only been going 6 months so is still new, and I have not been a huge fan so far, but I liked this a lot more, great music and choreography. An unexpected highlight of the day.
  • Sh’Bam – We picked this as a bit of fun after first experiencing it in Manchester. My thoughts are still about the same, in that there are a load of amazing professional dancers on stage with most of the audience dancing around wildly like a drunken wedding crowd. I have no co-ordination to manage this, but who cares when it is so much fun and you are burning calories too!
  • Bodyvive 3:1 – By the final class we were flagging a bit, and this last session is a three in one class involving Cardio, Resistance and Core workouts in one. To be honest it was all a bit of a blur by then, but I remember coming out pretty happy – although that could have been as much due to finishing the day as how good the class was…

Les Mills Live 1

Overall it was a decent day. There were a few technical issues around music volumes / broken microphones / overcrowding, but nothing I do not see every week in regular classes. The Les Mills lead instructors seem to be pretty superhuman, whether demoing ludicrous tuck jumps at nearly head hight, or showing better moves than Beyonce’s backing singers, they are hugely inspiring. Of course, the best part is the general atmosphere, and mixing with thousands of like-minded exercise nuts – Bring on Manchester later this year!

BUPA Medical

Is it weird to write about your own medical report? I don’t think so, as there is nothing really too personal there, at least that I will go into here. This testing is a company requirement, which we undertake every couple of years. I first wrote about this early on in the Chile Challenge (https://chilechallenge.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/whats-up-doc/), so thought it would be interesting to see how things had moved on after two years of fairly intense exercise.

The medical involves about 2 hours of various tests and I find it fascinating, having never really spent any time at the doctors before. I did notice there was an enhanced option which included VO2 Max and some other bits which I would have loved to see out of curiosity, but the extra cost was too high for just personal interest.

After the visit they send a huge pack of data, covering everything from your blood pressure to risk of diabetes, and the good news is everything is not only acceptable, but also moving in the right direction. I have copied some of the data below, for BMI (which I still think is a huge con!) and Body Fat, and the trends say it all – the exercise does work! In terms of BMI, I did get asked once how I was planning on getting this down, and I think my response (by doing an Ironman in 2 months) pretty much covered it!

Another of the findings was around Estimated Average Energy Requirement, which is the amount of calories my body requires, based on both body tests and activity levels. Apparently mine is 2724, which is more than the 2,500 I always assumed, so a bit of a bonus there I guess!

Spine Doc

A few days later, I noticed a queue of people in the gym around a monitor and could see them checking out some sort of x-rays. It turned out he was a physio with a specialism in spine alignment, and had some sort of fancy portable MRI scanner to check for signs of stress in the upper and lower back. Of course I got mine done, and it came out with the below image.

Spine Scan

To be fair, I am not too sure what it meant as it was one where you had to go for a follow up appointment (i.e. pay extra) but in short it meant I have some extra stress in my lower back, possibly as I had just recently had a series of long (4 hour +) drives, and also as I had just done a Body Pump class, where 1000+ reps might have impacted my spine a bit. He did say although it looks red above, it is not the worst it can be, with some people getting a stress score in the thousands which need urgent attention. Still, always interesting to see something like this, and maybe I will test it again in future and it if gets worse I can follow it up further.

 

Anyway, that is all for today. I am off to do some training in sunny Cuba… although I have already written about that too!

London Calling

It has been a while since I last wrote anything on here, over two months in fact, with my last update being Ironman Staffs. Whilst I have not had any races since, I have of course been doing plenty of training, making the most of the English Summer. Well, that is not strictly true, as those in this part of the world will know it has been a bit rubbish for outdoor training, but even so I have had some great training, both at home and abroad.

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First up was a couple of sessions I got in whilst on a work training course in London back in July. Of course the main reason I was there was to learn some new skills to use back in the office, but the bonus for me was the chance to explore one of the most famous cities in the world at my own pace.

When I used to spend my time in the gym purely lifting weights or swimming, I could never understand the attraction for people I knew who went on long, lonely runs, frequently in the freezing cold – for fun! But over the last few years I have managed to come around to it, and realised it is probably the best way to get to know an area, reaching parts only accessible on foot and at reasonable enough pace (i.e. slow in my case!) to take it all in.

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My hotel for the week turned out to be decent, although pretty much in the middle of nowhere by London standards, a few miles up river from Canary Wharf and on the borders of EastEnders-Land. Not that that was an issue, but it meant I had to go some distance before I actually got anywhere interesting, rather than a huge / not-currently-being-used exhibition centre and a lot of warehouses & factories. With all respect to those living nearby, it was also not in what I would call the ‘best’ area, not too much of an issue at 6am, but not one to wander at night-time. Either way, I was glad I had my trainers with me…

For my first run I was actually up well before six, and I decided to make my way to Canary Wharf where I was doing my course, to scout out the location and see what it was like before it got too busy. It turns out London-folk start work a bit earlier, and there was a surprising amount of businesspeople wandering around before 7am: most getting in extremely large coffees to wake themselves up! It was cool to run past my head office at that time though, catching the early morning sunrise against the tower.

IMG_6201Canary Wharf Run 1

After a while I came across signs to the Isle of Dogs, which sounded interesting enough to be worth checking out. Sadly, this was not a Murakami-esque fantasy land, inhabited solely by our canine companions, but more of a concrete miracle situated in the middle of the Thames. Still, it had some nice views, most notably of the Millennium Dome (I am sure it has a new name, but for many of us it will always be so called). The wharf also backs onto the famous Billinsgate Fish Market, which no doubt had been buzzing for hours by the time I got there.

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The next day I thought I would try a different route. Sadly it seemed my first choice was not possible, as I had wanted to get closer to the Dome, but due to a lack of bridges in the East end of town this would have involved going quite a few miles out-of-the-way, and I simply did not have enough time. Well I could have got up before 5, but let’s face it – that was not going to happen this week!

I decided I may as well try and get ‘Sarf’ of the river to see how close I could get to it, but again I was thwarted. It turned out, what I thought was the main river, was actually more of a marina / offshoot. Easier to explain in a picture. Basically I was staying below the ‘C’ of the BBC logo below, and during my run I only managed to get around the blue strip underneath. This was still ok for a few sights, as I managed to see the Thames Barrier for the first time ever, which – I will be honest – is not much of a looker up close, whilst the the final part of the loop took me past London City airport and a close up look at some of the flashier jets that travel there.

EastendersCanary Wharf Run 2

By the time I got near my hotel again I had only been going about 40 minutes, so I headed North towards E17 to try to see a bit more. After a little spent while getting lost on a housing estate I found my way to a combined city farm and park (a but strange but ok…) which excitingly had an adventure playground type thing. Given it was still before 7am and I had the place to myself, the temptation was obviously too much to resist, and I was soon recreating an Indiana Jones type adventure across the rope bridge. At least I hope I had it to myself…!

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After a while, it was time to head back. Navigation was reasonably easy given I could at least head for the tall buildings, although the numerous unmarked cul-de-sacs and dead ends made it significantly harder than it could have been to run in a straight line. Finally I managed to work my way back to the hotel without incident, and headed straight to the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet to refuel!

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