Monday, 30 May 2011

Swashbuckler Middle Distance Triathlon


Other than not being able to run as much as I should have due to allowing my calf to recover and repair, I was raring to go. Swim training had been good, if not great. Same for the bike.

So going into the race, my only worries were:

1. Would my calf hold out?


2. Would my legs handle a half marathon with the minimal running I’d done leading up to the race?

Funny how sometimes the things you worry the least about, trouble you the most.

Race morning

Is there anything worse than diving to the start of a race in the pissing rain? Added to that, the trees looked like they were lying flat on the ground. Oh, and did I mention it was 3:30am? Yip, due to tides, kick-off was at 5:15am.

I’d planned on racing with my newly purchased aero-wheel cover. With the wind blowing a gale, I chickened out and removed it before racking. A decision I’m still regretting. This was a ‘B’ race and as such I should have tested the cover. Live and learn.

Setting up in transition the rain and wind started to ease slightly which was great.

Race time

Getting into the water I was frothing. It’d been ages since I last raced and I was keen to give this a proper go. Being a strong swimmer, I positioned myself on the front of the start line. There was a slight current running meaning an easier swim to the turnaround buoy but then more effort required for the return. It’s a two-lap, course.


The siren sounded and I put in a few hard strokes to get things going (Sounds like the opening line of the World Wanking Champs – ha ha ha). After a few metres I noticed a large pack coming past so drifted towards them. They were going quick and it felt too early to be pushing that hard. Mistake 1.

I kept a steady pace but in doing so didn’t sight as much as I should have. Mistake 2, a schoolboy mistake! When I finally looked up, I noticed I’d swum too far to the right. I tracked left and got to the turnaround buoy. For the rest of the swim it just felt like I kept losing places. On reflection, I lacked the speed. I’ve got too used to swimming ‘long’ at a nice steady, comfortable pace. In a half Ironman it’s full gas from the word go. 1,900m is short and should be raced, not just swum. Hard lesson to learn but glad I learnt it on a ‘B’ race.

I may come across as being too hard on myself considering I came out 13th (unlucky number alright) but being my best/strongest discipline, I’d hoped to be inside the top 10. Including transition, I swam a 32:49. A below-par result.


After a quick T1, I hopped onto Felty, looking forward to a ride around the beautiful New Forest. The morning rains had left the roads soaked. Starting out, it felt like I was riding with the brakes on. Having only taken the aero-wheel cover off minutes before racking, I thought maybe I’d knocked the brake onto the rim. My first thought was to stop and check but then thankfully I remembered there’s the option of opening up the brakes by turning the small knob on the brake callipers. Even after opening the brakes up, it felt like I was riding through hummus. It then suddenly stuck me. Wet roads = sticky roads. I had a small chuckle to myself and pushed harder on the pedals. I couldn’t help giggling as I passed at least three guys stopped on the side of the road spinning their back wheels thinking they too had brake issues. Another great lesson learnt and one for the Experience Bank.

The Swashbuckler bike course is breathtaking. Not only because my heart rate was sitting at165bpm, but because of the pure beauty. Open space, wild ponies and quiet roads. It’s a big chain ring course but with the wind up, it was tough going. I tried to pace off other riders (not daft – I NEVER draft), with the occasional rider flying past me. But I generally held my position and hammered away.

Only at about 40km (of 80km) did I feel like I was ‘racing’. Up until then I wasn’t comfortable. It felt really hard going and my mood was very negative. Maybe it was a result of the poor swim, who know? But on a half, there’s no time to ‘get into’ the bike. It needs to be smash, smash, smash from the word go.

I can happily go so far as to say it is one of the best bike courses I’ve ever ridden. On some sections you could see for miles ahead with the guys all spread out. Boy would I have loved to have had a camera. And the time of course.

I fuelled well on the bike. Nearing the end of the ride I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. Again a result of the pan flat course which meant being down in the drops longer than any of the training rides I’d done. Time in the saddle doesn’t equate to time in the TT position. Some longer turbo sessions are definitely needed. The final 10km were brutal into a hectic headwind.

Bike split – 2:17:59.


The only hold-up in T2 was getting my socks onto numb feet. It was more annoying than time wasting as it probably only made a difference of the few seconds.

Having been worried about the run since the horn sounded, I ran out of T2 hard, hoping any problems would surface sooner rather than later (shorter walk back!). But as with life sometimes, the thing I was most concerned about worried me the least. Not a single grumble from the calf or legs for that matter, except for my hamstring attacking me. But that was self-inflicted. Let me explain…

As already mentioned, I ran out of T2 with numb toes. About a kilometre into the run, it felt like I had a stone or berry stuck under the sole of my shoe. I knew it wasn’t inside my shoe as I would have felt that from the first few steps, so I could only guess it was lodged in the sole. Without thinking, I stopped and very stupidly lifted my right foot up towards my face. The sniper rifle fired. Well, that’s at least what it felt like. My hamstring instantly cramped and I quickly shot my leg out into a straight position. I must have scared my fellow competitors as I screamed out in agony. I screamed LOUD. Instinct kicked in and I just ran. The cramp faded quickly but boy did it give me a massive fright. Another good lesson learnt – no quick, impulse movements when it comes to legs and their muscles.

