Ignoring the Voices

Reading my blog back for a change, I seem to write a fair amount of posts on here which involve staying at some sort of hotel / venue for work / holiday and getting up far too early in the morning for a run.

So rather than break with tradition, today’s entry is for the exact same thing!

This one involved me staying at a conference centre in the middle of the countryside, not too far from Warwick in the Midlands,  on a two-day course which involved a dinner / drinks / stay over in the middle. Needless to say we made the most of the hospitality on offer (as one does on these things) and it was a fairly late night.

The next morning I found myself woken up at a far-too-early seeming hour, and looked down in alarm at the kit bag I had brought along in the usual expectation I would be hitting the trails first-thing. Worse still, I had a vague memory of telling just about everyone I met the night before that I would be getting up to do this, despite their laughter and assurances there was no way it was going to happen.

The next thing I knew I had one of those angel / devil moments in my head, where I subconsciously went through the arguments for and against getting out of bed for a nice cold September morning run. As far as I can remember it went something like this…

Peter Griffin Angel Devil

 

  • Aghh, it’s too early in the morning – It’s 6.45 on a Tuesday, you are usually up by now for work anyway
  • You only went to bed a few hours ago – You can sleep again tonight!
  • The bed is nice and warm – You are going to have to get up at some point, and a run will keep you warm
  • You are not in any condition to run – Yes, last night may have involved half a bottle of merlot and a bucket of Coronas, but you need to make up for it somehow!
  • You don’t have enough time for a long run – 20 minutes is better than nothing at all…
  • There is going to be nowhere around here to run – That’s fine, just loop around the grounds a few times
  • It is raining outside – If you run properly you will end up dripping wet anyway
  • Your running kit will be wet all day – So what else is new?
  • You are starving hungry – What better way to prepare for a cooked breakfast?
  • No one will even know if you don’t do it – I will…
  • Are you really sure about this? – Damn right I am!

Leamington hotel

So next thing I knew I was creeping my way around the hotel to find my way into the grounds, trying not to stumble into doorways and wake up my colleagues. Sadly my fears that the surrounding area would not quite be as exotic as I would have liked turned out to be true, resulting in me having to run three 1 km loops of a field at the front of the building (see picture above).

Furthermore, it turned out to be raining a bit more than I had thought, meaning the grass was fairly saturated so there were plenty of puddles & rabbit holes to test out my socks & ankles, as well as my patience, but I made it around without too much hassle in the end.

Yes, it was a tough run, in fairly poor conditions and a ropey area, but as I said above, going for any run is better than not going for a run, and I am starting to realise I must enjoy it a bit more than I let on, otherwise there is no way I could drag myself out for something like this. So here is to plenty more early morning runs to write about in the coming year!

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Colour Obstacle Rush: 13/9/15

After a string of fairly serious races, including a couple of killer half-Ironmans (or should that be Ironmen?), last weekend took something of a different tack. As I mentioned earlier, my wife had entered a team of us into a slightly different type of race: The Colour Obstacle Rush (COR) in Sheffield. The name of the event somewhat says it all, but for those who have not seen one of these before allow me to explain:

  • Colour – Well, you may get a clue about this from the photos, and there was certainly a lot of this on the day!
  • Obstacle – That’s a big Ten-Four! Plenty of these to climb over / around / through.
  • Rush – Note this was not a race, but what could only be described as a crazed run around!

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The event took place at Rother Valley Country Park to the South East of the city, and about ten minutes from my in-laws. I had visited the place a couple of times before, and it has a decent sized lake, surrounded by paths and woodland. You would almost never know you were just a few miles away from the place formerly known as Steel City due to its industrial heritage.

As soon as we arrived at the venue we were transported straight back to our childhoods, with the park taken over by the event organisers and now resembling a giant playground, with what seemed to be bouncy castles, slides, climbing frames and a huge stage which was booming out classic 90’s dance tunes.

This was my first ever team event (not including a triathlon relay some years ago as I still had to swim my leg alone) so I was really excited to have people to run with. We had eight in our team, aka ‘Soul Mates’, 3 chicos and 5 chicas. Alarmingly I was the most experienced racer, and although I was not particularly concerned at a 5 km yomp, this was all new to me.

Amongst the others, only one other was a regular runner at this distance, but everyone was in decent enough shape to make sure we would get around. In fact looking at some of the other teams it was clear why this was described as a rush rather than race, as many would not be getting out of second gear. To be fair once we got going I realised it was more an event to savour, and we actually found we slowed down a lot and even stopped at points to take it all in.

