Monday, 30 March 2015

Win Win Situations.

I needed to get my finger out and write this new post. I know that. The problem is as always, when you have the time to write, you have it because there's not alot going on, so there isn't so much to write about. When you're busy, and thinking 'this will make a great post' you're too busy to get round to it. Frustrating.
I want to start with something I am very proud of for 2015. Sponsorship isn't something that sits easily with the ethos of the Working Class Triathlete. It leans towards the embodiment of what (I believe) is wrong with the sport, helping to push fad products and gimmicks onto the mass of age groupers desperate to do (and spend) anything to help save them seconds as the race season looms.
With that in mind any sponsor that I considered would have to be pretty special in terms of what they can offer the sport, and as such it has never been something I have actively considered.
As anyone reading regularly will know, I came to triathlon through a love of open water swimming. When you get into a conversation about getting in Lakes / Rivers / Sea's then never far from the hit list of questions from the curious is 'dont you get ill?'. Of course that is a concern that you assess when you decide to attempt a swim, and you do everything you can - like not drinking the water & avoiding obvious pollution to negate any possible nasties, but you know there is always the unseen potential for pathogens to lurk in a natural body of water. At a new location with a 1 off swim it sometimes comes down to consoling yourself that a healthy persons immune system should be able to fight off the occassional exposure to a bug.
However, when you are training, week in / week out in a lake for the purpose of big competions then you have to take the cleanliness of the water seriously, and a blase attitude doesn't wash. Getting in your suit and diving in 2 or 3 times a week for a big session the last thing you want is to be worrying about getting the water in your system, on your skin, or in your eyes. You need to have absolute confidence in the water quality, and I am lucky to have a lake that takes Open Water Swimming seriously. In 5 years of regular training there I have never even got a sniffle from the place. This piece of mind is in no small measure down to the fact that our training lake is one of the few places around that take the time to have the water professionally tested on a monthly basis to ensure it passes stringent European standards for safe bathing water. Knowing it has that stamp of approval leaves me free to concentrate on the training, and not worry when its blowing a gale, the waters choppy and I've just swallowed a gallon or 2 that I will be laid up for a week after.
This testing is provided by a local company called Delta Simons. The MDs at the company are both fellow triathletes and are entering long distance events this year. The commercial director, Alex is a personal friend who completed the 24hr swim with me last year. They understand the sport.  As part of their complete Environmental Services package Delta Simons have a simple aim when it comes to helping out open water based events :
"Provide affordable recreational water testing to event organisers and venue operators,  providing single event and seasonal testing to EU and UK standards, ensuring that potential risks to swimmers and event participants are understood and managed."

