Monday, 28 March 2016

Live Action, Easter Training & a few Thanks.

2 posts in quick succession it seems, but all with good reason. After the winter lull Easter seems to have brought slug of news worth reporting.

First and Foremost I wanted to publicly thank Beetenson & Gibbon Solicitors, local to Louth, Grimsby and Scunthorpe. They have been proactive sponsors of a number of local sporting events in the wider area over the past few years, getting involved and supporting local community. They have now extended this even further and offered me personal sponsorship for 2016 - which has already gone a huge way to helping me focus my efforts on The 70.3 European Championships in Austria in September, and is very motivating to know that someone sees value in my efforts.

What might sound weird, but is especially appreciated is that as a 38 year old man racing at International Age Group level on an amateur basis is that you know you have to have perspective, be objective, and ultimately know that you are not the most attractive proposition - I'm not young, I'm certainly not pretty, and all in all pretty run of the mill. On that basis it particularly means a lot that that they have offered to back the Working Class Triathlete. Please check them out and consider them for any more formal or legal matters that you need help with:

Training this weekend has been pretty full on, not what some might call a relaxing bank holiday, but sat here now I feel like its pushed me forward in my season prep and has certainly been worth it.

Friday morning 5:30am and I was up and heading out on a 61 mile bike ride with 3 friends. The weather was reasonable and  we got a good look round the north of the county thanks to Jons random route planning system.

It felt quite weird knowing that with no 140.6 this year to contend with this was further than I would have to bike in anger all year. The legs felt fine and fresh with the distance at the end of the ride, and the gooch seems to have hardened off already. I rode within myself through out. So with distance not an issue, its all about adding speed in now, and as much as that hurts it's really the icing on the cake so the easy bit if were honest.

A 1/4 of the group ride was manned by Ross Mcgregor, currently 10th in the World in his AG at Sprint distance following his outing at Chicago last summer. It was fascinating to compare notes on the ride, knowing how much faster he is over me on the short course, having put all his training and racing efforts into tuning the body to completely empty the tank inside 1hr (about as much time as it takes me to warm up on the bike!) - with explosive speed being the order of the day in his World. He happily confessed however that it was the furthest he had ever cycled, and his calves felt good and tight for a day after. We both have a love & passion for the same sport, but how we have to tackle our training is poles apart. It's good to get out like this and compare notes on the different strategies required for the different distances when we can. Conversely, Jon, who planned the route has taken  year off Age Group racing having had a baby at the end of last year. Taking that pressure off, and having less time for structured training has done wonders for his form and I would argue he is currently the fittest and fastest he has ever been for this time of year. Some times you just gotta shake things up a bit to move yourself to the next level. Maybe we need a new baby to help me get to the next level. I'll have a chat with Sarah later.....

Sunday saw another decent swim set straight into a nasty hill set cobbled together by another friend who not 20 mins ago has confessed to me he is toying with his first 140.6 next year. 25 miles of high winds and 3 big hills, going down one, up one, down another, up the next... you get the idea. They each got a hammering on the down, and a solid grind back up the other side. As ever there was pride and mini races broke out. Its always everyman for himself to the top of a hill. I think we could call it a draw at the end.
Red Hill, the biggest of the 3 climbs I usually have fonder memories of, and is a place we have driven out to on a few occasions to star gaze at night, and enjoy the view. It's a small local nature reserve with an unusual topography and soil structure, and worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

Red Hill. The big one of the 3 tackled yesterday. They all line
up in quick succession, climbing the bank you see in the distance.
A nasty swim set this morning forced on me by Sarah thinking she was clever last night and telling another international class athlete mate/swimmer I would join him for what he billed as a 'killer set' and my shoulders ache as I sit here typing this now.

As a coach as well as a racing triathlete the most frequent question I am asked by all kinds of people, and particularly female athletes if I am honest is 'What should I eat?' 6 separate people alone have asked me this in the last few weeks.
I have always found this a difficult question to answer. Without camping out in someone's kitchen and seeing what they get up to it's hard to know what they are already doing well, or not. What I find works, and most importantly what I enjoy is not gonna be everyone else's cup of tea either. So I was left chewing it over for a fair while how best to help with this.
The answer has finally been rolled out this weekend in the form of a Live Feed via Facebook of meals prepared pre and post training, racing and so forth. It is a bit random, gives people the opportunity to give me some lip while I cook, and most importantly from my perspective gets the family involved.
All the Balls love cooking. Sarah has definitely always been chief nutritionist, and has delivered the goods on numerous occasions (especially last years for Iron distance nutritional challenges) with inventive and more importantly natural, varied and healthy options. Molly bakes all the time, and isn't shy of the camera. She has been happy to get stuck in with me for the viewing publics amusement, so it's a great way for us to combine our hobby's, stick some music on, and spend time together and using the wonder of modern technology share the day to day diet I employ to keep me fit and strong through training and racing.

