Thursday, 31 August 2017

A change of heart

The fact I have not blogged for a month tells its own story in that this month has been a relaxed and lovely time with very little training. After the Outlaw I started some regular, easy running  only to get injured a couple of weeks ago. At the time it just seemed like a gentle Achilles strain but it soon got quite bad, not helped by the fact that we were doing a lot of camping and walking so I never really rested it properly. I cycled gently into work last week and it even hurt doing that, so I just put my bikes away and forgot about cycling and training for a while.

This two weeks though has given me a lot of headspace about what to do and how I want to do it. Another Ironman? Sub 53 for 25? Sub 1:55 for 50miles? Sub 4 hours for 100 miles? All good goals and all achievable with a lot of work. The thing is, my cycling has been all about one performance goal after another and all the training that they require, and somewhere along the way cycling has turned into an increasingly joyless affair, with me being more concerned about power outputs and CdA coefficients rather than the landscape I'm cycling through and the sheer enjoyment of turning a set of cranks.

As part of my time trialling targets I have been seeking out faster and faster courses, and this usually requires dual carriageways, with a net downhill, and fairly high traffic flow to push one along.  Not the nicest environment to be cycling on and an increasingly dangerous one. Two months ago, a club mate and friend was killed on the F11/10 course after being struck by a vehicle. It made the National news and our club is still in mourning.  A few weeks before, during my 50 TT where I set my pb, I had my closest ever pass by a van that left me shaken for some time after and in the same event a rider who finished only 20 seconds after me was hospitalised for a week after being hit by a car as he crossed the finish line. I guess you could say that I have lost my bottle, but the more I put myself in harms way, the more likely some idiot is going to hit me and at the moment, that's not a risk I am prepared to take. It's not a case of not time trialling any more, but I do intend to be a bit more selective as to what and when I ride a TT. I want my time trialling to be fun again rather than the feeling of being in some arms race, where I have to find the fastest courses, most areo helmet, buy the latest TT frame just to keep up.  I am just an average MAMIL after all and no one really cares if I I knock 30 seconds off my 10 mile time. Increasingly, I am becoming less bothered too and as I get older I'm going to have to put in significantly more work just to stay still.

So I want to change the way I ride and why I ride and I think I have found it.


 What on Earth is Audax? Well, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure.  It's described as something between touring and a time trial; a kind of long distance touring ride event with time requirements in order to get to the control points by a designated time.  They are usually fairly long with 100, 200, 300, 400 and even 600km events. The fact is that they are on more picturesque, quiet, hilly routes and they seem a bit more sociable. Not that the people I have met and competed in in time triallling are not sociable, just that when actually riding it. time  trialling is by its very nature an individual experience.

Every four years the premiere event in the international audax calendar takes place, the Paris-Brest-Paris audax and the next one is in two years' time. It's 1200kms long, which in anyone's book is a very long way. That's quite hard.  The other hard bit is that to qualify to ride it by ridding a 200, 300, 400 and 600km event in the run up to PBP. So a big goal but one I can do at a more sedate and sociable pace. The drawbacks? It seems that the most essential bit of kit an audax rider needs is a beard and I have always found one quite difficult to grow. Still, I've got a two year head start..

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Outlaw Triathlon

Nice socks
Another go at an iron distance triathlon after my first and last attempt at the Forestman back in 2011. The fact it had taken me six years to summon the energy to give it another go speaks volumes about how hard that day had been. Until recently I had harbored thoughts of going under 11 hours, but as the months had progressed towards the Outlaw I had spent more and more time in the saddle and less time running and swimming. My focus for this race, quite simply was to enjoy it and come away having had a good experience, as I felt that this would be my last go.

I had forgotten how much kit and preparation doing a triathlon takes, but Simon and I enjoyed the buzz of the day before, mooching around the expo and eating lots of carbs before the rain came.

The Outlaw swim is as easy at it gets, at least in terms of sighting. Quite simply, one mile up the rowing lake in a straight line, a 200 metre leg across the top and then swim in a straight line back. I love a mass swim start; you can literally feel the energy in the water as everyone sets out, finding their own space. Simon and I seeded ourselves at the back of the second pen and that seemed ok as we had clear water for the first 300 meters, but then the swimmers for the other two pens to our right came across and there was a couple of minutes of breaststroke and  biff before it settled down again. I swam the entire leg on my own as I couldn't find any feet swimming straight, so gave up. I exited the water in 1:15:xx which was pretty much what I expected.

