Saturday, 29 November 2014

Pilates & 1 week Cold Shower Challenge Review

After a busy first half to the week, culminating in the kick set from hell I'm now half way through a rest week, but wanted to quickly report a few things from the back end of the week.
Thursday evening I met with the club chairman who had invited me to a male only Pilate's class.
Sarah has long extolled the virtues of this, and I understand the principles of core strength in helping to improve fitness and  with a season of 'going long' looming I am willing to give anything the courtesy of my time if it might be able to help me in my endeavours.  With that thought and approx. 1/2hr of previous experience under my belt from a failed foray into a home Pilates video some while back we turned up at the lesson.

There were only 4 of us in the class. All of us desk jockeys by day, the main complaint seemed to be bad backs as a motivation for attendance.
The instructor warmed us up. Rolling spikey balls on our feet to start, it felt weird, but being only men bar the instructor there was no embarrassment at any stage. We progressed to stretching our sides, and a lot of work on our pelvic floor (ready for when we give birth I expect). Part of the stretching involved resistance bands, and I have to admit I enjoyed the opportunity they gave for smooth controlled action and movement. This class was the very basics, but even that highlighted how stiff my neck has become on one side since coming off my bike last January. Looking around it is apparent everyone had strengths and weaknesses. This hour gave me enough of an insight to appreciate how this will help build my core, make me more efficient and help delay fatigue in a race.
The hour passed quickly and I felt relaxed after, but my muscles felt like they had worked quite hard without being out of breath. I go away feeling positive, and keen to see how I can insert this weekly class into The Program once I am back into the build cycle next week.
After getting home I almost felt sick, but not quite. I was very aware of every little muscle in my neck and shoulders and steeled myself to be stiff and sore the next day. To my surprise I slept really well and woke up feeling fine. Absolutely no ill effects to report. Before bed though all I wanted was a nice warm shower to help ease the ache. Then I remembered that wasn't going to happen........

....and so the 1 week shower review.
As of today we're 8 days in. I haven't deviated or cheated in any respect. That in itself I'm really pleased with. The biggest surprise is the number of people it has motivated to join us. Over the course of the week I have had confirmation from 8 people they are also doing it and intend to see the 30 days through, and a couple more that have at the very least tried it.  Every time sticking my head under the cold water has felt like too much effort remembering that others are doing it tips the balance and under I go.
The act in itself has lost its novelty. I can honestly report that my body is now used to the cold - from the neck down that is. The head and the skull is acclimatising and desensitising to the feeling, but once I am under it does not register on the body as cold. It is just water. The lowest I have had the heart rate while under there is 57bpm. Washing and shaving is a distraction that eases the discomfort.
A week and a day and a total of 35minutes clocked up.
This morning saw the usual swim set, and after starting with an even 1000m with fellow Triathlete Jon Bromfield I was recruited to the tri club set to undertake the 100's challenge.

This challenge involves swimming 100m each time, starting off 1:50 and descending by 1 second per set. We did this a while back and I clocked out at 1min 26. This morning off the back of the rest I've had I wasn't feeling the love. 1:33 was enough. I was disappointed afterwards not to try harder, and should definitely have made myself go under 1:30. The clock didn't beat me, I just dropped out. This week shouldn't be about thrashing it though, and now I've had time to think about it I'm glad I didn't push it. I had averaged 1:31 per 100m, so knocking that in at 1700m on a 24min mile pace after already logging 1000m was more than enough. 500m afterwards on a pull at a decent pace with Jon and the swim set was done. 
Home, cold shower and out, and a good day spent on Leicester's Golden mile with the family. 
Tomorrow sees a return to The Pit for some more open water acclimatisation. I am excited to see if the showers have helped in this respect.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Opportunities & Excuses

A quick post from the last few days spent on the road. Work, as ever, trying its best to get in the way of the more important things....
Fresh out of a warm bed on Tuesday I find myself stood in front of the shower, my body rejecting the will to step under the noticeably colder than normally cold water. It's clearly been a chilly night out, and I have spied the first frost of the year on the car roof from the bedroom window. The water running through the pipe has soaked up the cold before entering the home. Sarah pushes me in the back and under the water I go. 

I stand and shower for 3 minutes. It is what it is. Aside from distracting myself with shouts of my childhood hero, He-Man..... 'BY THE POWER OF GREY SKULL' & holding my toothbrush like a sword as I bellow "I HAVVEEEE THE POWERRRRRRR" (and imagining Titch the Dog turning into Battle-Cat) to distract my mind from the iciness I am quiet. It is hard to keep my mouth closed and breath only through my nose. I've found a new sub challenge within the shower called silence. Game on.

Then it's into the car and a series of appointments through-out the day. As I drive between meetings I touch base with 4 athletes under my care, and go through various aspects of their current training. I'm particularly impressed with 2 of them who are new to The Program, and have managed to drag themselves out in the frost and the fog before dawn for pre work runs. They are committed and dedicated and I am proud of them. They show motivation and desire to succeed. In turn this motivates me because I cannot ask anything of others I will not do myself. 

11hrs later my working day is finished & I'm sat in a funny little B&B with Alfredo and Liz, owners of The Summerfields guest house, Hastings. Alfredo makes me a drink while he prepares their tea and quizzes me politely over my travels that bring me into their home. They are a warm and friendly couple, married 38 years. Here is where the 'excuses' start to play in my mind.

I'm on my last day now of 3 weeks building volume. My body is tired. The day has been long. I'm away from home, and it would be so easy to start my rest week a day early. Who would know? I don't have my turbo, my usual run routes are out of the question, it's cold, dark and raining. I haven't eaten.... These excuses play in my mind telling me to let any form of training slide. 

Then I remember my fellow Working Class Triathletes who turned out this morning because my plan suggested they do so. I consider the thought I just had 'who will know?' and realise this is stupid thinking. It's not who will know, it's who will care? Of course -  Nobody is the answer, nobody except me that is, come bed time when I regret being lazy. 

With that the excuse of not being at home in my regular routine turns into an opportunity. I have the night to myself, no food to prepare, no jobs to do. I have a pair of trainers, I have my running gear. All I need to do is get my backside into gear. This should be easier than ever to fit in.  I petition my host for a map and plan my route to the beach front.

