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!

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This is It!

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

Ironman Badge

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

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

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

What I Talk About

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

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

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

The Final Countdown

This is it: the final stretch. After 11 months of hard work, it has all come down to the final 220 kilometres. As I said earlier, leaving this – the exact distance of an iron distance triathlon – was certainly not planned, but has turned out to be one of those happy accidents, giving me a great target for my final month to ensure I keep going.

Final Countdown

Until now I have been using a variety of different means to build up my miles for the Chile Challenge, in fact if anything I have been trying to use as many as possible, firstly to add some variety and ensure I don’t get bored, and secondly in an effort to improve my all round fitness. This has seen me doing all sorts of things, from scuba diving to country dancing and various different gym classes along the way.

I have also tried various tricks to try to add some balance to my training and ensure I don’t get too one-sided, as it would be easier to achieve this distance on the bike. This led to me adding a multiplier to count each kilometre I ran as three, and those completed in the pool as five.

220

But now the end is in sight I am going old school, back to basics, and laying down a final challenge for myself. An Ironman in the final month! Just to clarify, I am not going to do an actual Ironman, as it would be a bit late to enter and I don’t have time. But I will be doing the equivalent for my final 220 km, with no distractions from golfing, surfing, or whatever else I have been counting this year. So this will be at least:

  • 5 km Swimming
  • 175 km Cycling
  • 40 km Running

To kick things off with I have just done a 15 km run, so am already well on the way to doing this. In fact it could have been more had my GPS watch not died after 4.5 km, followed by my back-up phone after 14.5 km, and fearing I was probably next for the chop I thought it would be best to head home! Lesson learned – charge your gadgets… But other than that it was a solid start to the final month, so here is to the other 205 kilometres!

Ironman vs Christmas Shopping

Regardless of whether you have spent this year training for the London Marathon, the Tour de France or even the Ironman World Championships, nothing can quite prepare you and your body for the stresses & strains of festive gift buying. So having barely survived Black Friday weekend, I thought I would share with you a few similarities I have observed between competing in triathlons and Christmas shopping, which as it turns out are not too different from each other…

black firday ironman

Getting There
The resemblance begins straight away. In both cases you usually have to get up at the crack of dawn, in an effort to try to beat the crowds that start to form before the gates even open, often with queues during the last few miles. Parking is inevitably a nightmare – miles away from the start line – which means at some stage you will be having to lug a load of heavy bags either to, or from the car.

Black Friday car park

Equipment
On of my favourite elements of triathlons are that they require plenty of gear, ranging from wetsuits to bikes, with endless combinations and special features available. As well as helping you go faster, much of it is there to protect you such as bike helmets and cushioned shoes. This concept translates well into xmas shopping, for which I would recommend your own body armour. And possibly a riot shield…

Blockupy Protests In Frankfurt

The Start
I have written before of how mass swim starts are roughly comparable to being in a washing machine on full spin, your stomach a bag of nerves, arms whirling all over the place, getting bashed in the face by random elbows… only marginally less violent than Tesco at midnight on Black Friday.

Black Friday swim

The Course
Whatever route you find yourself taking, you will noticeably start to flag as you get around. All of your best intentions of conserving energy for the toughest sections will be ruined as you subconsciously start to compete against the person next to you, each of you unspoken and silently willing the other to fall over as you home in on your goal, whether it is being first to get to the final corner, or first to reach that half price television set in Asda.

Black Friday asda

Transition
The concept of transition often causes confusing for triathlon spectators: for professionals they are a blur of activity, with competitors seamlessly moving from one event to another; in my own case they involve a somewhat more disorganised attempt to avoid falling over whilst balancing on one foot with the other still stuck inside a wetsuit. But whatever happens you can’t be shy, as there is no time to nip indoors to change. As for sale shopping, why bother queueing for hours for a 4 items or less changing area, when there is a perfectly good shop floor to use?

black Friday changing

Nutrition
Fueling is a key aspect of triathlons, with the ability to eat and drink on the move to ensure you do not get left behind essential. Meanwhile, if you think you are going to get a seat at Nandos in the food court at this time of year you are sadly mistaken, so those skills are instantly transferable to having a coffee and cookie on the move, as you well know that if you stop for just a few seconds you might never be able to face getting going again

Black Friday Nandos

The Finish Line
Collapsing in exhaustion as you get over the line, or out of the exit door. The main feeling is one of relief that it is over, and phrases like ‘never again’ and ‘I’m too old for this shit’ are spouted – but in reality you know you will be doing it all over again the next year.

