Saturday, 25 April 2015

Behind the Scenes.

Another productive and fruitful day - especially as it was meant to chuck it down.
I've just got in from a mornings training that included an hours swim with a miserable mid section of 800m kick (thanks Amy.) Actually the set was particularly useful because of the 400m f/c warm up. After taking yesterday as a rest day and pre occupying over the bad swim at Southwell last Sunday I had decided in the week that maybe it was down to a loss of power through weight loss. It gets hard to keep weight on without eating crap when you need to find 3500 / 4000cal a day to stand still. Once you start race season it is a battle in itself to maintain fighting weight. Last night we went out for tea and totally pigged out on cheesy nacho starters, along with a shared platter of various fried things, and then a turf and surf for the main. All washed down with 2 pints. 2 Pints!! (My first drink for 3 weeks, and the most in a single sitting since Christmas). So a day of no exercise and over indulgence....turns out my body was grateful. Into the pool this morning, 400m warm up, 6:02min without even trying. There was easy another 15 to 20 seconds in me there. So, lesson learnt, sometimes its good to ease off a bit. Talking to a mate after the set he pointed out the obvious "you trained through that race, you were obviously just tired". Sometimes you need to hear the obvious for it to sink in.
We then did a quick half an hour interval run set, everyone putting in a solid effort and then home and out on the bike for 50 miles. I ummed & arred about it with the wind being as it is, but apart from the odd gust that snuck through the gaps in the hedge that caught the back disk everything was fine.
I say fine, a few miles of 30+mph with a strong wind on your back is great fun, but I didn't think it was so clever grinding it out the other way.  That said the ride remained comfortable with some beautiful rolling clouds, all dark and broiling, but with the sunlight catching them and contrasting vividly again the now fresh green hedgerows and bright yellow of the stinking oil seed rape that is swiftly coming into bloom. A strong wind often seems to bring great visibility, and today felt like everything was in HD with the contrast turned up to high. That and some tunes in my ears along with only 1 pillock motorist instead of the usual few made for an easy 20.5mph average over the full 50, never stepping over 150 on the HR monitor. Its built a bit more confidence for the 70.3 that's 3 weeks today.
So, home and off the bike. The family are out, and the lawn is mown. I have to stay in to wait for some furniture to be delivered, and thought I'd check the counts on the blog view.

And there we have it......

So there we have it. 100,430 views. Inside 6 months I am struggling to believe it, but the computer says YES!.

As promised to celebrate I'd now like to hand over to my special blog guest for the day, no one other than Steve Paley - Operations Manager for 1Step Beyond Promotions, and organiser (along with others in their close and professional team) of The East Midland Sprint Series Triathlons, and the likes of the Outlaw (Iron distance) Triathlon and  numerous other events. This close team of dedicated people have brought a great series of events to the Midlands and beyond, and have won 'Race of the Year' back to back for no less than the last 4 years for their troubles. If you haven't already then its worth checking out their website at There's something there for everyone, from beginner to pro, if your thinking of having a go at your first event - get signed up.

We all turn up and enjoy these events, often without really thinking about what is involved from the other side, so without further a do here is Steve to give us an insight into what goes on behind the scenes to make sure we all have a great day:

Behind the Scenes with OSB – Southwell Tri 2015

 It won’t be any surprise to hear that as soon as each event finishes we start looking forward 12 months to the following year’s event. So Southwell Tri 2015 started for us in May 2014 with the event debrief looking at what worked and what can be improved upon to make the experience for you the athlete better next time round. Then it’s a question of putting these suggestions and recommendations, which come from our awesome event crew and you the athletes, into practice.

 What an event 2015 was, from behind the scenes the plan that we put in place went according to plan, well almost! It was different for us this year having to move the event base from the Leisure Centre up to Southwell Rugby Club.

 With the added complication of having to switch the event date after the entries had already been rolling in, trust me when I say it’s no mean feat to switch over 300 individuals entries across the 2 events that we had to switch round and it kept the office busy for weeks to get communication with everybody, it really helps us if we have an up to date email address that people will reply to, you’ll be amazed at how many people don’t read emails – but we got there in the end making use of the old fashion method of communication called a telephone which is used less and less these days. How old do I sound!