A quick change into my run gear, and FaceTime later to the family, and I am waved out the front door to the shaking head and amusement of Alfredo as I push into the rain and begin belting down a hill from the B&B towards the sea. It's dark, it's lashing down and it's cold, but after about a mile of steep downward strides and the realisation I'll have to push myself back up there before I'm finished I find myself in the shingle of Hastings promenade. I quickly decide I'm running the full length of it. As far as I can there and back in a circuit. I'm here, I've bothered, best do it justice and cover some ground. I'll focus on technique and enjoy it. Approximately every half mile I swap between the promenade and the sand and shingle. It is incredibly difficult going down on the beach proper, and this gives my legs a thorough work over. Then back to the concrete and concentrate on technique. Repeat.

 There are plenty of other runners out in-spite of the weather, and I enjoy the silent solidarity we share. Joining in with the locals makes it fun, experiencing their every day training ground. I notice some faded spray lines on the floor in places marked 'Start' 'Fun Run', '1/2' and realise they must run a marathon here in the summer. I try to visualise the sunny day, the buzz and the fuss. The cheering crowds. It is easy to see it would be a popular event.
After the promenade it's back up that hill. This burns, but is a great opportunity to study position. I don't often get the chance to run up a hill so steep, looking at the stats after I see it was an elevation gain of 137ft in 0.51miles. Running up hill forces me to lean forward, work off the ball of my foot, increase cadence and really maximise the push off with each full extension of the leg, fully exerting myself with every stride behind me. A great way to end the run. My heart is pounding in my chest, its not exactly scientific and not what is needed at this time of year, but hey, sometimes you have to go with what feels right. I've bagged 8.28 Miles on a 6:35 min mile average, I'm well pleased with that.

Run stats breakdown.
After that attention turns back to the shower - again an excuse raises its head, nobody will know if I skip one. The thing is again, nobody will care. This is the perfect opportunity to test my resolve. I steel myself not to make a sound, submerge myself under its ample flow - and enjoy it. I do actually enjoy it. I am warm from the run, and it cools me beautifully. More than that I have managed it when there is no danger of being caught out if I had cheated. I am glad to have not let myself down.

That kind of behaviour deserves a reward. I head out to find food.

Finding a little fish restaurant in the Old Town, and a waiter prepared to set a table for one, taking pity on the lonely and starving traveller, I devour a mussel chowder starter and then enjoy my sirloin blue, with tiger prawn surf. Back to the B&B for a straight 8hrs sleep.
6am. Up and at them, the shower is ticked off first thing. It feels almost illicit that my hosts have no clue that I am showering so brutally. Like I am abusing their facilities and they are non the wiser. I enjoy leaving the dial at 0. Will they question it after I have gone?
Meandering back via appointments I intersperse my journey between professional conversation and a few quick hello's with friends. A colleague calls, and after a cursory work chat he side swipes me with the query 'What's this about Cold showers then, I hear you're obsessed?' I enthusiastically explain the logic and motive and try to recruit him. He sounds unconvinced, but I am chuffed that there is ground swell, and people are intrigued. As ever I find talking to friends incredibly motivating to hear the different training and experiences they have to relay. I am also convinced by a mate to join him at a male only Pilates class tomorrow. I know I have lost my suppleness these last few years so it will be a humbling experience, something new to challenge myself with, and hopefully improve my fitness further.
Several friends have also reported back that they have quietly been trying the showering to see what the fuss is about. They all confirm it is harder than they expected. This makes me smile because I also have my eldest now attempting it with her morning shower. She is down to number 2 and then 1 for the full 2 minutes. She is doing well. Often children are so much more accepting and resilient than adults.
Lunch these last few days has been a feta and a medley of beans affair. It reminds me of Sarah.

Lunch : A super bean feast.

This sets me up nicely for arriving home and catching up with the family. We sit around the table and enjoy tea together. Everyone jibbering and jabbering about the last few days. Its good to be home.
A busy few days that further prove to myself that it is all about how much you want something, not making excuses, but finding time to fit things in and make what you have work to your benefit.
After tea, there's time for half an hour catch up and a cup of tea on the sofa with Sarah, and it's back out of the door for swim training. As a rule I swim 7 -8pm alone. I can control the set and do what I need. Tonight is about paced endurance, with the following set:
  • 1000m a best even pace.
  • 1000m negative splitting each 250m, but trying to hold an even pace for each 250m. It is surprisingly difficult to gauge the extra sustainable effort required on an even basis over the distance.
  • 400m swam as 25 Max effort, 25 easy.
  • 200m easy.
Straight off the back of that set it is 8 - 9pm swimming with the club. While you never know what the set will comprise it is a good opportunity to swim with others, enjoy the club, and mix things up. Ella also swims with the club, and it has been a joy to see her get stuck in and improve over the months, making friends with people of all ages and abilities. The club has been nothing but a positive experience for her, giving her confidence both in herself, her abilities as an athlete and her social skills. I am particularly grateful to the club for that, and the way they have taken her into their ranks. 
Tonight the club set - usually a balanced and pleasant affair, can best be summarised as just over 1 mile of kicking hell. By the end of the 200m dolphin kick on back with arms extended out of the water towards the end, I can only describe my abs and thighs as destroyed.
After the punishment was over it was straight to the now obligatory cold shower. This time we were joined by 4 other team members. This cold shower lark is catching on.
And so I'm in bed. Tired but satisfied, and secretly pleased that tomorrow does not require a pre work brick.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Market Rasen 10k, Cold Showers and The Turbo.

So I'm 2 days into this cold shower lark.
I rose this morning, and got on with it. I can't say I enjoyed it, but after managing a full 4 minutes last night 2 minutes this morning was reasonably comfortable. I'm already finding I can relax a bit.
I wanted to shower first thing in the hope that the verve it gave me would help with the Market Rasen 10k I was about to run. I only entered a few weeks ago, didn't know much about it, other than that just under 3 of the 10k was around the race course. So a small bowl of porridge and a few cups of tea to get me going, and I'm out the door.
I picked up a team mate, and we set off. A good 20minutes in the car talking about the usual expectations from the race, tactics, Triathlon in general, training - you name it, if it's about Tri it gets talked about. Talk turned to nutrition as I swilled the pint of pre race juice I had prepared yesterday afternoon.
10 apples, 6 carrots, 4 whole fresh beetroots, a lump of ginger and 2 broccoli stalks (when you trim the broccoli trees off for tea remember to keep the stalks, they hold a surprising amount of juice and taste pretty good). This stuff makes me buzz. I'm feeling ready for a good run despite the rain and cold outside.
While I'm drinking that my passenger gets out his own race day nutrition.

