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.