Today’s posts from our featured Port Elizabeth Blogger:
Cambridge 2016: a half down at the local by Look Sharp in Lycra:
What seems like ages ago, I booked myself into a couple of half marathons to make sure my training didn’t drop off as Ironman got closer. Unbelievably, the first one of those – the Cambridge Half Marathon – has already come and gone, and now I just have the Bath Half to look forward to on 13 March.
It felt strange to be taking part in an event where I knew the course very well, and it was strangely satisfying to know just how far away the finishing line was. Stupid really, when you have all of the stats on your watch anyway, but it does make a difference.
I’ve deliberately not been running long distances in order to concentrate on speed and strength through short runs and interval training, and to minimise the risk of injury. I can’t remember the last time I ran 13 miles, so the Cambridge Half was a good test of my resilience. It was also another test of nutrition and hydration, and to check my clothing choices were right (no chafing, blisters and so on).
Thanks to Andrew (see my Schwinnona Rider blog) I now know I will be starting my Ironman with honey on white toast at around 04:45 on the day of the race, and washing it down with water, some Isotonic gels and a banana or two before the start.
I’m still working on what food to eat during transitions. James from Tri Harder related the story of one guy who unwrapped a cold Big Mac, full of much-needed calories, with the simple explanation that he needed a treat and it was something to look forward to during transition. Not sure that’s for me …
I’ve also been warned about over-relying on sweet snacks and gels, which can just become unbearable after hours on the course, so I’ve been experimenting with chicken sandwiches which seem to pack a decent amount of carbs and protein. Again, I’m happy to hear advice from anyone who knows different.
Anyway, back to the Cambridge Half. I’d set myself a target time of 2:10, with the aim of running each mile at a little under 10 mins to give myself some slack. That would have been an improvement on my previous PB (in Leeds last summer) of 2:14. As you can see from the splits below I started with a steady 9:55 first mile – not a lot of choice considering how many people were on the course – but after a few miles I began to settle into a decent rhythm and was really surprising myself to see I was comfortably running miles in the mid to low nines.
With about four miles to go, I began to realise that if I put in some extra effort there was a chance I might – just might – finish in under two hours. I remember the thought process as a mass of confusion: sudden realisation that it might be possible (because I’d never even contemplated it); annoyance with myself that if I’d thought I could have done it I would have set off quicker on the first mile or two; more annoyance with myself for not knowing what average split times I could (and now should!) have run to get sub-2hrs; and bamboozling mental arithmetic as I tried to divide the number of minutes left on my watch by the number of miles left to run and work out by how much I needed to speed up!
With what looked like a couple of miles left, I still had 17 minutes to go, which I thought was just about doable, but it was not to be. I crossed the line in 2:00:46, having forgotten to take into account two important calculations.
First (as I’d learned on the Virgin London Marathon last year) because you never run the actual shortest line on the road, the miles showing on my watch were not the same as the markers on the road. So when my watch said I’d run 12 miles, there were still a couple of hundred meters to the 12 mile marker on the course.
And second, a half marathon is of course 13.1 miles, and not 13 miles.
I don’t think there’s much more I could have done anyway, but those little miscalculations meant the finishing line was tantalisingly out of reach as my watch ticked past 2hrs with the finish line some 300m away.
This may not mean much to you, but it’s hugely annoying to me. It’s important for me to remember the bigger picture, and I’m sure people are bored of me telling them that every single piece of training or event in the last couple of years has all been for Sunday 10 April. But I was always taught at school never to get yourself in that situation of not quite failing but not quite succeeding either (‘if you need a C grade, aim for at least a B grade and you’ll be ok’), and I was annoyed to have found myself in this very place on the Cambridge Half as a result of my initial lack of ambition.
But not so annoyed that I didn’t really enjoy the experience of what felt like gliding around on a beautiful sunny day in a city I know very well and putting all that wonderful training into practice.
I learned loads more stuff too.
Wearing the tri suit I’ll be wearing on Ironman (the very same one I wore for the VLM last year), the energy gels I’d carefully packed in the hip pockets both slipped out and I was lucky I managed to retrieve one of them. That hasn’t happened before, and there’s no way I can afford that to happen on Ironman. (I’m thinking of some Velcro solutions …).
And I bumped into Neil Marsh before the event, whose spin class I first joined when Val and returned to Cambridge from South Africa in 2012. Neil is a personal trainer who has since founded Neil Marsh Health and Fitness, and he completed his first Ironman last year. When I discovered it took him 15hrs 50mins to finish – he’s a fit guy – it made me seriously wonder whether my own target of 15hrs 30mins was anywhere near realistic.
I’m always asking advice and keen to hear how other people got on. Neil told me he hit a bit of a wall about half way through the marathon leg when his energy levels dropped off dramatically. He knew he’d finish, but it was tougher than he’d thought. He’d already completed a couple of half Ironman (70.3) events in the months before that, so he was fairly well prepared for the Ironman itself. Ironman South Africa will be my first ever triathlon …
With Cambridge behind me, I have a 100km bike ride planned for this Sunday (6th March), and the Bath Half Marathon the week after, then that’s it as far as organised events go.
I’ve already been goaded into trying to break 2hrs for the Bath Half, and am keen to prove a point to myself. But I feel like a pilot trying to land a plane in a snow storm. My legs are beginning to ache, but I need to keep training to make them stronger. I’m plying myself with protein and carbs to rebuild muscle, but I still need to lose 2kg to reach my pre-race target weight. And I need to start tapering soon, to give my body chance to recover.