Sushi Time Live with Molly who beat me hands down at the roll.
What I do truly believe is that nutrition is the 4th discipline in Triathlon. Without eating properly, enjoying it, and importantly - eating enough of what your body needs, you can't race well.
I don't believe in 'diets' as such because 1. I've never been on one, and 2. From watching other people on them, they never seem to work. We were chatting about this earlier and decided the best way to describe the way we eat is that its an 'Un-diet'. Unprocessed, Undercooked, Uncomplicated. If it grows under the ground or if it can be picked off a tree or bush then shove it on your plate.
Anyhow, I'll hashtag all the videos with #4thdiscipline so feel free to take a look if it's of interest. There's quite a few people out there doing similar things and the world of hashtags is an ever growing easy resource for useful information from the masses.
Outside of the logic of keeping things simple and natural the other maxim we roughly work to on a rolling weekly basis is 2 days meat (only 1 red at most), 2 days fish, 2 days vegetarian and 1 day vegan.
Finally today, I have roped in a Special Guest Blogger. As I begin the hard work proper towards Austria the faith I have been extended by BG Solicitors and as ever my family and friends, I took the time to reflect on last years build up towards The Iron Distance Euro Championships. A big part of helping to get me there was the generous support given to my raffle to help generate funds to support the race costs. This was won by local athlete Gail, who, as I have mentioned previously has worked diligently and hard over the last 6 months to improve her performance in all the disciplines ready to race in 2016. Her winning prize last year, a winter training program with me... 
I have learnt a lot from Gail, and as we enter the last month of my 'guidance' before we move to a month of Gail turning her hand to writing her own plan with me chipping in as required, I thought I would risk it and ask her for a candid few paragraphs to share on here of how she felt about the time working with me. So here it is, unedited, unaltered. Enjoy.
"A piece for his Blog he said, be honest he said, people will be interested he said..................
Setting the scene:-
2014 – volunteered to marshal the Louth Tri (goody bag included a voucher for a future
event – crafty) guess I had better learn to front crawl then
2015 – entered early so I wouldn’t change my mind
Hence our training gang formed Ros, Chris, Karen, Michelle, Emma, to be joined later by
Mark and Jenny
July 2015 – a RAFFLE by Martin Ball for a great cause his GB Age Group 140.6 European Event
in September
1st Prize a bespoke winter training plan with the man himself
Always one to help others 2 tickets purchased thinking it`ll be fine I`ve never won a raffle in
my life!!!!!!
I barely knew Martin and practically nothing about Triathlon really a nice swim, followed by a few
miles on a bike and then a little run, how hard could it be – WRONG!!!!! Club members coming up
and patting me on the back saying Rest In Peace didn’t help, I mean how bad could HE be.......???
After an initial meeting with Martin a tad reluctantly I bared my soul, well current exercise regime,
age, weight, eating habits, lifestyle, time available etc he went away and devised A PLAN.
Not only did the sight of this plan scare me to death, in an excited perverse way I was now sort of
looking forward to it although I hadn’t banked on having to learn to use an interactive spreadsheet
AND a sports watch the latter of which I still haven’t mastered!!!!
I was going from a couple of runs, a swim and a social bike ride a week to this in WEEK 1 :-
Mon:  Yoga then swim
Tues:  Run
Wed:  Turbo then swim (turbo???? Please explain this concept, now fondly known as Torture)
Thurs: Run then swim
Fri:  Brick Set (brick set what the hell is a brick set am I also learning to build)
Sat:  REST DAY – a battle I won!!!!!
Sun  Swim and club bike ride
Other acronyms/terms I had to learn CSS, Heart Rate Zones, Active Recovery, Extensive Endurance, Intensive Endurance, Threshold Training, VO2 Max Intervals, Anaerobic Repetitions.
I still have no  idea what VO2 is.................negative splits, positive splits
Ok so let the training begin and begin it did with lots of encouragement from Martin, club members
and friends, actually it was great I loved it especially
colouring  in the spreadsheet [green for a fully completed session, amber for a part session and red for no session] week 1 was nearly all green with the exception of 2 amber I was pretty pleased with myself and I think Martin was pleased to see no  RED lol.
It’s a simple but brilliant monitoring tool for both coach and coached it let Martin pick out where my
weaknesses were and where I needed to improve and areas to concentrate on, unfortunately it also
showed (in later weeks) a few REDS and my MANY hairdressers appointments, I still don’t think
Martin understands that I have to spend nearly 3 hours sat in a chair covered in dye every 3 weeks all  in the name of vanity.
WE also did CSS (critical swim speed), run and turbo tests frequently to note improvement and oh
boy do you get a real buzz when you actually see the times written down and showing an
improvement, it is always in the back of your mind that he will spring a timed session on you at any
time, that kept me on my toes.
So we progressed quite amicably (most of the time) week after week with me showing improvement
and Martin giving advice and tips, when I whined for the sake of whining I was told “Welcome to the
Grind” if I lost motivation he came up with ideas to turn it round including “always have a friendly
club rival in mind that you would like to beat” “frustration is good it drives you to improve”, BASE
(borrow and share everything)
If I was poorly or had niggles he understood and instilled that getting better quickly by resting
properly is the best way forward, he introduced me to the “Bow Wave”............ and to be honest I've
not really wanted to kill him at all
I even think he has got used to my “Death Stare”
It didn’t take me long to get used to his sometimes quirky ways and sometimes quite frankly
odd thought process this being a fine example I found in one of our many email
“I was thinking the other day, once driverless cars are on the streets I can rip all the seats out
and put a turbo in the thing instead. We will all be able to turbo our way down the
motorways etc. That will be a much more efficient use of time! Except we will be all sweaty
on arrival at a meeting, but I'm sure they could build a small portable shower into a car to
solve that”
On that note I will summarise that I can quite honestly say that this experience (that I didn’t
really want) has been amazing and as you can see I have learnt much and made a new
“useful” friend lol I am looking forward to embracing the season and seeing improved times.
If anyone out there is thinking about doing this or something similar my advice:-
Just Do It
She will never convince me that the Hairdressers is an essential part of the training cycle, or that walking counts as exercise, but we're not finished yet, and I will be on the sideline's cheering Gail on in all her races this year, and making sure she doesn't let the side down, but for now publicly I just want to say thank you for putting up with me, supporting me and embracing the love of Triathlon. Keep up the good work!.
(Oh, and don't forget we still need to have a chat about the Ironman you are thinking of doing next year) 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