 For us the team really kicks into top gear as soon as the entries for the event close, which means all systems go! With entries closing on the Wednesday morning the main priority is getting the start list sorted so all of you know your race numbers and start times. It would be great if this only took 5 mins, unfortunately it is a very long winded process due to the way that we seed and manage the start list. Things we need to ensure are up to date:

1.       Any changes athletes have informed us about – including swim time changes, so we can seed swimmers to be swimming with people of the same speed. It is important that people give accurate times so they don’t impede other athletes in the pool.

2.       Ages and putting you all into the correct age groups.

3.       Sorting the ladies into the women’s only swim lanes to save them from the testosterone filled male lanes!

 This process can take half a day for one person to put together – that’s if there aren’t any issues with downloading the data from the entry system. On this occasion we had issues which meant that we were also then reliant on others to provide us with the information we needed to get you your start time.

With nearly 2000 labels to print, 625 envelopes to stuff with race numbers and bike security stickers, age category prizes to get produced, Timing data to send to the timing team, T-shirts to order and get printed not only do we have pressure in the office to get everything ready for you to make your race day go as smooth as possible. In addition we also apply a huge amount of pressure on our suppliers to ensure that we get all of these items ready for you when registration opens at 06:45!

 In amongst all of this we need to recruit a team of approximately 60 volunteers to help make your day run like a dream. The people that come to help us deliver our events are by far the best event crew in the country! You might think us biased, though it’s not us that says this, it’s you the athletes that come and race at our events. Their commitment doesn’t start on race day, we regularly get volunteers that give up their whole weekend to ensure you get a top race experience. On the Saturday at Southwell we had a team of 15 on site from 10am to get the event site set-up. If you have a look at the short time lapse video on our facebook page you will see the rugby club field change from a rugby pitch to a triathlon race venue. We left the venue at 17:30 Saturday evening, leaving overnight security on site to make sure everything is ready and waiting for our return to the venue prior to 0600 Sunday morning. Our dedicated and committed Cadet group arrived onsite at 1800 to camp overnight and were well catered for by Southwell Rugby Club who kept them fed and watered before calling it a day.

Race Day: after the final preparations are implemented and the course is signed off and ready to go, that’s when we have to be ready to react to anything to ensure the event looks like a swan gliding along a river – serene and calm on top, legs going like the clappers to keep moving forwards. This is where problem solving and fire fighting skills come to the fore to ensure the event continues smoothly. This ranges from ensuring all competitors have somewhere to park, to your welfare should you have an accident whilst on the course.

This is where our race crew are outstanding, their ability to spot problems before they arise and communicate them to us to implement a solution to enable them to keep you safe and the event flowing.

It may seem to the untrained eye that my job out on the bike course in the event van constitutes sitting on my arse, keeping warm (which was clearly the place to be on Sunday) is an easy job! Being a cheerleader and a coiled spring to kick into action at any time to respond to anything that happens out on the highway is sometimes boring, and sometimes I’m dashing around like a man possessed to ensure you’re all taken care of out on the road. Expertly assisted by our awesome Moto Ref’s who aren’t just there to stop you naughty people drafting, they are there as extra eyes and ears to help keep you safe on the road. Reacting quickly to collect stranded people was high on the priority list on Sunday given the cool conditions. From collecting stranded cyclists and finding a cyclist who crashed (who did get back up and carry on) it’s not always easy to find you. Thanks this week have to go to the athlete that told me of a cyclist that had crashed, without his communication we would have not been able to locate the athlete concerned and then deploy the medical team to the appropriate location to administer appropriate treatment.

Post Race: So once you’ve all finished, packed your kit away travelled home, showered and snuggled up to recover on the sofa nice and warm our team of volunteers are on site packing away the kit and tidying up after you’ve all long gone. Pack up done we left Southwell Rugby Club at around 1630 to travel home / back to the office to drop off the vans at the office.

 So the next time you’re at an event make sure you smile, and say thanks to the volunteers as without them your event experience wouldn’t be the same without them!

 So here we are on Tuesday and the final van is being emptied and kit being sorted ready to do it all over again for the David Lloyd Lincoln Sprint Tri on the 3rd May.
Steve Paley : The only Triathlete ever to survive a swim section Swan Attack.
Thanks Steve. I hope you all enjoyed that. And thank you again for reading. I have another juicy addition to the blog lined up, but at the risk of overloading you all I will post that later. Thanks again.