Contrasting race day nutrition.
2 ends of the nutritional spectrum at work today. While mine is home spun and fresh out the ground Ross prefers a good balanced dose of pills. I feel like I am driving a geriatric to the hospital and wonder if he will start to rattle over the finish line with all those in him. He observes that we are like 'Rocky IV' in as much as he is Drago, a cutting edge machine of precise techniques and approach, where as I am Rocky, running around with logs, boxing with sides of beef and heaving my way up and down stairs. I'd rather be Rocky.
We sign in, and bump into a few familiar faces. Its good to catch up and discuss off season training, and see other like minded souls using the event in the same way I am. Next I stretch out with a quick warm up run and decide that I am going to put on an extra layer. Its raining quite hard, and I would normally wear less so I'm not carrying cold wet clothing, but the rain has a chill in it despite the recent showering I've been doing, and I decide its likely my arms will go cold and numb over the run, so I layer up. It was the right move.
We head to the start and all line up. The turn out is good in spite of the weather, I'd guess around 450 to 500 runners. The claxon honks and we all set off. The first 1.5k are over the racecourse, and it is wet and slippy. I had always planned to go out fast and try to capitalise on the cross country element, and for the first 1km I find myself in the lead. I didn't expect this, and I certainly don't expect it to last. Sure enough it doesn't, and the true runners who have now warmed up their legs come bounding past. Still it was nice to have my nose in front around the racetrack.
I find out from the stats master after I was running a 5minute mile for that first leg. Far too fast, and I pay for it down the line. For the next mile I have to settle into a slower and more sustainable pace, and that adjustment costs me a few more places.
At the half way point we leave the road and push into the woods. I enjoy this. It's slippy and requires focus on the terrain underfoot, picking your line well in advance - I nearly go down a few times, and work hard in my regular (not trail) running shoes. I can see I am making some ground back up at this point, the regular riverbank runs and my meagre frame paying dividends.
Soon we are out of the woods and running back up the road, passing runners coming the other way. By now I have settled into a pace I am pleased with, and I regret the over eager burst at the start, because I know ultimately it has cost me. I could have been into this pace much quicker if I hadn't let adrenalin get the better of me. I am finding the runners on the other side of the road motivating. I hear someone in the throng shout 'Go for it Martin', but I didn't get to see who they were, so I'm sorry I couldn't cheer back. Still that cheer is appreciated and pushes me on.
Soon enough we are back on the racecourse for the final loop and again I get some pace up. After running a pretty lonely race with nobody around me I can hear the feet of a runner gaining behind me, splashing and crunching under the mix of gravel and puddles beneath us. I don't look back. I want to, but don't. That will show weakness. I muster my last effort and kick for home. It's enough. I cross the line without being passed. The clock says 37:40, so a 6:02 minute mile average. The final results still arn't out, but I'm reasonably confident I came 12th.
I'm never going to be content unless I win, but I'm nearer 40 than not, and have to accept that fact. Given this was only an extra run chucked into the training schedule for fun I'm happy with the result. That 6:02min mile pace was hard earned with a good 50% of the course being cross country on a wet and cold day. I'd say that ground required an extra 10 to 15% effort to achieve the same thrust you get on the tarmac. I'm keen to take positives from the experience. That's what its all about.
Ross has beaten me by 40 seconds, but I am surprised to realise I have beat another friend, the National Aquathon Champion and GB Age Grouper Olly distance specialist Shaun Cuffley. Shaun's a fantastic athlete and he has outrun me in aquathons through out the summer - so I take a bit of pride in knowing my winter training must be doing OK at this point.
A quick change and it's straight back for home. The journey includes the ever necessary dissection of the event in the car. None athletes don't get this bit, and I try not to bore the family with every little detail, so it's good to have a chew over the cud.
I'm home and it dawns on me I am filthy. Great, another cold shower. Sarah comes up to investigate the noises being yelled from the bathroom. I'm not enjoying this one 1 little bit. I am already cold and this adds to it. I have to admit that it is so tempting to whip it round to warm, but who am I cheating in doing that? Myself that's who. If I let my self down here I might start thinking I can miss training sets and that is a dangerous path. I also realise Sarah has been sticking her head around the door every time I shower, with a quick glance at the dial to make sure there's no warmth getting through. The thought creeps into my mind that while I trust her implicitly, after a few drinks at the AGM in a few weeks, (when we are mid challenge), if my friends push her and she has seen me cheating, then it might slip out. I would never live that down so I cannot ever risk even a single droplet of warmth sneaking through that nozzle for at least 29 days. At this point I know there is no danger of failing this challenge. All I have to do now is focus on completely owning it, and will work on my heart rate and composure for the regular performance reviews we will doubtless conduct. This nonsense entertains me and I realise the time is up. I have pushed myself through. The water is turned off dead on 2 minutes. Enough said.
While we are eating lunch Sarah tells me that in an effort to support me she has been reducing the shower temp. She managed a minute at number 3. I am impressed she can be bothered. Now I feel guilty for thinking she was checking my showering integrity. Sorry x.
A quick ride to see family after lunch to collect the essential bag of local farmers potatoes and double yolker eggs from my mother. While we are there we watch a fantastically boring Grand Prix, and talk turns to next season. I start chewing over the 60+ Midland Sprint Series results from this season with my Dad. He is keen to try it, but needs a push in the right direction. We break down the 3rd place times, and suddenly they seem more achievable. The last race of the series will be in his home village of Woodhall Spa in June, and he lives on the circuit of the run course. The 3 discipline routes are on his doorstep. There's no excuses, and he agrees to go for it.
A quick few texts to siblings and the agreement is set that we will share the cost 3 ways for his Christmas present. He doesn't know that yet, but Martin Snr is definitely now doing the sprint series next year. Driving back we have a great karaoke sing along in the car, and can confidently confirm we have unwittingly ruined our 2 Girls childhoods with their unnatural appreciation for camp 80s rock music.
Home, and it's onto the turbo. Having the race this morning meant juggling things about. I finish a 3 week build phase on Tuesday, and then I have a rest week. The thought of having to have another cold shower after almost stops me training, but that is ridiculous and I have a stern word with myself to not be so stupid. My legs are tired, and I notice my knees are really stiff from the run earlier. I put this down to the pounding they took on the Humber Bridge last month. They hurt for days after that and have clearly not fully recovered.
The work out was great, a good mix of threshold training and interval work. You can find it in detail in the Work Out tab at the top.
I have decided not to use the laptop while training anymore. I have been re reading some pages in a book, and was reminded of the importance of technique over distance. Technique is always important, but when you are training for an Iron Distance those small tweeks can mean so much. Over 112 miles on a bike  even the smallest of improvement and economy saving in my pedalling technique will be compounded and could gain me minutes, and save me vital energy for the run. Staring at the laptop can distract from the job in hand, so it's music only from now on. With my head down and 100% focus on the 'scraping mud off my shoe' principle at the bottom of the revolution I feel pleased with a smooth movement through-out the set. When I hit the interval section I am doing 4 minutes at threshold, and then 1 minute at max per 5 minutes - for an hour. The aero bar has nothing to do with practicing race position, and everything to do with supporting me at this point. After the minute at max sections I slump on it to save me falling off the bike, but push through, and thinking about the pedal technique I worked on in the first half of the set really helps me manage to push through the recovery period and maintain my pace before the next minute burst of effort.
The set over, its another shower. I am boiling, and frothing with sweat. I am glad to jump in it. It certainly cools me quick, but the 2 minutes whip past and I distract myself with a wash and a shave.
In 2 days I have clocked 12 minutes worth of cold water shower time. I feel like the king of pointless endeavours and I smile.
All in all a good days work.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