 Saw Simon in transition, he had exited just 6 seconds before me. Lots of vaseline on my feet. I wore my one piece tri suit but put my favourite cycle shorts over them for extra cushioning and I wore compression socks for the first time. The weather forecast was for rain later in the bike so I wore my Kask helmet but without the visor. 7.5 minutes.

So this was going to be my strongest discipline but the plan was to bike really steadily to at least give my legs a chance to run afterwards, so the plan was to sit on 20mph which should give me a 5:35 ish bike split. Basically, that's exactly what happened and I ended up rolling back into Holme Pierrpoint in 5:38:xx. I really, really enjoyed it, but the first 40 miles were hard for a very different reason as basically everyone went past me and it took a lot for me to keep my effort reined in. Simon had mounted his bike at exactly the same time as me and he was off like a scalded rabbit and I was not to see him again for another 7 hours. From about 40 miles I started to steadily overtake other riders and as the miles went on I overtook a lot of people, many of them who I had seen go past me a couple of hours earlier. (I checked the results splits and in the end I moved up over 170 places).

As well as keeping to my planned easy pace, I was also conscious of ensuring that I was eating and I had a bit of an epiphany with this. I like simple, so I formed a simple plan. I filled up my top tube bag with 800 calories' worth of food, mainly crisps, jelly babies, crackers and snickers bars, so all I had to do was keep chomping on the items in there for the first 4 hours which would be my 200 calories per hour and then for the last hour and a half I would switch to High5 energy drink, so that I would not be consuming solid food immediately before starting the run. It worked a treat, although I would have liked more savory food. The crisps and crackers soon turned to dust and I was trying to scoop the remnants out although they coated the jelly babies well enough, so I had a ready made sweet and savory mix.

The big thing that time trialling has taught me has been to keep aero and I stayed on the bars pretty much the whole way. When the wind got up later in the morning there were a lot of riders on very expensive tt bikes sitting bolt upright in the wind, gaining no benefit from their machines at all, which just seemed completely daft. The course is very flat although there are a few very gentle rises over bridges and the like, but every time the road went up I put my chain onto the small chainring and increased my cadence. I really did try to defend my quads at every opportunity and I had no qualms about it. The last few miles I took it easy over the rough road back into Holme Pierrepont and started to mentally gather myself for the next 26 miles.

Jelly legs getting off the bike, socks off, vaseline on my feet, socks and trainers back on. 7.5 mins

I am used to that feeling of feeling great for the first few hindred metres of a triathlon run when ones legs haven't quite worked out what they are now doing and feel all light before the run muscles start to protest. Again, this happened, but weirdly, they didn't protest for another 13 miles. I set off feeling pretty fantastic actually, and by the time my Garmin found a satellite about 90 seconds later I was running 7:30 miles which was way too fast yet felt completely effortless. I had the common sense to immediately throw out the anchor but 8:15 miles felt about right, although still considerably faster than my 9 minute miles that I was expecting. So the plan was walk the aid stations and keep feeding little and often and just wait for the wheels to fall off and then do as little walking as I could manage. The first half felt really good and I kept to 8:15-30 miles depending on the spacing of the feed stations. When I gor to halfway and collected my second band the gantry clock was on 9:01, so amazingly a sub 11 finish was still quite comfortably on, but I could feel my legs and in particular my quads tightening. I was really chuffed that I had done everything right on the bike and I had started the run feeling very fresh, but ultimately I did not have the run conditioning in my legs to keep the pace going as cramp and muscular fatigue set in.

About half way around the second loop at 16 miles by Trent Bridge I caught Simon and this coincided with my first really bad spell. I took some coke on board and my stomach didn't like it, so I had a bit of a power walk while it settled, then started running again. As my quads tightened it just got harder and harder to get going as my legs were really painful before I settled into my shuffle, but I felt better as I was heading back to the lake and the final two laps of it. At 20 miles I had my worst part and I was in my biggest hole mentally. Everything hurt now and it was all I could do to keep my shuffle going between aid stations and I had to stop for a pee break and I tried to gather myself for the last 10km. I think by this stage it was getting a bit hotter and maybe I overheated, but I was feeling quite shaky, but a few handfuls of crisps, coke and electrolyte drink seemed to sort me out. Back to the shuffling.