What's been going on?

Winter is Dead. The long lonely Grind that is cold dark nights and mornings doing volume work is finally over. Long live spring!  The mornings have been light enough for a few weeks now so that when it’s not freezing or absolutely chucking it down you can get out and get some solid productive training done before work. OK its a bit tougher for a week or 2 when they go forward again this weekend, but it soon catches up, and as long as you're on it before they went forward it gives you the taste for it, and you can hit the ground running....
Random motivators like this one integrated into the family calendar
help get me though the winter. 
Part of that early morning work has been a run set up and down a hill about a mile from home. Turning up between 5:30 - 6am I have been sprinting up and ‘recovering’ down on a non-stop repeat basis. Increasing the distance / increasing the pace week on week. It’s got an elevation of 50ft over a 200m climb, so is great for some strength building in the legs. During the last few months the sky has gone from pitch black, to a glimmer of a dark blue hue dotted with stars hanging on while they can, to the promise of a sunrise – and now its light. I don’t know why, but it seems a lot less strange to get out of a warm bed, to go and run repeatedly on loops down a residential street when it’s light. Certainly those that see me as they walk past, or look out the window seem more accepting of the now regular feature in their daily routine of the local man that comes and runs up and down, up and down like its ground hog day.  Despite a few invites when people have asked what I’m doing, none of them have joined me yet!
 So what's been going on? Well winter always seems to include ice swimming these days, and this January was no exception with another great trip to Parliament Hill Lido for the PHISH Ice swimming Races held there.
 This year we had the ‘luxury’ of a local pond to train in, that I maybe mentioned last post?  The difference the use of a local pond  made was incredible. A thanks to our club chairman farmer and his wife for their kind use of the water. That, and their public liability insurance. That said, Steve and Jo got in with us plenty, Jo even regularly going skins and loving it. There will be a much bigger crowd taking to the ice swimming races next year I think.
'The Pond'. The raw functionality of its purpose its true appeal.
Above and below. Ponds Clubs luxury changing facilities.