2 Triathletes, 1 Challenge: Day 1.

And so we find ourselves at 9am, like all normal human beings, stood in a pair of budgie smuggler trunks facing a cold shower armed with a video camera and a heart rate monitor. The strangest thing of all - that this doesn't seem strange. Just another day in the life of 2 Triathletes...
(We were going to shower at home and report back, but keen to see each others reactions and being at the pool anyway it was suggested we do it post swim set. I feel obligated to report that after that was agreed last night I turned to Sarah and excitedly said "Ross has suggested we do it in the showers together after swimming so we can film each other". She raised her eyebrow and supressed a smile. I have to confess a smidge of embarrassment as I realised how it sounded. It was too late now though, I was fully committed and looking forward to it.)
So back to the showers......after explaining to a couple of bystanders what we are doing, Ross takes his heart rate, its a respectable 106bpm having just finished an hours swimming. He's still cooling down. Don't worry pal, that process is about to get a pretty decent sized shove....
He steps into the shower and I begin filming. The camera is useful, knowing a video is pointing at you is going to make you do something properly. Nobody wants to be seen wimping out. He strides in and presses down the button - The water starts beating down. 2 minutes and it will be over... I won't dissect his experiences here, it is eloquently described in his own blog :
Having experience in cold water I knew he would suffer a shock response.  Everybody's body goes through it. Its not voluntary, but its how you deal with that reaction that counts. What I saw on a physical level I expected, reddening of the skin, hyperventilation, dizziness and frustration, the frustration of the discomfort, but forcing yourself to endure, the numbness in the finger ends after.
What I saw on a mental level was a man with the presence of mind to assess the situation, and try different things to counter the effects. Regularly checking  his heart rate, standing in different positions, modifying his breathing, anything he could do to distract from the pain of the cold. Despite his own misgivings I was impressed. By finding what works he will be taking the shower with ease by the end of next week I am sure. As he exited his heart rate was at 145bpm - a good 50+bpm's spare in the tank.

And so it was my turn. I started at 91bpm, and honestly, was a bit angry it was that high, because I knew blood belting round my body at that rate would be stripped of heat quicker than I wanted. That had to be the focus, get the HR down. I put it down to the amusement at seeing a mate suffer and stepped up.
The water started pummelling the top of my head. This took me be surprise. I'd normally be climbing in a lake feet first. The last thing to go under is the face and the head - which always has a cap on, I've been taking that piece of kit for granted!  I was surprised by how cold it felt on my head. I didn't expect it, and for the first 20 seconds it tried to take my breath away. I looked at the HR monitor and could see it was creeping up. I was also annoyed that I couldn't quite talk normally, I could hear the strain of the cold in my voice, so I focused hard on my heart rate, reducing my breathing and the latent anxiety that had built up. 
You know how you gasp when you splash cold water on your face when you have a quick wash? Imagine that, but without any let up. That's what exposure to very cold water on your face is like, but without any respite. The gasp just wants to keep coming. This is what kills people when they fall into cold water, they repeatedly gasp, hyperventilate, panic and drown. I had a better understanding now of why Ross had struggled. This head cold was new to me, and had clearly presented itself as where the challenge of the next 60+ showers was going to come from.
Not moving was hard. Normally as the cold bites I would increase my stroke rate, but all I could do here was stand and take it. There is something quite cruel about having to hold a button in to keep the cold water coming out. It would be so easy to let go at any second and warm up, but that isn't an option.
It's coming to the end, I have been watching the heart rate and I'm down to 74. The focus on that has distracted me from the numbness in my skull. I notice how time seems to slow down when you are under pressure. In 1min 45 seconds I feel like my mind has quickened and covered a lot of ground, assessing different things, making critical choices.
I'm out. I loved it. I will feel fresh and alert all day. The tingle of excitement dancing over the nerve endings of my skin as the body rewarms naturally once I am dry. I know that will linger all day.
I hadn't expected the cold on my head, but it reminds me of the 'Reflections' post on SwimBikeRoss that I read last night, and how you can make significant gains without really realising how quickly you have advanced. That's how my body always used to feel, cold and numb, now I will get the chance to go through this again on a microscale with a bare head.

Regular exposure to cold lakes has clearly helped me out of the starting blocks of the challenge, but also reminded me how difficult a thing it is..... I am hopeful that as much as the years of weekly seasonal exposure have got me to this point the daily does will again raise the bar. How quickly will my accomplice close the gap? I don't doubt that will happen.