Its obvious where this is going, but when the Working Class Triathlete team and Delta Simons got to talking it seemed a great opportunity for us both to work in partnership and a sponsorship deal has been forged off the back of that.
Delta Simons provide a unique service that is important to me, and my fellow athletes, ensuring we can race safely in some amazing locations. They are not selling a gimmick or a fad, they are taking care of peoples health, intrinsic to the long term well being of the sport. With their support I have got some great improvements to my range of kit which has freed up much needed funds to channel where I have always said it should be spent first - on events. Hopefully those extra events can all help to improve my form for the big A Races, and get the name of Delta Simons out to a wider applicable audience.
If theirs is a service that you think you might be able to benefit from then please take the time to look at their website and get in touch.  - to all my subscibers around the world, DS are UK based, but offer a global network solution.
Off the back of the on-site testing at our local lake and confirmation from Delta Simons that :
"The bathing water quality at the Site is Excellent as defined in the Bathing Water Quality Directive 2006/7/EC."
They now also sponsor a 5 race aquathon series there, which is great for some friendly transition practice racing through-out the season. Just Google 'Delta Simons Aquathon' for more info.
Talking of kit, having a nearly teenage daughter who has also got into Triathlon has been great, but also mighty expensive in terms of additional expense. Children have a habit of growing.... and I've learnt that the gear doesn't fit for long, and unlike my more functional approach a 12 year old girl definitely does care what it looks like. That pressure has made me very proficient at sourcing great deals off various websites such as eBay/Gumtree and pre-loved. After bagging a really nice road bike for her after christmas, picking it up for £180 with about 50 miles at most in the tyres and would have cost me £1000 in the shops, I have, this last few months been sourcing another new tri suit and wetsuit for this season.
The secret is to be patient, and set a limit. I also spend alot of time deliberately seaching for mis-spelt or badly advertised items. Like anything, when you are involved you know whats good, and get a feel for the better quality items. People selling these for a friend or a relative with a degree of ambivalence often overlook the more important nuances of advertising the item that an enthusiast would deem important, and this is where you can cash in.
By pouring over pages for items related to 'trithalon' (notice the deliverate mis spell) I managed to find a race suit that looked like a brand new top quality piece of kit. There was no mention of the brand, or really what the suit was for, other than 'selling for my daughter who left it under her bed when she moved out' the vendor seemed to not care, BUT on the 1 blurred photo of the piece the 2 things I could spot were the tags still intact on the suit, meaning it was new, and some lettering saying '226'. That told me enough to take a punt. £10.50 - including postage, and a 3 day wait later the suit arrived. As hoped, it was a brand new ORCA 226 Race suit, ladies small, the cheapest I can buy it online new in a shop being £96.00.
I applied the same principles to the wetsuits, and a few weeks later was likewise rewarded with another unopened Speedo Tri Elite ladies suit for £16.00 including postage, that  I couldn't get for less than £280 in the shops. A very happy daughter, and an even happier Martin. £1026.50 worth of essential gear for an enthusiastic youngster all for £206.50. A saving of £820. Boom!
Remember, be patient, dont over pay and look carefully over multiple sites at the worst advertised items. Some sites still let people list without images - they are always worth messaging for more info, because 99% of people cant be bothered.
                                       High end bargains for the seasons start.
And so, with all this talk of kit, it's onto what counts. Training.
As the weather has eased slightly, and the mornings have got lighter it has made this last month a lot easier to get out on the road. After a winter in the pool and the garage on the turbo the cold fresh mornings on the road alone, but for the bare hedgerows are refreshing. You can see a bit more spring everyday. Strangely now the clocks have gone back it makes it a bit more awkward for a few weeks, as I have to curtail the now routine 5:30am big bricks and bikes, while the sunrise catches up again. Still, by 6am its still light enough to see a good distance and training continues unabated.
Getting into a routine of training at 05:30am has its drawbacks. Not least, waking the family doesn't go down well. By 9pm you are ready for bed, to sleep. That also draws occassional (understandable) complaints. The upside, as I start to up the intensity as race season approaches, is that I am seeing gains, and you start to feel like it is all coming together, and might, just might, have been worth the bother.
After going pop on the big bike 6 or more weeks back, I had been keen to get a few more similar sessions in and sweep that mishap under the carpet, and start experimenting more with nutrition that works to avoid a repeat of the fail. After coming home from a busy week in Ireland with work I decided that a full half iron brick was in order. I nearly didn't do it out of trepidation, but by holding a heart rate on the bike, and going straight into a 13mile run I was chuffed to come home off the jog in 1hr 29min post 52 mile ride. Much better than I had expected.
That motiviated the next week of training, followed by another impromptu 70.3 with a friend a week last saturday. We over-egged the bike to compensate for not swimming, and even a strong headwind and steady uphill constant climb for the last 25 miles didnt stop us sticking home an 18mph average in the saddle, with the feeling through-out that there was plenty more in the tank.
Through out the ride I was taking in a homemade conconcotion of fuel and liquid. This really paid dividends when we pulled on our trainers and sprinted out the first 2 miles on a 6:05 min mile average. Backing off a bit and settling in I felt strong to the end, and comfortable that the nutrition plan is where it needs to be. This was really highlighted when Jon, my fellow bricker that morning, took to the ride with only 1/2 a bottle of blackcurrent squash for company. Jon is racing in Geneva for GB in June, and a very capable athlete who out-bikes me with ease. He has a strong base endurance more than ample for his Olympic distance Euro race, and I knew he would be a good guage of my form.
However, off the bike and into the run the lack of fuel took its toll on him. He resolutely refused to walk, but admitted freely that not topping up the tank on route rung him out, and the last 3 or 4 miles of the run he felt weak, dizzy and suffered a rapid decline in pace, and, more crutially, outlook. The small little voice creeping into the mind saying 'I can't keep this up, this is grim, I'm wet, I'm cold, I'm bored of this' is the last place you want to be if you have to find a final 5 mile hard push for the line when you can see the gap closing either in front or behind you. That small little voice of doubt and deflation is infinately harder to beat than tired legs...... Like all good athletes he came away pleased that he had taken some valuable lessons from the day, and the collective effort was still cracking. Even in suffering he found a way to take a win from the experience and ensure it improves him.
I am now really looking forward to the Half Iron proper at the end of May. Doing the distances regularly is preparing the legs, and building confidence that I can achieve it, and helps to cement how it will be paced and where my strengths and weaknesses lie. Again mental preperation and visualisation is the key. Im really quite excited about the race.
Training over the longer distances is hard, not because of the effort required, but the time it guzzles. Again, that's where the early mornings and a variety of training partners really helps. If you can find people in a similar position to yourself who have similar goals, but also commitments, and need to spend time with family at the weekend as well as riding and running the hills of the County then you can use each other to great effect to motivate and encourage. Its much easier to get up at 5am in the rain when you know there are others waiting for you down the road to join the set.
The hardest bit of training right now is remembering what the important races are. It's 3 weeks yesterday to my first race, No 1 of the 3 Midland Sprints. These were only entered to get race experience, and resisting the urge to add speed in for them and focusing on training through them, and that they are 'just for fun' has been hard. Setting myself up for a best possible performance in them though is incompatible with Middle and Iron distances. As the saying goes "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other". Knowing I won't have that top end speed is hard, but hopefully showing discipline now will pay dividends down the line when it counts.
Finally for now, yesterday brought an unexpected treat. I had the privelage of attending a brutal little Cross Country event called the '6.66km Devil of a Cross Country' that had a select field of around 50 invitation only athletes from the wider local running and triathlon community attending. It stood to be good company and good sport, and the promise of a cup of soup and real sausage in a bun after meant it was an event not to be missed.
So after winding forward the clocks, hitting the pool at 8am for an hour, home for a quick change and back out the door I found myself at 10:15am shivering on the start line, in the wind and the rain of a muddy farmers field in the midst of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The whistle went and the battle commenced, the next 4 miles saw waist deep puddles, haybales, sheep, sharp thorny hedgerows, fields of thick mud and vertical hills that required an 'on all fours' approach to scramble up. A couple of wrong turns added a few extra 100m's to the effort, but by the end, with the unique warm glow you only get from exercising hard out of doors in the cold I found myself crossing the line first by just shy of a full 4 minutes on the 2nd placed man. I hadnt expected it, so it was a nice little bonus to start the season.
                     Not very flattering, but win 1 of the season for Team Delta Simons.