Sunday, 15 February 2015

An Unexpected End.

We're into February already, and after a solid back end and good January I knew I was going to lose a few weeks at the start of this month on an 'acclimatisation' trip to India. Back now, but that's made February look pretty tatty in the stats and made me focus on making up some lost ground.
Walking around early in the morning and seeing the extreme poverty certainly made me grateful for the opportunities we have over here, but once you get past the dirt and the noise then the people are some of the friendliest and most resourceful I have ever met.
There is a term in India called 'Jugaad' which loosely translates as 'an innovative fix or a simple work-around, used for solutions that bend rules, or a resource that can be used as such, or a person who can solve a complicated issue'. Seeing how this was employed in all walks of life out of necessity, but also considered a Noble ideal to be strived towards - rather than simply throwing things away and replacing them with new items like we do over here has motivated me more than ever to try and translate this into Triathlon.

Aim for 2015, to squeeze every little bit of use out of all the kit and equipment I have, and employ a bit of initiative where possible to get round any issues I encounter.
There's a couple of things really worth focusing on I think from my time there that are of interest to the Triathlete.
The first is the traffic. How anybody trains for the bike section is beyond me. The roads are perpetually choked with all manner of vehicles, people and animals. This included one day where we encountered and nearly crashed into 2 elephants walking the wrong way down the motorway. Nobody batted an eyelid.

Dodge that.
As a Westerner the apparent dangers at every turn were neither here nor there to the locals, who navigated deftly between the tuck-tucks and cows, their bikes stacked to the rafters with whatever it was they were selling that day.
Everybody there has to have quick reactions & common sense in abundance to survive, and while a lot of what passes as acceptable is potentially down right dangerous I couldn't help but think a bit of middle ground would be great, if only we could adopt some of the personal responsibility in the UK that is expected there.
If only we could strip away some of the excess nanny state safety concerns and clip board rules exercised in every event we participate in. Want to weave in and out of the traffic like a lunatic to gain a few seconds? No problem mate, but there's no blame on us if you hurt yourself. I'd love an event like that.
The actual bikes all seemed standard issue, with an iron frame & big heavy steel stand on the back - that combined with the ability to weave and dodge like they do makes me think that if any of them has the opportunity or inclination to compete they would breeze it when suddenly presented with a Tri bike and pair of trainers. I'd certainly be all ears if I ever have the opportunity to have a bike handling skills course off an Indian.
I did see 1 man in Lycra on a road bike, at 5:30am on Sunday morning. It was already busy, and he stuck out like a sore thumb. He didn't stop, but I would have loved to have got the opportunity to have spoken with him.

 Aero ladies 'essentials' was one of the more unusual bike balancing acts to pass by. Might offer some protection in a crash though.
Safety rules are negligible across the continent, from the roads, to restaurants & building sites. It was common place to see bamboo scaffolding, and welding in shops without any goggles. It was also bizarrely common to see missing lamp posts with live wires sparking away in the pavement. 
Most people cannot afford, or choose not to use a crash helmet on their bikes. One of the few people we did see wearing one I managed to photograph below, and they held me transfixed, lost between amusement and bewilderment. His wife had a scarf round her head, the infant had bright yellow cheap plastic sunglasses on. Don't worry though, the main thing was he was OK..... in full leather jacket and helmet. That kind of selfish dedication would translate to absolute success in triathlon. The athlete has all the kit, and the family go without......
Don't walk........RUN.
Crossing the road was like playing an extreme version of chicken every time. The signs seem to make the expectations on the pedestrian clear. LEG IT.
If the infrastructure made the training a challenge, then the food more than made up for the risks on the road. I have researched and considered becoming a vegetarian athlete for a long time, and have read the published advise of several very successful Ironmen who swear by a vegan diet. As such I avoid a lot of meat, but we do indulge, however the food on offer in India has given me a new perspective and motivation in this respect.
The first 5 days we were staying less than 1km from the home of Ghandi. Out of enduring respect for him the whole region has outlawed meat and alcohol. The beer I didn't even notice was missing for the first 3 days, but what immediately stuck out was how innovative & amazingly tasty the food was. This isn't a food blog, but in terms of achieving protein requirements the most delicious street snack definitely worth mentioning was called Chana Chor Garam.