I get home to find we have another recruit in our friend Ron. A great athlete I have swum both the length of Coniston and the Corryvwreckan Whirlpool with. I'm sure he will post up his experience in the comments box below.
Tomorrow we have a 10k run that will doubtless see a return to business as normal, and Ross wiping the floor with own times. For now I can take solace in the knowledge that, following tomorrows race at least, I will suffer less showering after. 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The 30 day Cold Shower Challenge. Prelude.

I eluded to a challenge earlier.
A team mate sent me a link today. When I saw it, I'll be honest, my first thought was "Ice Swimming for wimps", but, knowing that it had passed the strict uncompromising eye of SwimBikeRoss I knew it was worth a read.
Having read this guys 'nothing but positive' experience it reminded me of the post I put up last Sunday, and a lot of his comments struck a cord. I could see nothing but potential benefit to my self for the sake of a few minutes discomfort per day.
And so we set out to decide on the rules. A minimum of 2 minutes showers twice a day, no cheating, no slacking, for 30 days. After a race (there's only 1 we both have on Sunday Morning) we concurred a hot bath is allowed IF REQUIRED. That in itself is a red rag to a bull. We both know were going home after a 10k sprint for a cold shower.
SwimBikeRoss is one of the most self determined and dedicated people I know. If he sets his mind to something you can guarantee only the most serious of calamities beyond his control will deviate him from his course. I have every confidence he won't cheat.
We are at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to cold water experience, and this is why the challenge appeals. Ross has no experience, where as my ice swimming forays should give me a head start. It will be interesting to see how we both adapt. To see if we crack? How quickly can Ross's tolerance levels close the potential gap between us? I don't doubt that within days he will have acclimatised and be as tolerant as myself, most probably more so. What benefits or experiences will we both report?
If nothing else I will save on the hot water bill for a month.
We'd love you to join us in this experiment. It starts Saturday AM. Sign up with a comment/your link below.
If you don't want to join us, please follow us and comment on our contrasting collective experience to encourage us.
You will find my regular posts on here, and Ross's at
We look forward to your comments.

Food for thought.

A day out the office and on the road is always a chance to spend time in the car thinking about Triathlon.
I've had a real urge this week to get off the turbo and hit the road, doing some TT sprint work and a quick 5k race pace run like I do through the summer before work. Then I think about The (training) Program, the fact I would need to do long base distance (not sprints) and look at the weather and know it won't work out like that. Chances are I would come off my bike again thanks to the wet and the mud, and the leaves, that abound on every favoured back road route, and I'd get injured.... like last year... and going full circle : hence why I have the turbo now anyway.
Thinking about this it occurred to me today that training and racing is a lot like the allotment. When I go to the plot there are often jobs I would like to do. I might fancy cutting the hedge, picking some flowers, or harvesting some fruit. The reality is that what I do is governed by the time of year and what I must, rather than what I would like to do. Seldom do the 2 coincide, but you can't fight mother nature, you have to work with her, so you just embrace what she dictates that you do.
My time is precious, and when I am down at plot 41 I have to strict. There are the continuous maintenance jobs that need doing, like the weeding and grass cutting, but outside of that if its time to sow leeks - then Martin sows leeks. If its time to earth up the potatoes, then Martin best get on with earthing up the potatoes. Eventually, by doing all the jobs at the right time you will get round to the reward of collecting the harvest and enjoying it.

Right now in November its time to rotovate and dig everything over, ploughing lots of horse muck into the bare earth so it can soak up the goodness ready for next springs plants.

I learnt something from a old guy a few plots down a few years back. A really good gardener, and he said to me 'Always feed the soil, not the plant'. He was right.
This analogy fits nicely with Triathlon. As much as I want to be out sprinting about, racing, and doing speed work in the sunny crisp morning air - now isn't the time. Now is the time to feed my muscles a good healthy dose of endurance, and work on that underlying base fitness that will govern the extent of my success next year. By feeding my core health thoroughly and productively now I am giving myself the best chance of success come summer when I will want to pick the rewards of my hard work with some decent results in the field of competition.

The hours in the garage on the turbo right now sometimes stink as much as the horse muck I'm lugging about, but reminding myself that by suffering this seemingly mundane leg work  I will have a much better crop of Iron Man size marrows come summer keeps it all in perspective. When all is said and done, its race day that counts. Like when I dig the first carrots of the season and take them home for tea -the family don't care how I grew them, as long as they are the best carrots they have ever tasted.

So after thinking about triathlon, I thought I better talk about it too. A friend called me up about a problem with his turbo. His tyre was shedding rubber at the back because it had started rubbing on the edges of the roller that contacts with the tyre. He had decided that the skewer was the wrong sort, thus making it unbalanced and off setting the tyre from the centre of the wheel causing it to chafe. The way he saw it, at this rate of wear the tyre would be lucky if it got to see Christmas.

Rubber Splatter!
Notice on the photo above, the rubber has pebble dashed the lovely lime green paint, see how the tyre wall is pressing on the edge of the fly wheel....
By coincidence I had suffered a similar thing a few weeks back. The garage floor is still smothered in tiny balls of rubber. He didn't know this when he called, but I'd learnt through an identical experience that the locking nuts need to be intermittently adjusted, and occasionally reset. All that pedalling brings them loose, it wobbles about, and the position of the bikes back wheel can migrate. 10 minutes of oily fingers, a bit of jiggery pokery later, and hey presto.
A nicely re-centred wheel on the turbo.

All it took was a friendly chat, and my team mate was sorted and ready to train. Not only that he could cancel the order to Wiggle for the Skewer that he had placed earlier on and so saved himself £20. All because we bothered to Talk Tri. There's a huge pool of knowledge out there, and its often the most simple thing that gets overlooked because we are swamped with techno babble & gizmos. Just by the fluke of having suffered it myself I could help. There are plenty of times its the other way round, and a problem I've been vexed by for weeks can be resolved with the simplest of suggestions after mentioning it to someone else.
After that I had a bit of an exchange with a Team Mate. He's come up with an interesting challenge, but that's for the next post.......

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Vegan Night.

In response to some decent feedback where I've been 'advised' to keep the posts shorter, I will try and do just that.

I just read a funny thing I wanted to share about endurance training on the bike "A tip for going 'really long' on the bike is that you want your backside to give out before your legs".  There might be some sense in that, but is it true for the turbo, or just the open road?