Black Friday collapse

The Reward
I have a shelf full of triathlon medals, each of which I look at with pride and rose tinted memories of a fantastic race. Christmas shopping however is so traumatic that you have to give away everything you came away with, presumably due to the fact that no amount of rose (or rosé) could take away those memories. I wonder whether Batman managed to wrestle that TV away from Bane in the end?

Black Friday armour

So in the end, much like the Chile Challenge, it turns out you are better doing as much as possible of it on-line from the comfort of your own lounge…

Swim Rage

I have a reputation at work for being a pretty calm person, to the extent that I am often told it can come across as too laid back and should be careful people do not mistake it for laziness. I am pretty sure I have always been like this, and think it probably comes from playing a lot of sport when growing up, being able to burn off all my excess energy on the pitch.

When I was at uni I really got into swimming, and particularly having paid good beer money to join the campus pool felt I needed to get my monies worth so ended up going a good few times a week. I have tried to keep it up ever since as I find lapping up & down a pool is by far the best way to relax: head ducking under the water to drown out ambient noise; tinted goggles creating tunnel vision by blocking out peripheral distractions; and regular controlled breathing lending itself to a meditative state. It also gives plenty of time to clear out any anger, a resistance free way of punching through the water to emerge (hopefully) stress free.

Lane Rage

Unfortunately though, it does not always work out that way. One of the reasons I love swimming so much when the outdoor pool at my gym is open, is besides the fantastic feeling of being outside, it means there is almost twice as much space to accommodate all the members. Even if the open air side is packed, you can usually switch to the covered pool and have it almost to yourself. But at this time of year I should be so lucky. And with a lot of people crammed in together, the stress busting benefits are somewhat reduced, and you sometimes find yourself in new territory: Lane Rage. Allow me to explain…

Hulk

The thing about this is whatever your attitude to swimming is, pretty much everyone reading this will have experienced their own version in the pool at some point. The main reason is that there are so many different types of swimmers and most pools simply do not have room to accommodate them. As someone who spent 4 years as a lifeguard in my youth I have spent plenty of time watching swimmers over the years, and am therefore going to categorise (i.e. wildly stereotype) some of these, which like politicians each have their own unique way of annoying me:

  • Old Dears – Found at almost every pool during the daytime, these painfully drag out their breaststroke, usually side by side chatting. They will be in the water for ages taking up a whole lane, and afterwards boast about the fact they swim for an hour, despite only completing a dozen lengths at best. Although they seem harmless, the pile ups they cause in other lanes mean they are often indirectly culpable for much of the stress others feel in the rest of the pool.
  • Hyper Teenagers – Another group of regulars, these play with their oversized floats & footballs, ignore the lane ropes and end up drifting in and out of the lane section whilst their parents ignore them from the Jacuzzi. These used to be a nightmare when lifeguarding, and are equally bad when in the water. I know this sounds very grumpy old men, but there you go.
  • Amateur Swim Coaches – Inevitably when I try to get in a quick dip after work the slow lane is occupied with a kid’s swimming lesson. This is absolutely fine as they keep themselves to themselves. What does get me though it parents who are too mean to pay for the lessons but try and copy the coaches in teaching their own little ones to swim, usually whilst the lesson is actually going on in the adjacent lane, therefore just crowding out everyone else. This summer I saw the most extreme example one evening, with one poor kid being belated by his Dad for not trying hard enough, whilst having to work his way through every bit of training equipment imaginable, including fins and a snorkel.
  • Middle Laners – My pool is split into three lanes: Slow, Medium & Fast, and the average user seems incapable of understanding where they sit in this trinity. I read something once about our tendencies to categorise ourselves in many things – politics, intelligence, etc – as average, on the basis that as there are always some people a bit slower and some a bit quicker, then we must be somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately this mindset does not work well in the pool, as it ensures the middle lane is inevitably overcrowded with people kicking each other as they are unable to comprehend why others are travelling at a different pace.
  • Wannabe Olympians – Usually guys between 35-50 who honestly believe they can do butterfly, but look more like they are participating in an epic battle between a hungry hippo & angry croc. They take up an entire lane, splash everyone and make next to no progress, coming up wheezing on the far side with some sort of delusion it is worth thrashing their way back down again.
  • Speed Demons – Onto the route cause of today’s blog, having encountered one this very afternoon. It is great that you are a quick swimmer, but some consideration for others would be nice. Easily spotted from a distance as (usually) men with Speedos and swim caps (despite being bald and in a warm pool). Even with my own lane rage I always try to be aware of others (once a lifeguard…) but these are people who look to mow you down like you are competing for position in an Ironman. Perhaps they are so focused on themselves they don’t get lane rage, but it just winds everyone else up. My friend today was actually not too bad, but there has been so many occasions where they would rather cut you up with a mid-lap overtake, including a couple of kicks to the face for good measure.