The 22.5km run is a two-lap affair, passing the finish at the halfway point. Getting to said halfway/finish point involves a fairly steep grassy hill (which we also had to run up after the swim) but other than that, it’s a fairly flat course that’s best described as lumpy. There’s a 2 or 3km section of trail near the end of each lap, which I absolutely love. It’s through a tall tree forest with the Beaulieu River to the left. I embraced the scenery and told myself how lucky I was to be racing in such a stunning environment.

I tried my best to ‘race’ the run, going with a runner when they came alongside me for as long as I could hold on. I targeted runners ahead who I could see were suffering/slowing and made sure to pass them with a little spurt of pace hoping they’d not bother to chase.

I held onto a fairly decent pace, starting out at well below 4:30s but slowed to around 4:40 pace on some of the final kilometres. With not worries with the calf, I felt stoked to be running with confidence again. This really helped my mindset and I pushed the final 2km along the trail, around the corner and onto the grassy ‘knoll’. I crossed the finish line knowing I’d run to the best of my ability. A great feeling.

Run split – 1:40:40

Total time – 4:31:30

30th overall. 9th in age catergory.

So, I went into the racing wanting to smash the swim and bike. What happens, I smash the run and fluff the swim and bike. It’s a cruel old world. But that’s what keeps it exciting. No two races will ever be the same, and it’s the experiences and lessons learnt that make the next one that much better.


Five star. It can’t be easy putting on a race around the New Forest. They’re a vocal and understandably passionate community so any indiscretion (litter, dangerous riding, etc) gets the locals up in arms. The organisers put huge emphasis on this at the compulsory Saturday race briefing.

When being briefed, it was easy to tell that the Race Director has a genuine passion for the event versus it being just another moneymaking opportunity. They wanted to put on the best possible race they could. And they certainly did.

Along with the award for best bike course, they hands down win the ‘best medal’ award too. Not your run of the mill bronze medal. A lovely touch was the Race Director himself handing out the medals as we crossed the finish, thanking us for partaking in his race. We also received a great t-shirt, which I’ve used already to run in.

If you ever get the chance to race the Swashbuckler, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Entries sell-out fast so you’ll have to be move quick! But that’s the point.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Speedo Open Water 10km Swim

I sit here writing just hours after completing my first 10km swim. I enjoyed it so much I thought I’d share the experience.

Why swim 10km?

I love swimming. It’s certainly my strongest of the three triathlon disciplines. Having raced two Ironmans over the last two years, I decided this year is about new and different challenges. Events that pushed the comfort zone or which a PB would not be possible. I’d got into a rut of only racing events where I’d have the chance to set new best times. Just the thought of swimming 10km in one go scared me, yet made me feel excited about giving it a go. So I did.


Not ideal but when is it ever? I raced a middle distance triathlon one week ago and raced it quite hard at that. It left me pretty knackered at the start of the week. I managed a 2.4km swim on Tuesday and that was that. No amount of swimming in the lead-up week was going to make a difference anyway. The other area of preparation I was clueless about was nutrition. How do you fuel before and during a 10km swim? Learning is all part of the fun I guess.


It doesn’t get much better than Dorney Lake. Venue for the Sprint Kayaking and Rowing events at the 2012 London Olympics. And to think, it’s a school’s facility. Those Eton boys have it good. Having done a few tri races there before I knew what to expect. The only difference this time was that we were swimming in the return/warm-up area that sits to the side of the main lake. Two feed stations were set up on pontoons in the water at each end of the course so we never needed to exit the water at any point.

10km course = 3 loops. Straight up and back.

The race

Being a 10km, I thought people would take the start chilled (which of course we all were due to the water temperature) but man was I wrong. Off went the siren and on came the boxing gloves. I stayed relaxed and never got agro. After all, there was a long, LONG way still to go.

Nutrition wise I had a gel 15 minutes before entering the water and left a juice bottle and two gels at the athlete feed station.

I found some open water, got my breathing regulated and got into some long gliding strokes. Breathing to my right it was quite enjoyable seeing all the spectators walking along the bank. It made me think that if you’d want to take it super seriously, you could get someone to walk alongside at a specific pace and stay with them.

A great surprise after about ten minutes was seeing some mates who’d taken a detour on their ride to come and lend some support. I acknowledged them with a devil’s horns hand signal, followed by pulling a tongue, just to make sure they knew I’d seen them. It was a great motivator and much appreciated as it looked colder out the water than in!

Back to the swim. Well, I just swam. I sighted every now and then, sat on a pair of feet and drafted at times but I can’t really think what else occupied my mind. I sang, thought about my breathing, pace, life and about a 100 other random things.

My pacing strategy was to try do the swim under 2h45m. This works out at 1:39min/100m pace for the swimmers amongst you.