Monday, 20 April 2015

Southwell Sprint Review.

First race review of 2015 then. The Southwell Sprint Tri. Part of the 3 race Midland Sprint Series hosted by OneStepBeyond Events, they have a reputation as a professional and well run set of events, with fierce competition and a friendly atmosphere. One not to be missed to kick off the season.

I had been reliably informed on several occasions from Friday onwards that I was becoming obsessive (and annoying), only able to talk of Sundays race, and not taking heed of anything else.

By Saturday either the comments had stopped and the family had accepted the current vibe being generated in the home, or I had totally stopped listening.... besides, there was a box to pack and bike to prepare. It is always therapeutic to pack the box, finding things hidden away from the previous season. Visualising the event it came from, each part of the race, conjuring up the sights, smells and sounds. The feeling.

The kit sorted, and tea was a tasty helping of whole wheat pasta, broccoli, kale and thick slice of fresh raw tuna. Perfect.

Later I took a steady ride to my mates so he could put the bike in the car rack ready for the morning, then a run home of a few miles to warm the legs before an early night.
Sunday morning I woke at around 4:30am and laid talking to Sarah in bed. She seemed less enthusiastic about discussing wind factor, the fore's and against's of concrete or grass transition pits & cycling cadence than me, even after I offered her a cup of tea. Strange. By 5:15am I was up and dressing, lots of layers on as it was cold out with a northerly wind that looked settled in for the day already. Downstairs the dogs didn't seem amused to see me either, and neither of them was about to move from their bed. A big bowl of porridge  along with a cup of tea to keep me going - I hate feeling full on a race, way better to feel empty I always think, but it was 7hrs until I began so it was important to get some energy in me.

After that there was time for the early morning pre race poo. It probably seems un-necessary to mention that to anyone who doesn't compete, but race day nerves, and the body building in anticipation of the event always results in a series of monster pre race logs that are as much part of the whole triathlon experience as the swim the bike or the run.

6am. Picked up by fellow Louth Triathlete Oli, and his soon to be wife Lucy. We were both racing nearer to 12pm than 11am, but Oli had friends setting off early to cheer, and I had roped my Dad into his first ever Triathlon back at Christmas. With an 08:10am start time for him I wanted to be there to cheer him on.

By just after 7 we were registered and setting up. Plenty of the club were already on site and the ever growing sea of yellow hoodies was present in abundance. Dumping the bike in the rack I found time for a round of hellos from the multitude of friendly familiar faces all coming out of hibernation to begin their 2015 season. Some with sparkly new kit, some with the look of determination on their faces that suggested they had spent the winter training hard for this first race of the series and the stress was starting to show.
It was a pleasant change not to have the bother of this being an A race. I could enjoy the atmosphere and take in the joy of racing for the sake of it. We went and set Martin Ball (Snr) off, and he held a good even pace through the swim and out on to the bike. Checking out his set up it made me smile to see where the Working Class Triathlete ethos has maybe at least in part come from when I spotted a Tommy Tippy baby cup stuffed in his bottle holder. 'It does the job'.

The Tommy Tippy School of Nutrition.
Martin Ball Woodhall Spa
 First Time Tri at 65. Exiting the Swim.

Once he was out I went back to my station and began rigging up the shoes to the bike, a last minute spray of WD40 where necessary, picking the tyres clean of any spots of grass, mud and debris, and then 1/2hr stood repeating my transition routine on a loop.

Transition is the one place you can get free seconds for no effort, and going over and over it to imprint it in my brain like a muscle memory really helps. It's time well spent being constructive while you wait. Satisfied it wouldn't rain I spread out my towel, talcum powdered the bike shoes, and spend time carefully rigging them to bands to hold them in place ready for the run out of T1 for a quick mount. Repeating the 'Bike, Belt, Helmet, GO' Mantra, practicing, visualising, encouraging people to talk to me and distract me while I do it, to make it more realistic. Another quick break to cheer in and out fellow club members, including my sister in law who was aiming for an AG win, and who massively improved her bike with an 18.5mph average.
During this time I had a bit of a run in with a supposed Race Official who got it in his head that my tri belt and attached number was somehow in fact 'A Device' used to deliberately mark out my spot & give me unfair advantage (words he took great glee in repeating as he fingered the print on his stupid laminated rules sheet while telling me).