Swim Rage

There is one solution to this – make sure you time your swims when the pool is not too busy – but if is easier said than done at this time of year. I thought for example that 5pm on a Sunday evening would be fairly quiet, but encountered almost all of the above groups tonight, so will have to add this to my list of no-gos. Still, there is always 6am on a Monday…

October Round Up: 367 km

Getting so close to the end now!

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

San Pedro Volcano

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

San Pedro Sign San Pedro Church San Pedro bike

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

San Pedro Geysers  San Pedro Luna

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

San Pedro Guanaco San Pedro Flamingo San Pedro Stars

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

Swimming in the Moonlight

This has been something of a sad week for the Chile Challenge, with the final race of the year on Sunday, and now the final outdoor swim of 2014 last night.

Night Swim

The evening started off well, as this was my first session since the half marathon and I was a bit unsure whether my legs had fully recovered, but they seemed to get through ok. I thought I would give the Friday RPM spin class another go (see blog from 2 weeks ago) and discovered the regular trainer was not in this week. For a brief moment I had an image of her being carted off in cuffs to Arkham Asylum for battering a student who dared step off the pace during one of her interval sprints, but it turned out she was just on holiday. Allegedly.

To be fair the covering trainer was not much better, in that although she was a lot more smiley, she still took us through a full on interval session involving plenty of pain. Clearly there is a certain type of person who becomes a spin trainer. I suspect they are all descended from the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket…

R Lee Ermey

Anyway, suitably ground down I decided to have a nice relaxing swim to cool down. The outdoor pool is probably the best thing about my gym, so I was pretty happy when I got to the door just as the lifeguard was about to close up at 7pm, and he agreed to keep it open a bit longer for me. Result.

The pool looked great – it was properly dark outside by then and with just a few lights on, the shimmering light reminded me of the opening scene of Jaws. Except it was a pool. With no sharks. And I was fully clothed – or at least in my trunks but you get what I mean. Basically it was very dark. In fact as I only had my tinted goggles with me it was near pitch black, which only added to the atmosphere.

Swimming Dark

NB. It did not actually look like this picture, but there seem to be a lot of  fairly inappropriate results when you search for images of late night swimming on Google… Or is it just me?

As I swam it made me think of my favourite Thin Lizzy song, except I kept changing it to ‘Swimming in the Moonlight’ in my head. To be fair it was less ‘long hot summer night’ as ‘ice cold autumn night’ but I still loved it. I had the whole pool to myself, and it was almost totally silent and very relaxing, with just the underwater lights shimmering around me. I feel I should be more poetic here, but unfortunately that is not really my strong point. Maybe I should have opted for Nightswimming my REM.

The water was really warm, and this was even more noticeable in the cold night air to the extent that there was a lot of visible moisture evaporating off the water, looking like a low cloud around me. It was so thick it was actually quite difficult to breathe at points! My wife, who is a science teacher, could probably explain this much better than I could in terms of the volume of H2O vapour I was taking in relative to O2 in the air, but she was busy doing back to back step classes inside, which in my mind is even crazier than a lot of the things I have donethis year. Yes, I am pleased to say I have managed to convert her to be addicted to training as well, so another win for the Chile Challenge!

With the clocks going back tonight, the outdoor pool will be closing now until Easter, which is a real shame as I will always swim outside where I can rather than indoors. So this will unfortunately turn out to be my final open air swim of the year – but what a way to go out!