On registering we were given our fun packs, the main thing being a lovely clean (for now) white t-shirt, and our classy matching pink headbands and shades (essential to avoid a PJ & Duncan situation). We also received our first paint packs, having all been curious to see what these would involve. Fortunately they were not heavy paint cans, but plastic pouches containing a dyed corn starch, which covered a very satisfying are when thrown. We did hold off as long as we could before opening them, but of course not everyone could wait, and all of a sudden we were ambushed by one of the girls (it is always the quiet ones!) and from there it basically turned into carnage!

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Our miniature battle (likened by one of us to the battle at the end of Zulu) was brought to an end by the announcers calling us for the warm up. Being one of the earlier waves we had not yet seen any finishers and thought we had a lot of paint on us at that point – oh how wrong we were! The 90’s music was turned up, and about 300 of us launched into a large outdoor version of Body Attack, bouncing around and preparing for this crazy event.

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Warm-up done, we were ushered towards the start line, and able to have a proper look at our first ‘obstacle’. This could best really be described as a reverse car wash, with everyone being funnelled through a start chute into an giant foam pit, simultaneously being showered with orange paint by the slightly over enthusiastic marshals. The whole place looked like a massive orange milkshake!

As we emerged I noticed the marshals wandering around and trampling through the foam. As first I assumed they were making the most of the fun, but then realised they must have been looking for stray bodies if anyone fell into the abyss – who said this was an easy event?! That second, as if to prove the point, a lady on our left took a huge fall into a puddle and soaked us with the splash. After about half a second to make sure it was not too serious we glanced at each other and could not hold in the laughter, necessitating one of the fastest sprints of the day in an effort to hide it.

There were around ten obstacles along the route, so one every 500 metres or so, and the first turned out to be fairly typical: an inflatable tunnel about 10 metres long which we had to crawl through. Again, it was not quite as easy as expected, and Ange in particular broke down laughing half-way through, presumably still getting over the previous incident.

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Team safely through we carried on, and proceeded to get through a series of alternating obstacles, going between inflatables such as bouncy climbing frames and a sort of maze which reminded us all of Takeshi’s Castle, and colour tents where you had to climb through or under nets, whilst being pelted with paint by more of those over-zealous marshals. We quickly learned to shut our mouths and eyes during the latter ones, as one taste of the paint power was enough to put you off ingesting it again.

As you can see I had my phone camera on me, but having had to wrap it in a plastic bag to shield it from the paint, the quality of the images was not great. A few competitors had go-pro type cameras with chest harnesses which looked great, although I if I did own one I am not sure how much I would fancy it being covered in paint, and as for the sharp edges going over those inflatable obstacles, well that was just an accident waiting to happen!

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The further we got through the race the more and more of us was covered: there was literally no part of our bodies free from colour! One of the fun parts was each station used a different colour paint, so as the route was basically an out and back loop, you could see what point other runners were at by what colour they were. By the final stages of the race we were all but unrecognisable, Big Jon looking alarmingly like Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, whilst Rob was more… well… the Pink Panther, as I am sure you will agree from the above picture! Me, well of course I was Ironman again, with a big glowing circle in the middle of my chest – well that was my view, although I have a memory of one of our team being called Papa Smurf!

Around this point I think I may have also killed my Garmin, as not only did it get covered in paint (although most washed off) but the battery died in the final kilometre. Admittedly this took slightly longer than normal at around 45 minutes (to be fair we had to stop and wait for a few of the obstacles) but given I had started with 88% battery I was not too happy. It did re-animate itself after a charge, and I managed to map the majority of the race as you can see below, but not sure I want to rely on it again for a triathlon: Time for an upgrade to 920xt next year perhaps?

Colour Rush

Anyway, we made sure we all reached the final obstacle at the same time, a rope climb followed by a fun slide down the other side and over the line. Competitive to the end we stood in a long line together and raced up to the top, but this was one of those races where we were all winners (although I reckon I crossed first of course!). We were then into the after-party, which was basically ensuring any last part of the body not covered with paint was rectified, and downing glasses of water to take away any last starch taste. Oh, and like any good race an ice cream too! I was dead proud of my team for all getting through so strongly, and everyone was so pleased with how well the day went and were immediately planning a rematch of this course as well as some more events for next year: That is if I ever manage to get this damn paint off!

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Buddy Training Part Two

After the success of my first ever buddy run in Cornwall over the summer, I thought I would try to repeat the trick last weekend. Naturally I decided I had to step things up a notch, and what better way to do so than running with my lovely wife!

Now in the not  too distant past this would never have been an option to either of us: me as I tended to prefer do my triathlon training alone and had yet to experience the motivational benefits of having someone to run alongside; and my other half as basically she hated running! That is not to say she could not run, having done Race For Life a few years earlier and plenty of fitness from going to the gym 4 or 5 times per week, but in general she has always been more into group exercise classes or the odd bit of cross training than cranking out the miles on foot.