My number was apparently somehow helping me unfairly mark out my transition spot. Of course my own bike, the towel on the floor, my trainers and my helmet on my tri bars were in no way helping me spot where I racked my bike. This bloke seemed 100% convinced you're not allowed to know where you are stationed. When I suggested we gouge my eyes out as I enter T1 to make it properly fair things deteriorated. The nail in the coffin came when he then ignored a bloke 2 down from me who had racked his bike the wrong way round. He found the time to chat with him and eventually agree that it didn't really matter. When it comes to which way your bike points on a busy rack - no worries mate. The biggest test of the day was tolerating this absolute moron who clearly had no understanding of the sport, but for some reason was policing the pit.

Fortunately rather than setting fire to him, I took a breath and went and found the race referee proper, the sun shined, and it became clear she has a brain in her head, moved the lads bike into the correct position and told me my number belt was fine.

Attention turned back to the race. At 10am I had another small pot of porridge, and a half a pint of Ball Juice freshly squeezed the day before.

Ball Juice
Race day juice stock (pre squeezed)
I took a bit more than the usual care over nutrition the day before (and that morning) because I had decided to do away with any fluid for the whole race. The bottle was extra weight and wind resistence I could do without over this short distance. 
5 minutes out to cheer in my Dad, and a chat with him and others around confirmed the wind was pretty chilly and with some decent gusts in it on the way back. That and a few short steep climbs to take the pace out the wheels stood to make it a more difficult bike. I wasn't feeling confident on it anyway, I haven't spent any time adding in pace at this stage so it stood to be an unknown. At least I knew to expect to be cold as I entered T2 and could prepare for it mentally.
I went back to the box and wrote last years times on my hand, and some marker times for where I expected to be at certain points on the course. That is a quick easy reference for me to help decide where to spend some extra energy if necessary. No need for a satellite or signal, just a good old fashioned stop watch on my wrist and some target times on the back of my hand. I stripped off to my suit and went poolside to keep warm. Watching a couple of team mates I enjoyed seeing them both bag a 400 pb swim time before exiting and clearing off. A great swim from both Oli and Glenn.

I spent the next 15 minutes trying to visualise each stage of the race, and stretching off ready to begin. Time to focus.
Soon enough I was in the water and the count down began. Starting the watch as I pushed off - I was into the swim. The first 100 felt comfortable and good. Spotting the other blue hats in my wave across the pool I could see I was heading the wave, and this lead continued to increase throughout.
I had submitted a 5:45 400m time for my wave start, and figured if I was leading it out and was with others on the same time it must be going well. I struggled with the turns because at 100m the left eye filled with water following a brush with another swimmer. After that it was hard to focus and spot the wall properly and in honesty the push offs were weak. I glanced at the watch at the final 25 and it already registered 5:55. That couldnt be right? Had I done too many? I exited on 6:14 and was gutted with an abysmal swim time. Properly embarrassed at myself, but no point worriyng now, just had to make it up.

As I exited I lobbed the hat toward the bucket and was pleased to see it go in. Shame that a slam dunk on the hat didn't win you a 10 second bonus. Running into T1, straight to my station, the belt whistled round my waist without issue, helmet on and out in 33 seconds. Pleased with that.
Over the mount line and onto the concrete I went to the saddle and the right laccy band snapped prematurely. The shoe rotated and faced the floor. I had been here before, and trying to keep pedalling last time brought me off. On that basis I stopped, shoved my foot in, and got going again. Another few seconds lost. Arrrggghhh...
Once on the main road the ride opens out into a climb, but soon enough I had settled into the bike, and after a few early climbs was steaming down the other side. I had been unsure of what kind of bike time I would bag, but it felt good enough once I had got into the rhythm. Checking the watch everything was about right.

The route is a simple out and back, hills in the first quarter, levelling out before a flat decent bit of tarmac to a roundabout, right round and then up the hills again before the end. The roundabout required a pause to let traffic through for around 6 seconds that felt like forever.