As a working rule the weekly menu is pre-planned, and structured around 2 days of Meat (1 white, 1 red) 2 days Fish, 2 days Veggie, and 1 day Vegan. The chief nutritionists logic being that it keeps things creative, lean and healthy. I concur. Tonight is a rest night, and tea was the Vegan night.

A big plate of Broccoli and Cauliflower with a homemade pasatta sauce, spiced potato wedges and homemade carrot and kidney bean burgers. Plenty of carbs, protein and vitamins/minerals. Just what the body needs.

It's got to the point where it feels odd when I'm not training. A bit like having homework as kid, there's always some hanging over your head and the rest nights are the rare times you have it all done and up to date. Suddenly you don't know what to do with the free time. So I'm sat reading up on Triathlon. Sometimes I wonder if we are slightly obsessive breed.

99p off Amazon.
A really good book that I don't hesitate to recommend, and an absolute bargain off Amazon. Its something I turn to again and again when I need inspiration or clarification on any aspect of my training.
Back to the brick in the morning..............

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Weekends, training and the first Cold Water Session of 2014.

Weekends are always a juggle. Extra time to train, but equally important, time for the family too. This weekend was a good example of how it usually works, and how everything gets squeezed in...
I've found that if I can get Friday night off to a good start then the whole weekend will be easier. That temptation to skip the final programmed set of the working week is never far from your mind. You're home, the house is warm, its grim and dark out. My wife and I take the dog for a walk, getting out of the house and the noise and distractions is a good chance to talk over the week and everything else that is always going on. When we get back everyone's relaxing..... after a nice tea, and spying a bottle of beer in the rack on the side it certainly doesn't get any easier to think about the brick session on the excel spreadsheet that has my name on in the corner, but experience reminds me of how annoyed I will feel if I skip one, and how that has a knock on effect, making it easier to skip the next day too. All these little lapses can soon add up. With that in mind I grab the laptop and head to the garage for 90 mins on the turbo. Lots of spinning work at around 85 to 90rpm, with some interval sets thrown in to stop it getting too boring. That's the thing with the turbo, no moving ground beneath your wheels, no wind to evaporate the copious amounts of sweat, and nothing stimulating to look at. I found a great film on Netflix though, just short of the 90mins long. I recommend watching 'Blackfish' but promise you'll cancel that trip to SeaWorld after...... After the bike its straight into a brick run of 5 miles at a decent pace of 6:30min miles. I need to get my muscles used to being able to hold this pace for as long as possible come July and my attempt at The Outlaw. By 20:45 I'm showered, in my slobs and waiting for some decent TV at 9. The beer tastes all the better for the earlier efforts.
Saturday morning. This has always been swimming. I wake at 7am, a decent lay in by my usual standards, let the dogs out and feed them. I usually have a cup of tea, but otherwise train on an empty stomach, eating afterwards as quickly as possible to ensure the body absorbs the maximum amount of goodness. Looking out the window when I wake its really foggy and damp. Its barely light. My wife, happy with the cup of tea I have brought her as I climbed back into bed, is all warm and snuggly as she wiggles up close to me. I am so close to sacking the swim off, if I can find the motivation to drag my backside out of bed at this point then anything is possible. If I hadn't bothered the night before I certainly wouldn't have bothered this morning. I know friends are expecting me there though, to train with them, help motivate them through the winter grind. That kind of obligation, however tenuous, is important, because it gives you a responsibility to others and helps you commit long term.

On arrival there's the usual sea of yellow as the Tri Cub begins to congregate and chew over the weekends activities, where everyone is training/racing, how things have gone. Its encouraging to see people from all walks of life there getting involved. The club is little over 2 years old and already has close to 200 members, with around 25 to 30 swimming at any given session in the week. A victim of our own success to an extent, and restricted in the number of lanes we can hire because of the successful swim club we share our facilities with has led to a smaller group of 3 us have taking the step to train away from the club led sessions of late. It gives us more control for the specific races we want to give our best in, and the freedom to train harder and for longer, but we have to be careful to make sure what we do is productive, and that's why its so important that we motivate each other, analyse each others technique and take mutual advise and criticism when it is needed. Despite that it is still important to us all to spend time with the club and get input and updates from other members, and share our love of the sport.

The Set was 3000m of:
  • 1600m from a cold start at my current intended IM pace. At the moment that's between 6:05min and 6:10min per 400m. Its important to keep it even.
  • 400m Paddles and Pull.
  • 400m Sprinting 25, easy 25. Aiming to time this to work out at equivalent to my previous IM pace from the opening mile.
  • 400m timed kick. (I'm not sharing those times....)
  • 200m of breathing 3/5/7/9/9/7/5/3 per 25m.
Then its out and home ASAP. The dog will need exercise, so I'm keen to incorporate that to my advantage. I walk in the back door and the kitchen is in full swing. Its just after 9am and Sarah has got up, there are some delicious looking homemade pumpkin muffins in the oven. Everything smells amazing. What a breakfast. There is the offer of a fresh coffee and again I am so tempted to sit in the warmth with my family and relax. But the dog can smell sweat, and it knows that means theres a chance of a run, so its stuck to my ankle like glue, sniffing my leg like the loveable little weirdo it is, and so I change as quickly as I can into my running gear and head out the door once more, desperate to sprint round and get back to the delicious looking muffins and the coffee.
Within 1/4 of a mile I'm down the riverbank and away from anyone, and as ever, I'm really glad I bothered. There is always an abundance of wildlife, the ever changing view as the river evolves constantly with the seasons - and not forgetting the cross country effort is great for building core strength. I can never understand why it isn't busier down here, but I'm glad its not.
One day I'll fit a GPS on the dog, and find out how far she runs as she zigzags the fields with ease, putting my efforts to shame.
Within a 200m stretch I've seen a big group of ducks rooting about for weed and squabbling, a family of Swans that I have watched raise their cygnets over the year, now nearly fully grown, and the parents looking sick to death of them hanging about. They certainly aren't the outwardly aggressive and defensive birds they were when I ran past their nest in late spring. Then the kingfisher darts past and a big male heron launches into he air as it struggles to find lift and amble off as the dog bounces around in fits of frustration at being unable to reach it. The heron is always a reminder of how hard things can seem, but how you cannot give up.
Regular runs have taught Titch well, and she is a great pacing aid. I don't need any fancy gadget here, just the surroundings, the dog that seems to know how hard I can push it, and the promise of a tasty breakfast when I get back. I usually take the run as I find it, its productive and important to the weekly schedule, but I enjoy it. The mist, the mud, the crap choice of music playing quietly in my ears, and the surroundings all come together to motivate me this morning and I've decided within half a mile that I will do 10 miles, and I will give it some stick. I have markers on the bank that I know are half the distance to what I want to do from home, so I simply run to the 5mile point and then turn and run back. I'm feeling good and attack the run with the intention of negative splitting each mile. The first mile clocks in at 7mins, so I set out to carve 10 seconds of each subsequent mile. This is ambitious for this time of year, but I mange it down to mile 8, I've bagged a 5:50 at mile 7, and mile 8 levels off with a 5:53, so I try to hold it as best I can for the remaining 2 miles. My last Olympic distance race in September worked out at a 5:46min mile pace for the 6.25 miles, and knowing the wet and the mud make the effort so much harder than the tarmac I am really pleased with the time. I'm holding my pace, and I have a 10k race next week. I'm a bit relieved after a few weeks of abuse from team mates telling me how my training has lost me my edge in this respect, and they're right, because I've been struggling to hit 6:30s off a brick session. I was beginning to believe them. This run quietly puts that to bed and refocuses me. There's nothing like some friendly rivalry and abuse to motivate you to improve.
Its only 10:30am, I'm home, showered, and enjoying the much deserved breakfast with the family. The whole day is still ahead of us and I've bagged all I need to do in my training today.