Eck Run 2

But during the summer – in a manner I am all too familiar with – she experienced a moment of madness and managed to convince a group of us to sign up for an obstacle race in the autumn (more on this to follow soon). This was a 5 km distance involving various hazards and obstacles, so she decided it would probably be a good idea to get a few miles under the belt before hand: As I have said many times before, nothing like entering a race to add a bit of an incentive to training!

We decided to do an early morning run on one of my regular routes near her family’s house in Yorkshire, winding around the streets,  up and down cul-de-sacs and generally exploring the area. The rule is basically, keep to the side and every time you come to a turning you have to take it, and as you can see from the GPS tracker below we covered most of the perimeter of the estate over a 6 km distance.

Eck Run 3Eckington Run AngeEck Run 1

I had been nervous before that she would hate it, but actually it went down really well. I was really impressed with the fact we kept going with no stopping, and it was a great confidence booster ahead of the obstacle race. Next stop – Ironman for two!?!

Cornish Training Part II – Running Buddy

Earlier this year I wrote about a great run I did down in Newquay, making my way along the spectacular cliff tops between the town centre and Watergate Bay. Like most of my runs it was an early morning job, making the most of the peaceful surroundings and fantastic sunrise. Also, like all of my others, I did it on my own.

When I was younger I used to do loads of team sports: pretty much every weekend was taken up playing rugby, football, hockey, cricket and the like, and I always loved that team spirit that helps bring out the best in you. But as I got older, I gravitated towards more solo sports like swimming and running, with the pinnacle of these being long distance triathlons, were even those where there are loads of other competitors, you will always find yourself alone at some point, often for long periods of time. None more so for me than the Avenger, where I must have ridden for the best part of an hour towards the end of the bike leg without seeing a soul!

Although I have recently got into exercise class training such as the Les Mills stuff, most if not all of my triathlon training has always been done on my own, whether outdoor swimming (there is nothing better than having the pool to ones self!) or getting my head down on the bike or run, with headphones to drown out any distractions.

Newquay St Ives

But on visiting Cornwall for the second time this year, further along the coast in St Ives, I had a different offer: my brother-in-law asked if I wanted to go for a run with him. Now Matt is what I see as a ‘proper’ runner, who has completed a number of marathons over the years, and is definitely a lot faster than me.  This immediately made me slightly nervous that I would be left behind, despite his protestations that he was out of practice having spent the past two years up at all hours of the night with his baby daughter!

Carbis Bay Run

On a side note, this is one of the main reasons I like triathlon, as I am fully aware I am not the world’s best swimmer, rider or runner, and there are plenty of specialists around who could kick me ass around the track or pool in their sleep; however, there are fewer folk who like doing do all three in a row which tends to help me out in races. But I digress…

We agreed to go for an early run the next morning, for me a relatively early 8am (I was on holiday!) although Matt had of course been up for hours (not so much out of choice!). Like my last run down here, our route of choice was the South West Coastal Path, although we were about 30 miles further west than before.

St Ives Run

Fortunately it was just as beautiful in this part of the world, and we had a fantastic run, following the train line along the estuary, taking in lovely views of Lelant & Carbis Bay beaches, eventually reaching St Ives itself. It was what trail runners would probably call a ‘technical’ course – an off-road route designed more for hiking than running, with some overgrown parts and a lot of steps – but we were more than up to the added challenge.

Carbis Bay Run 4

One reason I had always been a bit nervous about running with someone else is now being able to run at my own pace (and not listening to music, but actually it was nice to just have the natural sounds in the background) but I soon realised that was fine. At points Matt did start to disappear into the distance, but he was a great running buddy, having done this a lot more than I, and at points casually slowed down without making a fuss to let me catch up, without making a big deal of it. To be fair I held my own pretty well, and I realised it was actually less me slowing down Matt as him motivating me to run faster and longer!

Matt & Jim 3

We reached the halfway point of St Ives station in good shape, so rather than retrace out steps back we decided on an alternate route back along the main road, which turned out to be a bit of a killer. After our tricky off-road path into town, this was a pavement job, but with a good 2 km of steady climbing on the way out-of-town. Again it was good to see we were both up to it – although it was not easy – and it did come with the old benefit that what goes up must come down, meaning the final part of our run was a nice gentle slope back to our starting point.

All in all we managed just over 11 km in not much more than an hour, which was a fantastic time for me, and it was here I realised how beneficial it is to be able to run with someone. Yes, you might feel bad about making them stop occasionally, but in the long-term you with both spur each other on and end up achieving more as a team than you would individually. Certainly food for thought for future training sessions, and thanks again Matt!

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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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!