Completing the second lap (6.6km mark) I was thinking about laughing off any nutrition. I was feeling strong, weeing quite a bit (which told me I wasn't dehydrated) and worried that stopping would lose me time and placings. But then a few negative thoughts started creeping in (a negative mood is my first indication of needing to get fuel onboard) so made the call to get a gel. The feed stop was quick and I never lost any placings – result.

With the final lap to go, I decided to up the stroke rate and push a little harder. It had felt easy going. Rounding the top buoy for the last time was a big boost. Roughly 30 minutes to go. And about 10 minutes later is about when I started to feel uncomfortable. Heavy arms, aching shoulders and core, etc. I concentrated hard on my technique but think at this point I was squirming around like an eel.

The best way to describe the final 15 minutes is to imagine hardener being added to a tub of resin. Slowly but surely the mixture starts to harden. It felt like the water was turning to jelly.

At 200m to go I kicked as hard as my legs could and finished with a ‘sprint’ for the line. Job done. 2h48m30s. Bleak not to go under 2h45m but overjoyed to have completed my first ever 10km swim.

I’ll definitely be back for more, but maybe that’s because I’ve got water on the brain.


Human Race run a slick operation. They’re a business and their entry fees reflect this. That said, their events are popular and professional. Plus the number of marshals and safety staff on course was praiseworthy. Thanks to all these people.

There were 750m, 1500m, 3000m and 10,000m swim options. Personally I think the starts could have been staggered better. I was very surprised at the number of 3000m competitors I caught and had to swim thought. This is always going to be an issue on a looping course and Human Race can’t help if people start breaststroking after 50m.

All entrants were issued with a t-shirt. Happy days. But no medal/finishers gift? Maybe I’m an endurance snob but I’d love to have been given something showing I’d done the 10km versus the 750m. A minor thing which shouldn’t overshadow a great event. Long may they continue to do these swim only races.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Virgin London Marathon Tips

So this morning I reached the verdict that I won't be racing this year's Virgin London Marathon. Words can't describe the disappointment but that's life sometimes.

In the interest of hopefully helping any first-timers, I wrote a list of tips. Sharing is caring!

So, you’ve done the hard bit (well nearly), you’re fit, healthy and raring to go. Obviously stick to whatever you’re used to and only take advice on the things you might find helpful. Get a good night’s sleep on Friday, it’s the most important night. Stay off you your feet on Saturday (you could go for an ultra slow 15 minutes jog), drink water (don’t glug it down, it will only make you wee it all out) and relax on the couch all day!

• Pack your marathon bag and lay your race day outfit out, the night before. It will help you sleep as you won’t be thinking about what you need to pack/remember.

• Take your race number, scrunch it into a small ball and then open it up fully again. Making it crumply stops it from acting like a sail while you’re running. (Trust me, this is one of the best tips I’ve ever been given.)

• Smear your feet (esp. toes) in Vaseline when you put your socks and shoes on in the morning. It will feel squidgy for a few minutes but then your feet absorb it and it stops the blistering. Honest.

• Pack a loo roll to take with you to the start.

• Rather get there early and sit around at the start than have to jog to the start if you’re late. It’s a bit of a walk from the station. Going early also means you might get a seat on the train on the way there.

• Take an old ‘throw-away’ t-shirt and a bin bag (cut 3 holes for head and arms) to wear once you’ve put your finish bag on the truck. If cold, run with them on for a few miles until you’re feeling warm and then bin them. Don't waste energy trying to keep warm while you wait in the start pens.

• Take water to sip and a banana to eat before the gun goes off.

• Stretch a little before the start but don’t worry about doing a jog to warm-up. You’ll have plenty time to get warm.

• Make sure you run self-sufficient. Don’t hope to receive something from a supporter/loved one. If the trains have issues and the person isn’t where you expect them, you’ll be stressing. It’s a bonus if you do get something extra along the way but don’t rely on it.

• Don’t stress if the going is slow at the start. Think of it as a blessing as starting out too quickly will come back to haunt you later on. Seriously don’t worry if you feel the pace is too slow. Because you’ve trained well, the first half of the race will feel easy. It’s the second half that you’re saving it for.

• Run consistent. Stick to your mile splits but if you feel it’s too hard to keep reaching them, slow down a few seconds and reassess your goal time. (Better to slow down than blow up.)

• Take water from the end of the watering tables. It’s less busy. There’s so many watering tables, only drink when you feel you need to, not at each one. Don’t carry your water you pick up. Take one, have a few sips and throw it. Energy is wasted carrying it.

• Most importantly, enjoy it. Soak up the atmosphere. It’s incredible! You’ll get goose-bumps. It’s like running in a stadium for 26.2 miles. People will shout your name; raise a hand and smile (if you can). It’s so much fun, but don’t get too excited in the first half. All the adrenaline will make you want to run faster. Save it for a sprint finish.

• The last bit on the Mall will blow you away. Tears will flow, you’ll feel as light as air, and that’s it, you’ve done it!

Good luck! Let me know how you get on. Hopefully I'll shout your name along the way.