The morning is then spent hunting for bargains in local charity shops - a real favourite pass-time of Sarah's to then sell things found online. It all helps make the ends meet, and frees up more income for the things we enjoy. I'm lucky. We take the girls to get haircuts, and suffer the most boring hairdresser on Earth. I think a big part of hairdressing is talking to clients, this girl just doesn't cut it. I fall asleep in the chair while I wait, devoid of any stimulation in the place, but power naps are useful so I seize the opportunity. Afterwards I take the youngest to her archery club. She really enjoys the methodology and precision of archery, and I am learning a lot sitting and watching my 10 year old girl, how she approaches the bow, the target, measures it up, and practices again and again, the fine motor control and smallest of adjustments to gain the perfect shot. I think to myself how I must apply this to how I tackle my training, and never simply go through the motions, always studying every little aspect of my technique, approach, pace. I wish I had even a 10th of my daughters concentration. That kind of advise would have cost me a lot from a trainer, and I'm getting it free from my family.
Sundays everywhere are an opportunity for people to grab big miles and plenty of time on the bike. In the summer this is often the case, and I follow suit, but I have come to triathlon from openwater distance swimming, and it will always have a strong appeal. After much deliberation I decided to continue the passion for Cold Water Swimming this year. Not as seriously as other years, but I have still entered a few events non the less to motivate me to train and improve. We have cobbled together a team of 12 of us to travel to London in January to compete in an Ice swimming meet at Parliament Hill Lido. Today is the first day of 'acclimatisation'.
So much of me was worried that I should be sat on the turbo on a Sunday morning, an opportunity to do a good 2 to 3hr set that I nearly didn't commit to the swimming this year, but after consideration I reasoned it was worth it. Here is my logic. I think its important to remember that we do this for fun, for a hobby. Very few of us will ever pay the mortgage with Triathlon, and I love open water swimming, so decided that sacrificing it for potentially more seemingly beneficial training sessions was a bad move because I would be in danger of resenting the turbo, which would make it unproductive. Besides that, while this won't appeal or apply to many people, I think I get a lot of transferable benefits from this niche swimming sport.

The most important thing to remember when you cold water swim is that it isn't distance swimming, you are not looking to go and rack up 5miles in preparation for an end to end swim of Windermere or The Channel. It is a dangerous extreme sport, and it is about the physical and more importantly, mental control it gives you over your mind and body. Nothing focuses the mind and makes you concentrate like swimming out into a lake in water a few degrees above freezing, with numb arms and legs, your body burning at the sting of the cold biting your flesh, reading every little sign of your body as to how much further you dare push it. Analysing for signs of hypothermia, deterioration in stroke, and metal function. All of these skills are things that could give me the edge come race day, being that much more tuned into my body, understanding its absolute limits, and knowing how far I can push myself. Besides that, swimming in very cold water gives me a distinct advantage come race season. I am always amazed at how many people I hear getting into the water before a race talking to others around them saying "Wow its cold in here, this will be tough". Its great to see new people in the sport all the time, but I cant help but think it is irresponsible and a poor reflection of the effort of people entering an open water event where they have barely trained for that kind of swim. It couldn't be more different from the pool. Its important to find a decent facility to train in, but the more exposure you have the better you will become, and by swimming over the winter without a wetsuit I will feel positively warm and more than comfortable come early spring while the competition shivers around me.

Aside from the mental edge I'm hoping this gives me, on a purely physical level exposure to very cold water produces a shock response in the body. It acts in a manner similar to that of a violent injury or illness. The body quickly produces an excess of white blood cells in anticipation of the infection or damage it expects to come its way, and have to endure. These white blood cells are the bodies defence against disease, and this forced overproduction is a fantastic way to keep you healthy over the winter training regime. A natural dose of antibiotics.
Its been a warm autumn, and this has kept the lake temperature up. This is lucky because it means I can get in today at what is an unseasonably warm 8degrees and now swim regularly as it drops down to 2 or 3 degrees and even lower over the next few weeks, acclimatising and hardening off gradually as the temperatures (hopefully) plummet.
Setting off while Leon of prepares the safety boat.

20 minutes later I'm out, 1500m under my belt @8degrees. A great start to the training and I'm glad I came. I can't feel my hands or my feet, but the exhilaration of the achievement is unrivalled. I know there is free hot chocolate and bacon rolls in the hut next to the changing rooms, and I rush out to get changed and warm up. I know there's about a 5 minute window where I will feel great, the air will feel warm, before my heart starts to pump blood back to my limbs and I experience 'afterdrop'.