It feels strange. I’ve had to be uncompromising to get to where I am now (with a lot of support from the important people in my life). But as we get closer to Ironman, now it seems it’s all about compromise, and time is running out quicker than a sub-2hr half marathon …
Read more here: Look Sharp in Lycra
Schwinnona Rider (James and Andrew to the rescue) by Look Sharp in Lycra:
I worked out some time ago that the most important discipline of a full-length Ironman is the cycling leg, mainly because it’s the one you spend the most time on, and so also the one you can save the most time on. For that reason, I’ve been feeling a bit annoyed with myself that I’ve left my preparation for the bike leg so late in the day.
There are good reasons for this. Running was by far my weakest discipline – in fact, until just over a year ago I’d never run more than six miles in one go. So I spent a lot of 2015 building up my running strength and technique. Likewise with swimming: though I’d swum a fair bit in the past, I’d never swum outdoors, so I spent as much time as I could in the lake at Milton Country Park near Cambridge trying to acclimatise to the very different conditions from a chlorinated swimming pool.
I was going to buy a new bike – a triathlon bike, no less – and was going to get lots of practice in on sprints and hills to build speed and endurance. Then, as last autumn came, I was going to pimp my Schwinn road bike – the one I bought second hand in South Africa for £400 in 2012 – all in good time for Ironman. In the end, I didn’t do any of them.
Then, at the end of January 2016, with just three months to go, I realised I’d way undercooked my bike prep. I booked my trusty orange steed, ‘Schwinnona’, for a Retul bike fit with James Walsgrove at Norfolk triathlon store Tri Harder, and wished I’d done it a year earlier. Through their cycling arm Ride Harder, James ran some sophisticated diagnostics on everything from the way my feet connected to the pedals to the angle of my arms on the handlebars, and everything in between.
Here’s the ‘before’ pic:
He moved the saddle up in height by three inches and marvelled at how I’d been able to get any power through the pedals at all (I didn’t emphasise the point that I’d ridden this way for all 1,140 miles of a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride four years earlier).
And here’s the after pic:
It may look similar, but in the ‘after’ shot you can see my head is sitting much more comfortably between my shoulders, and that my ‘straight’ leg is much straighter, without my toes pointing upwards like they are in the ‘before’ shot. Altogether better for power and endurance, making a big difference over 112 miles.
In a slightly less sophisticated way, James also told me I had the shortest hamstrings of anyone he’d ever had in for a bike fit (and he’d done scores of them!). I wasn’t surprised, it’s been said before (when I was 36 in fact, being told “you have the hamstrings of a 65 year old man!”)
The four hours I spent with James passed quickly and were worth every penny, not just in the adjustments he made to my bike and riding position, but to hear his own story about how he got involved in triathlon and Ironman. Every now and again I get taken back to 2012 when I was watching Ironman South Africa and was so captivated by the competitors. At the bike fit, I had seen James as a finely honed and experienced triathlete, while I was the guy with the short hamstrings and the dodgy seat post!
But as he spoke he told me about his first Ironman five or so years ago, and everything he’d learned since then. And I could see myself in him, five years earlier: not knowing what was to come, wondering if I can do it, all the things (with just five weeks to go) I wish I’d known when I could still have done something about them. He’s come on massively since then of course, but he started in a not dissimilar place from where I am now.
James has crammed all of his experiences into an eBook that explains how the second time he did Ironman he cut four hours off his time, and it makes great reading. Everything from turbo training to weeing in your tri suit, for anyone taking on a triathlon I’d strongly recommend it. It’s only £2.99 and you can buy a copy here.
James was patient and supportive, and very typical of the sort of person I’ve come across at every juncture of preparing for this Ironman challenge. In fact, I’ll be joining him and his fellow cyclists for a 100km bike ride around Norfolk this Sunday, which I’m really looking forward to.
Which brings me to Andrew Scraggs, who was kindly volunteered (thanks to swimming coach Tanya Bartram) to respond to my call for help with nutrition in my last blog.
Andrew is a personal fitness trainer and nutritionalist, and was just the right person for me to talk to. Giving up an hour of his busy time for a chat on the phone after work, Andrew helped me understand about the importance of getting a good balance between carbohydrate and protein during the event itself, and to focus more carefully on calorie control as I’ve been trying to lose weight at the same time as training to build more muscle. It’s been really difficult to get right, and if nothing else (as with James) Andrew has made me feel better about there being no right or wrong answer – just trying to understand what works best for me.
Andrew has introduced me to the wonderful MyFitnessPal app, which I now use to count all my calories and which has made me the bain of my wife Val’s life! I know I shouldn’t be scanning packets of food as we sit at the table together eating it (an all too rare occurrence at the moment), but the damn measurability of the thing is so fabulous! More than anything else, it’s made me try to increase the amount of protein while I’m training, which can only be a good thing.
So there we have it. I may now have had a bike fit, but I’m not yet bike-fit myself and there is no longer time to achieve it. I’m going to do my best to get more miles on the road and turn up the resistance on the spin bikes at the gym. But perhaps inevitably, with time running out I’m being forced to make compromises. I never thought I’d say this, but running is probably now the discipline I’m most confident about.
Maybe it’s not so bad to finish on your strong suit after all … ?
Read more here: Look Sharp in Lycra