Finally - pond club regulars. From a few initial dippers the numbers swelled.
Truly amazing how many people you can motivate to meet in a field and indulge
in some medium grade hypothermia for nothing but fun in Winter.....
Back to the races. We smashed our previous years relay time, retaining the crown and keeping Gold for the Lincolnshire Elite. Individually, team mates Suzy Hegg and Craig Oliver continued to clean up for the Shire in multiple disciplines. There is definite fear down there when people see ‘Lincolnshire’ in the title of an Ice Swimming team.
 A new twist  this year was the decision to do every race distance, including The Enduro. This was 1000m at 3 degrees. The last race of the day. Fellow team mate Simon had entered with me, having found a real affinity for the ice swimming earlier on in the year. Together we split the bill and surprised another team mate with an 11th hour entry to it also. That and Lesley, who can always be depended upon to put in a good show in the ice, and The Shire were finally well represented in the Blue Ribbon event.
 All I can say about that kind of distance at that kind temperature at the end of a days racing is it is brutal. Truly strength sapping. The first few lengths you are fine, but the distance seems overwhelming as you feel your body go numb to the point you know your arms and legs are moving, but only because you can see them splashing at your sides, definitely not because you can feel anything.
 I set out my stall and tried to hold form. About 4 lengths in I saw a team mates phone in the water filming me… I growled for the camera.  (Its meant to be a waterproof phone, but turns out that Ice swimming is too much for a Nokia, and it died from the immersion – he wasn’t happy!) That spurred me on a few lengths, not wanting to look bad on any permanent record. I smashed out the lengths, and as the time went on the pain turned to a weird euphoria, closely assicoaited with your brain shutting down (if you read any medical hypothermia related  research papers). Eventually it ended, and the reality of how cold it is hits once you exit. Once out the legs crumbled completely, and looks of genuine concern from team members tell you all you need to know. Especially because you are stood thinking ‘I feel great, an ice mile would be easy’ - the disparity between your own deluded perspective on the event, and how you actually are is what is truly dangerous.

So I was helped to the sauna and tossed onto a bench to sweat out the cold. During that time my vision packed up, I convulsed, felt sick and then shivered like I have never shivered before. In between all this more and more swimmers were being deposited in the sauna, and it filled to the gunnels. A few went straight to the ambulance. All the while I sat there, rocking, trying to sip warm Ribena to help heat the insides.

Surrounded by other equally jabbering wrecks, the athletes  sauna of a post-cold water enduo race is a very very surreal, undignified place. I’ll be honest, I was glad I went temporarily blind. Everyone is on the equal footing of no shame when they leave that place. It reminded me of the after Ironman changing rooms…  It was worth it though, I finished 5th in a race of huge oversized and well insulated swimmers, well over a 3rd of them being established ice milers and channel swimmers to boot. All 9.5 Stone of me had conquered it. I am happy with that result.

A Selection of images below that sum the day up, and all its usual high fashion racing, nicely.

After all the fun - And most importantly - Taking Gold for The Shire once more.
So, off the back of that event several people started sending across the advertising for the upcoming Red Bull Neptunes Steps in Glasgow docks in April.  We registered our interest, forgot about it, and got on with the winter tri training. Of the thousands that try to get in just 300 are selected. To our surprise both myself and fellow club member/friend Olly got in, and are now trying to prep for that easy to fathom problem of a freezing uphill loch swim at about 5 degrees, and then climbing over 8 lochs to the finish.  Oh, and a raft of National/International class swimmers that are also in the mix with us….Any advise gratefully and desperately needed……
 Back to training. The last few months have seen the mileage increase, and the fitness feel like it is truly starting to come back. Over the winter I have been working with fellow triathlete Katie Gilbert, winner of her age group at the Midland Sprints last year, and looking to progress to Age Group GBR at Olympic distance this year, while also retaining her divisional crown. Something that has always bothered Katie is hills on the bike. Last year she admitted that she went through the motions of the program, but this year has really embraced it, a mental step change that has pushed the boundaries and enabled her to embrace the purpose of each set. Conquering a big local hill one Sunday about a month back summed up her new attitude brilliantly. Head down, she ground it out, and beat her fear. That was part of a 50mile ride, straight into a 10 mile brick run – something she wouldn’t have dreamed of 6 months ago. And good times were posted too. I recommend following Katie on Instagram, and her unique daily posts and hashtag obsession, (#breakfastenthusiast, #katieloveshashtags) proving if you embrace what you are doing then you will enjoy it, improve, and reap the rewards. Her PB times are now tumbling as the speed gets added in, ready for race season, and it’s great to see her getting the rewards of a winters hard work as everything comes together.