Afterdrop is what happens at the point the body realises it is out of danger and can begin to warm up.  The blood cools rapidly as it flows into the arms and legs and chills your core and heart significantly as it is stripped of its heat that is transferred back to the muscles of the limbs that the body constricted blood flow to in a desperate attempt to preserve heat in my core and fight to keep me alive. This is a dangerous time, and needs careful monitoring. I know what's coming... I will begin shivering violently for a good 20 to 30 minutes, feel dizzy and strangely cold and wet inside my skin. I cant explain it any other way. That time can be well spent though. Cold Water Swimmers are a truly friendly bunch, people come and go, but it is incredibly easy to get on with them. Unlike the transition pit and starting line of a triathlon there is no ego here, no posturing, no bravado or bragging. Nothing beats sitting and shivering so violently while you share stories that you throw tea uncontrollably all over yourself in a vein attempt to look normal. Its a great leveller is shivering. The man that does 100m has an opinion as valued and interesting as the woman that thumps out 2000m. They are all thinkers. Interested in personal limits.

There were a few first timers today, and it is always an honour to share in the exhilaration of their success. For a thing that looks and seems so stupid a thing to do I am amazed how nobody seems to dislike it after they have tried it. I am lucky to live so close to a local hot spot for open water swimming, and we can claim no less than 5 Ice Milers - It is a true measure of how far the body can go, the extremes it will endure. It is beyond the limits of my skinny frame. I know that. There are 90 people worldwide who have achieved this feat. That's 5.555% of the Ice Mile world population around me to get unbeatable world class advise from. This includes Leon, the man in the photo starting the boat above, who gives great support and safety, allowing you to push your limits in the knowledge that if something does go wrong then you will be in the best possible hands in the business.

Halfway into the swim I noticed a cop car/ambulance at the bank. My first thought was that there had been an accident, but I hadn't heard the whistle so I decided to push on. I would be no use to anyone in a shivering numb state anyway. After I got out and went to warm up it became apparent that the copper had been driving past and thought he better investigate what looked like a bunch of suicidal idiots trying to drown themselves. He hung around and looked very confused. I don't think he'll be back with his towel next week, but it was good to see some decent & friendly community policing in action.

Warming up afterwards.
I'll get round to writing a separate page on CWS, there is too much to write....
I'm warmed up and home. A nice hot shower followed by a delicious lunch of pulled pork and a double yolker fried egg.
After that its clean the cars out, a nice dog walk with the wife down the river bank to stretch the legs before another 75min interval session on the turbo followed by a sprint brick of 4miles. The legs are tired and it is hard to hit 6min mile pace. I have to remind myself I am coming to the end of the 3 week cycle and I should be tired. All in all a good weekends work. All ready for a 7am endurance set at the pool in the morning....

Oh and finally, I almost forgot, we found a newt on the drive on Saturday night. how cool is that?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Nutrition. The easy way.

Welcome to my first post. Hopefully you have seen the website and read my 'Ethos' and got a feel for my views on our sport. If not, please take a look at

For anyone that doesn't know Triathlon - A big part of the sports market these days is the nutrition, be it post training recovery supplements through to race day fluids. All competitors will have been there. I certainly know I have..... Racking my bike up with gels, getting up early to mix powders in my bottles in just the right combination so that they can work the promised miracles as extoled on the back of the packet - accompanied by the image of a super human hero flying past the unfuelled competition.

What I soon realised was I could do without them. And I could certainly do without the cost. What I did work out quickly, and do still believe in though, is that you do need a good quality fuel after a hard training session or a race. As has long been known, 'You are what you eat'.

I'll start by sharing one of my most treasured inventions. I'm giving away the family silver here inside my 3rd paragraph as a blogger. The perfect antidote to the expensive gels that we all use on a longer training or Olly distance+ event. Behold - THE AERO BANANA.

The Aero Banana. Simple. Effective. 

Fortunately I have always loved gardening, and have cultivated an allotment for the last 10 years. Over the last 3 years I have juiced every conceivable combination of fruit and vegetable that I can grow on my plot. Some have been disgusting, most have been ok, and just a few recipes exceptional. What never gets boring is testing them out on others....

Without fail though, a pint of juice after a session of any kind not only quenches the thirst, but also the hunger. It lights up your eyes in a way no bought supplement can. You can feel the goodness rushing through your veins. Its organic, its as fresh as it comes and its rammed with everything I need to replenish what was lost. Anyone that knows me in local sporting circles will have had the dubious honour of being forced to sample 'Ball Juice'. A hard won nickname for a man who is never far from a bottle of his homemade wonder drink.

So with 'Ball Juice' in mind, and in the interests of spending time as a family while looking to prepare now for the 2015 season we set out on Sunday to collect apples. We ended up with over 50kgs of the fruit of a tree I planted from a seed with my grandfather some 33 years ago, and that now fruits amply in the garden of my parents home.

All these will be juiced down in the trusty Juice Lady Junior over the next week, and frozen in bags as a base for my juices in the spring and summer when we are busy. Making the most of the available time now, the seasonal glut, and to save time and money later in the season. These apples are not overly sweet, but they add enough of the necessary natural sugars to provide an instant energy hit, and I can tweak the additional freshly juiced elements down the line to either provide a full on race day energy hit by making it largely fruit based, through to a carb and vitamin/mineral heavy recovery drink that steers clear of sugars by carefully selecting veg from the allotment as required. Besides all that its fun to do, and producing a big jug of it at a time for the fridge ensures all the family get a great start to the day regardless of what they are doing.
Try 20 apples sliced into bits, 8 carrots, and a lump of fresh ginger. Be sure to let the sludge run through into the jug to give it some meaty umph at the end! 10 minutes from start to finish, and you have a dependable and solid work a day juice.
I also have my mother well trained. She now keeps us in sure supply of the finest 'double yolker' local organic eggs from a secret supplier she knows somewhere in their village... Through this winter period of extensive and prolonged base training plenty of protein is vital to repair the pummelling my muscles are taking.
My youngest has taken to writing our names on the eggs after she was cheated with a boiled egg breakfast that was only a single yolker.... she now stands with a torch under the stairs shining a light through the shell to spot those with 2 yolks in. We then get our names written on them to ensure even distribution.
Its all about enjoying what you do. If you train hard, you have to take the trouble take care of your body. Fresh homemade juice and local eggs give me everything I need in that respect, and cost little but our time spent as a family enjoying it..... perfect.