Served in a piece of folded up paper - what looks like oats is actually rolled and pressed chick peas. Tossed with freshly chopped onion, coriander leaves and tomato with a healthy splash of spice and a squeeze of lemon / lime and some fresh chilli, this stuff was bursting with vitamins, minerals & protein, incredibly filling - and tasty as hell. We have already re-created it once since I've been back, and it certainly worked admirably as a strenuous post training recovery fuel. (More about that below).
After getting back home the first thing I realised (or maybe was politely reminded of) was I had forgotten to add the next sections to 3 of the Workingclasstriathlete's Training Programs. They had all covered the missing week with dedication regardless, and my apologies again to each of you. This was all the more important to them as we now begin to move into the next phase of training, increasing some intensity, and levelling off the volume ready to ramp it up for their first races in 10 to 12 weeks time.
All have made brilliant gains, and after working hard through the difficult dark mornings and nights at their base phases they should all now begin to see even greater gains in their performance.
Onto my own training. Since getting back I have managed some runs in a new pair of barefoot trainers I have been breaking in. I will save the feedback on them for another post, but little and often seems the key to adaptation to that style of running while the muscles conform.
I had expected to lose a bit of form during my break. I didn't help myself by thinking I was clever. Trying to side step the inevitable Delhi Belly I thought coming my way I spent a week before eating even more than normal, putting on weight so that I could let nature takes its course and lose it again while over there.
Only problem with that plan was it didn't happen. Quite the opposite, I got bound up. By the end I was even drinking the local water to try and loosen things up. Didn't happen.
And so back to the grind stone nearly half a stone heavier. Not to worry, a couple of short runs, a couple of decent swims in the week, and a Pilates class got things moving again. The weights coming back off, and I was surprised to find that I hadn't really lost any form. I even managed a 5:40 400m (mid set) yesterday, which is the best of the year to date. All of this reminded me that despite taking regular rest weeks every 4th week of the training cycle it is still easy to over train and fatigue the muscles. A good long rest can often be beneficial.
With all that in mind I was keen to get out on the bike and put down some decent mileage this morning (I certainly haven't missed the sweaty turbo). Waking up and looking out the window, the weather was foggy, but lifting. I would have sacked it off for a Sunday lay in, but Sarah kindly gave me the nudge I needed. 
Fog - Nothing a few sets of decent lights and the fluorescent orange safety tights wouldn't fix. I got dressed like an excited child, took the wife a fresh coffee in bed, necked one myself, filled my bottle with squash and rushed out to prep the beast. After getting it set up to my satisfaction, sorting out my clobber, helmet, gloves and bag I set out on a hilly 70 miler.
From the off the legs felt good and strong. By 20 miles in I was hitting just over a 20mph average even with muddy roads and junctions to hamper progress, and began entertaining thoughts of putting down a 10k run when I got home. I certainly felt like I had plenty in the tank.
The fog lifted, and after passing rashes of delicate little snowdrops and the odd daffodil as I plowed along I was enjoying the contrast of the heat and the dust of the week before, and the conditions back home. The road was quite wet and slippy from muddy patches in places and the poor bike was earning its keep. I stopped for a quick comfort break and drink of juice.
Lovely morning. At this point.......
As I drank the juice and prepared to re-saddle I suddenly felt quite hungry. It's then that it occurred to me I had forgotten breakfast. A quick rummage in the bag and I then realised I had forgotten to pack any gels or food too. No matter, I was feeling good, and pressed on regardless.
Whenever I go on a longer ride I try to incorporate family safehouse's along the way, in case anything is needed, or goes wrong. To that end my parents home was a passing point at about 40 miles. The hunger got worse and I began to notice the demand on my muscles getting harder without the porridge that should have been in my belly, but was instead still sat in the cupboard at home. I finished my juice to sustain me - safe in the knowledge that I could stock up at Woodhall and there was more than a passing chance my Mum would shake up a sausage sandwhich.