King of the Mountain. Katie Gilbert.
I was also contacted over the winter by Lizzy at ProBikeKit. Lizzy kindly sent me a box of Lemon Cheescake Powerbars to trial for them. They tasted great, but i'll be honest, when I first ate one I was terrified by the number of calories in them from the taste. My first event test was the Ice Swimming at PHISH, and after half a bar I decided it was calorie overload so let a mate eat the remainder. We both agreed it tasted good though. That prompted me to read the label properly – which I should have done in the first place!! They are actually 30% protein recovery bars. Not much use as fuel in a sprint swim race. Since then I have trialled them after long bike rides,  and also during bigger rides. There they come into their own and are really useful, and fill their niche well. I am not a fan of gels, but these did a good job, provided a boost and something solid to chew on, and helped with the desperate hunger pains after a long hard session.  Thanks to ProBikeKit for teaching me the value of using a product in the right way! Check them out....
As I mentioned before Austria is now confirmed for the 70.3 European Championships, in what will be my last year in this Age Group before I (hopefully) move up to the Veterans proper – and those that’s number begins with a 4. Urgghh.

The bike course map is firmly pinned to my desk at work, reminding me daily of literally the mountain ahead of me.... high in the alps the bike elevation map looks like a crocodiles mouth, an is focusing my attention on a season of hill work to be able to keep pace with the best of the climbers.

A succinct bit of work based motivation
Everything is geared around that race, including the Middle Distance National Champs coming up at the end of May at Grafham Water.

My final thoughts for this post. As I talk to more and more people the over-riding question I am asked is how to motivate yourself and consistently train without letting up. I have thought about this long and hard, and increasingly my answer to others is to find a small group of other like minded athletes that you can train with and share it all with. As I have said this to people the answers I get back about how hard that is to do, and find the right people have also made me realise how lucky I have been over the last 4 years.

Since the local Louth Tri Club got going 4 years ago I have always had a close and productive friendship with a few other athletes keen to drive themselves forward to be the best they can be at the sport. It has always been like a club within a club, with 3 of us having gone on to bag our Suit and represent GBR at every distance (collectively). That friendly but keen rivalry, support, spades full of bullying when required, and a straight spoken pep talk when it gets tough, the occasional argument - I would say have been the biggest recipe for our collective successes. Unlike some city boys getting chucked free stuff with fancy training grounds and laboratory equipment ;-) we have genuinely worked with nothing but a determined work ethic from the off.

I mention this because this team friendship is now coalescing into a more formal arrangement. With the backing and support of Louth Tri Club we are now moving forward with the beginnings of a local High Performance Squad, which will include a professional swim coach and dedicated sessions. I just want to extend my sincere thanks to the club on behalf of us all for your continued support. We hope to make you proud, and have you join us. As part of the HP  Squad, we are also now pushing ourselves with regular interval run set sessions, one being tonight, (just got back from that and I can report I am wrecked) and have a 70.3 brick planned for Good Friday. While the masses sleep at 5:30am on their day off we will be out driving each other forward to continue in our pursuit of being the best triathletes we can be. I don't doubt that we would each have let that one slip if we weren't answerable to one another. I am as confident as ever that this new arrangement as it gets momentum will push us on further like never before.

The family went away for the night last Friday. to stay with friends. A 38 year old man, free pass.!! How did he spend it? He prepped a load of juices for the weekends training, then went to bed early to aid recovery, and to write up a training plan while drinking milk and watching a Dolly Parton concert. Make no mistake, triathlon will ruin a man.

After such a long winter everything is rushing up fast, and the season will soon be here. Lets make 2016 a good one.
Keep training, keep pushing, and remember to check back in a few weeks for what will doubtless be a unique review on the craziness that is The Neptunes Steps.. Thanks for reading.