As is the way with these things, I managed to pick up the pace a bit towards the end and even managed to finish with a 9:30 min mile. The finishing chute was very welcome and I stopped the clock at 11:28:09, a whole hour  less than the Forestman. Much more importantly than that, I had a real blast.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Taper time

So the Outlaw's at the end of this week, and I have finally got that big event feeling of excitement and anticipation. Up until now, the thought of doing a long course tri again has left me feeling a bit 'meh'. Even two weeks ago, I was talking to Suzie, a clubmate from Phoenix as she was feeling the same, although she was tackling Ironman UK in Bolton. It was as she was preparing for that event and I was following a few threads on Tritalk with many first timers excitedly building up to it that I started to feel something too. Then realisation hit; I had not done an open water swim since August 2014 when I did the Alpe d' Huez tri. Yikes; so over the last few weeks I have been down to Shepperton Lake to get a feel for open water again and see if I could get around 3.8km. Last Saturday I met up with Simon and we did 3.2km, so near as damn it, and while not fast, it was pretty comfortable and brought a smile to my face, although my sighting and swim lines were woeful.

So Sunday was spent fairly glued to the laptop, tracking those people I knew at Bolton, in particular Suzie. She had a blinding swim and bike and actually dismounted as second in her age group and therefore in a Kona slot, but she had a torrid time on the run and her lack of run training came back to bite her. 5:15 for the run when I think she did 4:30 last year. A few of the Tritalk guys had similar stories; feeling great on the bike and then hitting a brick wall on the run. I know this feeling all too well from the Forestman and while an IM marathon will never be easy, I am hoping that I can run off the bike. Is that likely though?

So here's the thing; I am probably in the best shape of my life on the bike. I am considerably faster now than I was six years ago ans I have consistently put in some big miles, including 4 century rides and many more over 60. I should, in theory, be able to get off the bike and have fresher legs than I have ever had before, if I pace it right. I could go out and smash it and probably be around the 5 hour mark and yes, this would be monumentally stupid. My last long ride at the weekend was 85 miles in just over 4 hours and I felt really good afterwards. This would be a 5:15 bike but that would still be far too fast. 5:30 pace would be a good target to aim for and hopefully leave me something in my legs.

I would love to run a 4 hour marathon off the bike but with so little running, this is unlikely. A 4:30 marathon would be more likely, but to be honest, it will be what it will be. Ultimately, my run will be dictated by the first 50 miles of my bike. So my mantra for Sunday will be 'Bike slow / run fast (ish)'

The best news is that the forecast weather looks almost ideal with 19 degrees and scattered cloud; compared to the 30 degrees at the Forestman, this is Utopian. If any of my 6 readers can be bothered, I'm number 887 and there's a tracker. It might make Sunday afternoon more entertaining.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Mind Games

It's been a very odd, topsy turvy week. It started last weekend with a 10 mile TT on the F11/10 course where I set my pb last year. Dale, Simon and I were all going for pbs and he Phoenix record. I had a bit of a shocker as I just never really got going. It was quite blowy and I just didn't cope well and my legs felt very tight.  Dale did a long 21 while Simon set a great pb of 21:56, while I was a long way off in 22:29. My fastest time of the year and my second best time, but I couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed. The good news was that we broke the team record convincingly and with neither Dale or I being near our best, it's nice to know that there's more to come. 

The rest of the week was a complete washout. I managed a VO2 max TrainerRoad session which is about as hard as it gets on a turbo and it left me feeling unusually wiped.  I could tell I was getting my usual overtraining symptoms and this was confirmed when I tried a turbosession on Thursday evening. It was meant to be. 1 hour 20 threshold session but I climbed off after 30 minutes, barely able to turn the pedals and feeling mentally and physically drained.  The next day I was back on the turbo and this time only managed 20 minutes before calling time. With the three of use going for the 50 team record on the Sunday at the Blazing Saddles event on the P885 course, it was not looking too good for me. 

I felt a bit better on Sunday despite the 4am start and in my mind I was not expecting very much having had such a poor week. The course has a massive gift hill at the start and as I rolled down it I just didn't feel very fast and the turn onto the A3 felt even slower. Mentally, I had already given up but the thought that I would be letting Dale and Simon down kept me rolling on so I decided to get to half way and see how things were. A bit of rain and squally wind came through which cooled me down a bit and was actually quite welcome. So I went through halfway in 59:25; my third fastest ever 25 but this included the gift hill. Hmmm... so still in with a shout of a sub 2 and by now I had warmed up and was feeling in much better place. I also had a few slower riders in front and began to reel them in. It was weird. I went from 'Sod this', 'Don't want to be here', 'I'm putting all my TT stuff on eBay when I get home' to 'Ooh, I'm doing all right.'  