Getting my head down and my back flat I made the most of the straight. I passed a few athletes, but otherwise had a lonely ride for such a short circuit. A friend was in the last wave of the day, 12 minutes after me, and also in my age group. His run time has come on bucket loads over winter and with a good bike he stood to beat me with ease. Taking my time from the round about back in I knew that if we didn't cross for 6 minutes then he hadn't gained ground. We passed at around 5:45, but 15 seconds was OK given how much quicker a swimmer he is, and it spurred me to get my head down for home.

On the return leg it was good to see a few of the others in my wave still heading out, and as we passed it spurred me again to push harder and maximise the damage. All in all the bike was a solitary affair with very few competitors to chase down or hold off, and I wasn't passed once. Burning the legs up the hills and finally shooting back into T2. Bike done on a 22.3mph average. Given the wind and the short sharp climbs I was happy enough, although it was just a bit slower than last years effort.
In and out of T2 in 34 seconds, and out to the run.
As I exited I was hit by a wall of cheers and support from the club, from family, and friends. It's a great boost and spurs you on to dig a bit deeper while the muscles are throbbing to adapt to the new demands.

In testimony to the great atmosphere and camaraderie of the club here is a link to a bit of video that the club Chairman took of me coming into T2. The cow bells and cheers and the mass of yellow hoodies in the background are all Club members giving their all, having received their cheers earlier in the day. It is brilliant to think that we can all be bothered to get there early to support and stay when we are tired and ready for home to encourage other team members in. I also have to make a special mention to the Kyle and Lee on the microphones for their cracking summaries of me as I exited T2, including, if you listen carefully at the end of the video - a mention for this blog from Kyle, and Lee's description of me as the biggest lightweight he knows at the end. Thanks guys.

If you can't view it from the link then I encourage you to look up Louth Tri Club on FaceBook for a great set of photos and video of the day.
The run is a simple 2 loop climb up a decent incline, back down and round. The climb soon settled the legs and once I had my stride it was good to be around a lot more athletes, and fun picking the next target in front and reeling them in. Half way up the first climb I had settled in and as it levelled out I could feel the pace increase with every stride.

Along the springtime hedgerows, time to glance the top of the Cathedral in the distance, the wind felt  refreshing at that point, then round the cone and back. As the down hill approached I let the legs open, like depressing the clutch and free wheeling at top speed down to the bottom. Into the main area for a U turn, and again a barrage of cheers and encouragement. Tingles of appreciation as you motor past, properly motivating stuff. Back up the hill, round the cone again. At this point I glanced at my watch and checked the time against the scribble on the back of my hand. I was a good few minutes ahead of last years times. That was all I wanted. I was free to open the throttle now and dump every last drop of energy on the final sprint for home. The run had felt comfortable and good. Back down into the crowds, round the bend and the sprint for the line. The run was a pb at 16:57.

                                   Head down, sprinting the finish chute for home.
 Job done in a total of 54:41. All that fuss for less than an hour! Overall I had come 16th, and I'd taken a win for my Age Group in round 1 of the Midland Sprint Series. A good set up for round 2 in a few weeks. Even more of a result because it wasn't planned for. Now I just have to remember to keep focus on the 70.3 in a month, and not get distracted by the next sprint. Reminder to self. These are for fun (this year).

It dawned on me after laid on the sofa relaxing, watching the MotoGP, that the muscles that hurt the most were my cheeks from smiling all day.


Post race Team photo.
Finally, and catching up on what I said in my last post. I am now at 95'500 views on my blog. The 100'000th view is just around the corner and the special guest blogger is primed ready to write. So thank you again for supporting this rambling, and please keep reading for what promises to be a unique insight into the sport when we pass that magic number.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

It's nearly here.

Well, this time next week I don't doubt I will be sat pouring over the results of the first race of the year having bashed my way round the Southwell Sprint. Breaking down every second, remembering every stroke, pedal and step of the event, wondering where I could have improved, where it went well, where it went wrong. Lessons learnt along the way. Then doing the same with competitors, family and friends times. Congratulating and pondering where it all went right or wrong for them, and what I can learn from the collective experience.

The difference this year is that this race isn't a priority. That has been hard. As it approached, resisting the urge to not start focusing on adding in speed to the program and priming myself to peak for this race has been tough. 29 days from now is the 70.3 and I have to keep that as 1 of 2 priorities.