I pulled up and clipped out the pedals, parked the bike round the back... Dam it.... the door was locked. A glance through the windows confirmed nobody was home. Not only that, I knew it meant they had all gone to Norfolk. Nobody was turning up any time soon.
With little choice I turned back to the saddle, my legs now aching, and a shower of rain to soak me.
I steeled myself and pushed on up the unrelenting but very steady climb back towards the Wolds. I was starving and my energy levels fading, and try as I might I couldn't shake that reality from my mind. Mental discipline is hard when it is obviously you are fading. I focused on the fact that I only had to get another 9 miles and my sisters home would nourish me.....
9 miles of tough grind later in an effort to maintain the pace I had established early in the ride, I pulled into the drive having given away a good few miles per hour, and now struggling to hold between 17 and 18 mph.
Again nobody was in. This time I was gutted. I had be visualising a big hot warm mug of sugary tea to revive me, getting warm while my Nieces and their brain damaged dog jumped around and entertained me with their antics. As a good cook too, I also had to let go of the hope of a butty of some kind to re invigorate me while I found the last 20 miles to home.
And so I set out again. At this point I began to notice a rapid decline. I was bleeding miles per hour with every passing click. I had no energy, and the wet of my clothes wasn't shifting. I simply couldn't pedal fast or hard enough to generate enough heat to warm myself. For the first time ever in my life I was pedalling as hard as I could and still shivering, cold to the core. I felt more like I was ice swimming that cycling.
Looking at the speedo I realised I was down to 15 mph. I wasn't enjoying this, and it was still getting worse. Head down. Push on. Where was the trusty aero banana when I needed one? If only I hadn't guzzled all my juice.... I was getting dizzy and noticing my reactions slowing.
And so, at mile 55 I bowed out. I stopped and I called Sarah. She hopped in the car to fetch me. I pedalled on, a miserable slow example of myself, an embaressment to the kind of kit I was wearing. A man in full lycra and aero helmet doing 12 miles per hour is not a cool sight. I was pleased when she pulled up and put me out of my misery.
I lobbed the bike in the boot, and she gave me a kiss and thanked me for being sensible. I was glad I had been. I have learnt a valuable lesson. More haste, less speed. As keen and excited as I was to get out I shouldn't have let that excitement stop me planning properly, and a massive part of that planning is fuelling correctly.
Energy levels have never bothered me before. I always feel tired after a race, but have never crashed and burned to the point of absolute fatigue like that before. With a Middle distance and a couple of Irons round the corner though, this has been a valuable lesson.
I now know how little of the required ground I could cover without properly fuelling before and during. I also know how quickly things can turn. Once you are spent you are spent unless you can keep replacing what you are burning, things can go from good to bad over very little ground. This has been a good lesson to learn. To go from thinking I had more in the tank and getting psyched up to do a long brick when I got back to failing completely inside 30 miles is something that nobody with half a brain would want to repeat.
Home, a long hot shower and some home-made soup later, coupled with a quick 30 minutes resting the eyes in the chair put me right. That, and an afternoon snack of the Chana Chor Garam I mentioned before and there is no harm done, except to my ego. Honestly that snack is the business. It put me right as rain in no time, properly filling, easy to digest, full of what was in need of replacement and not a string of meat in sight.
It would have been different if I was sat here now writing this having blown the entry fee to a big race because of my stupidity. That said, before I went pop things felt great and that has given me confidence for the season ahead.
Train smart friends.
P.S. A final little treat of a video for you, for anyone thinking of getting their toddler into riding bikes.