At three-quarters distance I was still up on a two hour schedule and then I had the lovely realisation with 10 miles to go that I only had to do it in 26 minutes; something I can easily do on my road bike. My only problem was I got the finish position wrong, which meant I didn't really wind it up over the last couple of miles which would have got me another 20 seconds or so. 1:57:34! I couldn't really believe it as it ended up feeling so easy.  Most of the events I've done this year I have pushed very hard from the outset and suffered later on.  I did a negative split yesterday by over a minute and was still getting faster towards the end. I guess the low volume week with lots of rest allowed me to soak in the training stress which I had accumulated over the last two months; but  it was still one of those 'Where  did that come from?' moments. To be honest, while I thought I might have the ability to go under two hours I thought that I would only just scrape it, so to be two and half minutes under with still quite a lot left in the tank is a massive confidence boost. Dale also ended up beating the club individual record and with Simon, we took the Phoenix Team record too, which means that Dale, Simon and I now hold the 10, 25 and 50 team records, which is something I'm pretty proud to be a part of. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

Kingston to Worthing TT

I've ridden this event four times and just ducked under 2 hours on a couple of occasions. Being a point to point TT the wind makes a bigger difference than usual and thankfully, yesterday, there was very little of it about. There was however plenty of sun, but being an early start most of the course was in shade as we headed South. I had Pat Wright of Paceline three minutes behind me, so my aim was to try to keep him from overtaking me for a long as possible.  There's not a lot of Pat but he is extremely fast and has won a few open events this year.  This however was to just be a training ride for him so while I was in full TT gimp outfit, Pat was on his road bike and road clothing so at least he was giving me a bit of a handicap.  Dale had dropped out so it would be left to Simon and I to duke it out to be the first Phoenix rider in this event so there was quite a lot to go for.  Simon and I are very evenly matched with us both beating each other only by a handful of seconds over various distances with our last 50 only separated by 1 second so it would be tight.

It's quite lumpy until you get to the Great Daux roundabout at about 20 miles before the A24 opens up to proper dual carriageway.  I think I probably overcooked it again in the early part but was glad I still hadn't seen Paceline Pat. It was not until the penultimate roundabout at Washington that he went past me, with a much higher cadence than anything I could manage, and I really struggled up this last climb.  I gave it everything over the last two miles and saw 1:52:xx on my Garmin which was a 5 minute pb.  My final time was 1:52:45.  Simon's was 1:52:46! So in 46 miles of racing we were split by 1 second.  I get the feeling that had the event been 47 miles I would have lost.

Monday, 12 June 2017

SCCU 50 and Newbury 12 hour TTs - meh

All the gear; no idea.
I can't say much about the SCCU 50 other than I was delighted when it was over.  I just felt really slow, which was damn frustrating bearing in mind how much work I have put in on the bike over the last 6 months.  The course for this event is horrible with lots of slow single carriageway and sapping hills, but I felt that I should be around a 2:05.  I wasn't even close. 2:11:48. The only slight consolation was that I pipped Simon by 1 second, however he lost a lot of time temporarily going off course to avoid colliding with a lorry at a roundabout.  So even that was pretty hollow.  It just felt stupidly slow for no real reason as I have ridden a 2:06 on that course before. What the hell was going on?

So on Saturday I was tinkering with the Argon as I had bought a new rear bottle carrier for the Newbury 12 hour and was just checking things over. I've had a problem with the rear brake for quite a while, not being able to set it up right to bite on the rims properly and I just put it down to the design of cantilever brake that's on there. So I had opened the brake right up so it wouldn't rub the rim, which obviously from a safety point of view isn't the most sensible thing to do, so I thought I would look at it one last time before the 12 hour. It was only then I noticed that my rear wheel was completely out of line;  I'm talking three or four degrees here. So instead of rolling perfectly if would be continually scrubbing sideways, effectively acting as a brake. I might as well have tied a brick to a piece of string and thrown it off the back of my bike.  That was also why I couldn't get the rear brake to clamp true on the rim as well.  Suddenly it all became clear and within a couple of minutes I had adjusted a couple of screws and the wheel was back in line.  A quick road test and it was like riding a new machine.  I've only been riding like that for the last year!