The first race of the year is exciting, like the first early veg to be picked in the allotment. A lot of time has been spent in preparation for this moment of harvest, and you want to savour it. This year it's just a taster though, like picking the first solitary pea pod or first asparagus shoot, nibbled raw where you stand on the plot, a great, albeit fleeting taste.......just for fun to get back into the swing of the race environment, transistion, and first and foremost, just to enjoy the atmosphere and the thrill of the sport.

Training to go long has been a steep learning curve, but it has made me efficient. When you go long, your training has to go longer too. Its unavoidable that more time needs investing, you can't train at sprint distances and turn out on the Iron field and expect a decent return. What that has taught me is to look at every session, and think 'this is 3hrs of training I will do' and be absolutely sure before I start that I have a clearly defined reason for doing it, what I expect it to achieve, and then afterwards assess its success. There isn't the time or energy for a single junk mile.

What I have found, as expected, is that building a body full of slow twitch muscle is that the top end speed has depleted. It will be interesting on Sunday to see how this effects my times. I feel fitter and stronger than ever, but wonder if my times will actually be slower than last. I think I need to prepare myself now for that possibility, especially with the plan being to train through. No rest before, or specific taper for the race, meaning the sprint is just absorbed as part of the training program will be interesting. If I tire and struggle then alram bells will ring, the actual distances should be a breeze now, but how fast I do them remains to be seen.

That's not to say I haven't sneaked a bit of a busman's holiday of a rest over Easter. A midweek break to the chalet in Norfolk meant ample opportunity to do lots of walking, clocking 6 miles plus a day, a few lay ins and the first proper sea swimming of the season. I even persuaded the daughters to get in with me. It was bracing, but worth it. After we came back I also spotted I had beaten the local North Norfolk Crawlers into the water by 3 days for the start of the season which was a bonus!............Beaten by a 10 and 12 year old on your own surf guys :-)

3 wets Balls after the first sea swim of the year.
Tonight I also managed to bag the first decent 1.5 miles of open water at the local lake. It was good to be back in, plowing round the full 800m circuit, re familiarising myself with the plant life, fish and various curiosities at the bottom. Like catching up with an old friend. It vacillated between sunny, shafts of light dancing down into the green below, to the water changing from still and black as ink to choppier, with a wind and thick new growths of fauna to hack through. An enjoyable, purposeful and refreshing swim, with a quick 400m skins straight after in the interests of being thorough, exiting with warm shoulders and triceps, and numb hands, feet and face. Perfect.
Home for tea, the chief nutritionist has been trialling various tofu recipes. Tonight was homemade curried, scrambled tofu & salad. Filling, but light and refreshing. Chief nutritionist has also kindly offered to 'enhance' my cycling shoes in preparation for Sundays race. As soon as its done I will post up some images of the modifications.
It has been just over 5 months since I put up my first post. In that time I have hit just short of 94'000 views. All I can say is thank you to everyone who has taken the trouble to read this, subscribe and comment. It has been far in excess of my expectations, and to celebrate the upcoming 100'000th view I have lined up a genuine special guest post, so keep reading. The quicker we get there the quicker the guest blog will appear! Hopefully it will provide a useful and interesting alternative insight into triathlon as a thank to everyone for entertaining me in this.
Finally (a short post for once) Louth Triathlon have the honour of hosting the novice training day for the regional BTF before the Woodhall Spa Sprint Triathlon. Its free to all first time entrants, and I would encourage everyone who can to come along. Share questions, fears, training experiences, expectations and take the time to familiarise yourself with the various aspects of a race. It can be a daunting experience, I remember it well....  How does transition work? How are you started in  waves? What is it like racing in a lane with others? What are the drafting rule distances like on the road when you are approaching a slower cyclist at full bore? How should I tackle the run? I never took advantage of the free introduction course, but honestly, I wish I had.
Plenty of my Club mates and myself will be on hand to share our experiences and tips, and guide everyone around every element of the course - so if you are reading and its your first race, (or you know someone who's it is, let them know), please come along on the 10th of May. You should get an email inviting you when you entered the event. If you haven't feel free to give me  shout. 
More than anything you will meet plenty of other like minded people and make friends who you can share your Triathlon experiences with for years to come.
Now its time to get back out the door for a 2nd swim, this time a pool sprint set. 20x200m off 3:10. Wish me luck.