So it was off to the Newbury 12 hour with renewed energy. The only downer being the strong westerly that was likely to gust to 18 mph in the afternoon, but it promised a very fast easterly leg too. I gave a lift down to another rider, Chris, who was ironically my minute man. He was riding his audax bike and has ridden a sub 20 minute 10 and a 1:48:xx for a 50,  so he's what you would describe as a 'pretty useful rider'. I was slightly taken aback when he lit up a cigarette while donning his skinsuit and tied the most enormous frame pannier bag to his bike though. It seemed like he was doing everything to slow himself down. He was looking at riding around 270 miles so with my best being 234 I was unlikely to see him much after the start.

So off I went on the first leg and I have to say I felt very comfortable with the Argon just feeling totally different. The first leg was with the wind and I was spinning out at 30 mph on some sections.  Blimey it was quick.  Not surprisingly at the top turn the anchor was thrown out but I was still able to maintain 22-23 mph.  After an hour I could see Chris and I caught him and went past. That should have been when the first alarm went off in my head, but no, I ploughed on feeling amazing.  The second alarm should have gone off when I caught a guy who was my two minute man, again, a rider of considerably more talent than me. But no, I carried on.  The third alarm should have been when I went through three hours having ridden 70 miles.  A 280 mile finishing distance which would have broken Dale's Phoenix Club record by 15 miles. But no I carried on.

And then, as sure as eggs are eggs and as dependable as gravity, the wheels came off. At four hours I had covered 90 miles so I was still looking at a 270 mile distance finish, which would still be a club record, but the fact I had slowed that much in such a short space of time showed that I had gone out way too fast. This was confirmed when I went through 100 miles in 4:20; that's 16 minutes quicker than my stand alone 100 mile time. The three or so fast guys who I had gone past, overtook  me again like I was cycling in treacle as the stiff headwind began to bite.

While I had slowed a lot I probably could still have seen out 250 ish mile distance but now I had a new enemy; saddle sores. I was wearing my new no pinz skin suit which is a lovely bit of kit, but the chamois pad is a lot thinner than I would use for a ride like this and I started to get very uncomfortable.  The saddle I have on the Argon is the one I bought it with and it's a very cheap, hard and unforgiving one, which is ok for shorter distances of more relaxed riding positions, but now I have a more aggresive position it's just not comfortable enough.

It got to a point at 5 hours when there was no way that I could do another 7 hours in such discomfort so I decided to pack. It's the first time I have not finished a time trial but I learnt a lot.
1: I need a specific TT saddle. Not the testicle destroying monstrosity that I currently own.
2: I didn't have enough savoury food to eat. I should get a bento box for sandwiches etc.
3: Apply sun cram. I have some interesting tan lines this morning.
4: pace it right.

Anyhoo, it was still a good training ride even if I didn't accomplish a finish. Onwards.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Sub 11

My intention, when I entered the Outlaw Triathlon was to get under 11 hours and even up until a few weeks ago that seemed quite possible.  I am now looking at reevaluating my goals as just to finish. My cycling is fine. I know that I will be able to cruise around the 112 miles and knock out a fairly comfortable time around the 5:15-5:30 mark and that would normally stand me in good stead for a sub 11 time. More importantly I think I've managed to put the miles in for that type of time to be relatively comfortable and at a low rpe.  Once again, the issue is my running.  After aggravating my Achilles four weeks ago, it has not really gone away. I've been able to do some gentle 5 mile runs a couple of times a week, but anything more than this and I can feel my Achilles tightening again.  I am still hopeful that I will be able to get a few long runs of around 15-18 miles banked, but I will not have the run conditioning that I think I will need. My mindset has therefore changed, and changed for the better.  It's going to be a long training day and I intend to just enjoy it, stay relaxed and not worry about the clock. As I said last post, it's only a hobby.

In the meantime, I still have some things to get ready for.  This weekend is a family one so no training at all to speak of, but the weekend after next is the SCCU 50 TT. The plan is to ride there and back which should give me a good 100 ish miles. The SCCU course is quite hard with lots of junctions and climbs; not a sporting course but most definitely not a drag strip either.  Then the weekend after that it's the Newbury 12 hour TT.  I didn't realise that it was effectively the same course as the Charlotteville 50 that I rode a couple of weeks ago, except just lots more of it! There's a rumble strip section which I think is going to drive me insane by the end.  Both these events will give me the chance to practice eating and drinking on the bike and getting my nutrition right.  Happy days.