Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Of Ironman Training - Now for the Mental Stuff

You might say I started training for my first and last Ironman, some eighteen months ago.
This week, for the first time I believed I'm actually capable of doing the Ironman next month in Vichy, France after something quite extraordinary happened.
For almost six months I have tried to run 6.5  miles in under 60 minutes. For a good part of this I was clocking 70+ minutes and until yesterday my personal best (PB) was 63 minutes and so many seconds. Yesterday, I developed a new mindfulness technique and came in in 57 minutes 30 seconds on the nose. That's a 10% improvement in just 1 attempt. I did so by employing what may be considered to be a rather curious cocktail of mental activities combining goal setting with yoga earth and mindfulness together with some Pac-Man nostalgia and mantras, laced in with a dose of fun from my favourite war film, 633 Squadron. Here's what it looked like.

En route I chose landmarks ahead of me on which to focus with me looking directly ahead to help maintain good running posture and breathing. The landmarks included such things as big oak trees, railway bridges and farmers’ gates. It didn’t really matter. When I got to each landmark I thanked it for its help and, commensurate with the respect I showed it for it's role in the countryside, its longevity or both, I imagined it recharging me with whatever spare energy it had to share.

I wasn’t running alone but as part of a team. Also in the team were Legs, Arms, Head and Mouth.

For the first landmark it was the duty of Legs to give a little bit extra to get me there. For the second it was Arms and the third Head and Mouth. For the fourth it was a whole team effort which always felt great. This cycle was simply repeated as I went round the course from landmark to landmark.

Good communication between each team member was treated as vital just as it was in any wartime flying squadron.  Head and Mouth as Leader would call on each when its special contribution was required reminding the next team member to stand by and be ready to take over. Communication back and forth was not only permitted but encouraged. Legs would report in to "Blue Leader" that all was well and remind Arms (Yellow Section) that they should be grateful that they didn’t have the hilly bit to do which was now over at least until another lap. Occasionally, Head and Mouth would repeat for all team members “Keep Going Lads” if it suspected a team player was slacking or even contemplating stopping.

If at any point I lapsed into thinking about challenges at work or any other unhelpful distractions Blue Leader in the lead Spitfire would be called in to blast them from the sky. My God they were good.

As I neared the end of the run, Legs were reporting that the props were now full out but they could cope. Arms were announcing they now had kettle bells out for forward drive and feathers for backward motion whilst Head and Mouth promised to remain up straight and blow out only air, not spittle and certainly no false teeth.

Altogether, a very strange but strangely effective piece of training....

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Of Why You Should Never Strike Up a Conversation with an Ironman

My training for next month's Ironman race was going okay until I met some Ironman last week. They assured me my training wasn't anywhere like good enough and I had to up the anti big time. Between them they're veterans of at least 10 races so I guess they should know. So for this next week, (which is just four weeks to go btw until the big day) my training regime is as follows :

Monday : 150 length swim + Fast run of 7 miles
Tuesday : Spin class & 3 mile + 68 miles bike
Wednesday : Gym work legs + Fast run 7 miles
Thursday : 150 lengths swim + 17 mile bike & 3 mile run
Friday : Gym legs & 3 mile run + 16 mile run
Saturday : Rest Day

Rest day, incidentally, is the day I'll have to do all the things I didn't do in the week because I was training like mow the lawn, wash the car, tend to the garden and shop.Shop til you drop. Isn't that what they say?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Of Stretching it All Just a Bit Too Far

There's a lot of people worried at the moment. My wife is worried. My Mum is worried. Friends are worried. Now it's the turn of my physio.
I went to see him last week about my aching carves. He said unless I stretch them at least 5 times a day he doesn't see me completing the Ironman in August. He could be wrong but my experience in Mallorca suggests he's not. In Mallorca half way round the run I could feel the back of my legs beginning to seize up. By the time I got to the line I wasn't far off being in complete agony.
So now into the training schedule which includes already an awful lot of swimming, cycling, running, shopping for good food and preparing it well I must add 5 daily stretch exercises.

Just when you think you can't pack anything more into your day you have to try to stretch it just one bit farther.

Now I'm beginning to worry.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Of Ironman 70.3 in Mallorca

And so it came to be that on 2nd May after 7 hours+ in the searing heat of Mallorca I crossed the finish line of the Ironman 70.3!
The race had started well enough with my completing the 1.9km swim in just over 40 minutes. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is fast however for the Pros did it in just 20 minutes!
Yes there was 3,500 in the water but the start time was staggered so the elbowing, kicking and re-directing of fellow competitors was kept to a minimum.
The bike race was hard. Very hard. It included a 15 mile ascent up a mountain side but I knew if I could crack this I could crack the distance too - not only of the cycle component but the whole race.
One consequence of ascending a mountain in 30 degree heat is that you have to drink a huge amount of fluids and this means a lot of toilet stops. Many of these stops were in portaloos along the route but by no means all. Secluded large walls fronting farmers fields did their bit to help out as did a family in a tiny village 3km from the cycle finish line who kindly granted access to their facilities to some strange guy who appeared on their doorstep in his cycling lycra looking very uncomfortable and speaking wobbly Spanish!

The run was all about getting to the finish without collapsing in the heat. There was loads of roadside assistance from officials handing out energy bars and drinks to kids handing you sponges to soak yourself with as much water as you could.

I loved this day. It was truly great.

Before the race I came across a quote in the official race programme by the co-founder of the Ironman competition and it's stayed with me since :

"You may quit an Ironman race and no one will care at all. But you will know for the rest of your life!"

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Of Ironman 70.30 - The Run in

I have just 9 days left before the Ironman 70.30. I'd like to say that I feel fully prepared but I don't. Due to a foot injury I've not been jogging in 8 weeks. Recently, the weather has been so awful that the only cycling I've been doing is an hour in the garage each day on the exercise bike. The swimming brings more cheerful news however. I've been doing a minimum of 50 lengths each day over the last 8 weeks doing 75 and 150 lengths at least once a week too.
I've learnt a huge amount talking to people in advance of the race. An Ironman told me this morning that I should keep a log book for my trainers and as soon as I clock over 100 hours I ditch them and get a new pair. He's never had a pair for more than 6 months. My trainers I bought at least two years ago. My physio advised me that I'm flat footed and need insole (two are in the post at £60 a pop!). My doctor was very diplomatic saying that most people our age do moderate exercise to keep things ticking over nicely.

Recently in my mind I've been going through my race strategy and at the moment it looks like this :


Keep well away from the serious contenders, Start off at the back and avoid congestion spots. What I don't want is to end up in a medley of elbows, knees and feet and risk getting my head bashed. When half way and feeling comfortable start to gather some speed.

Transition to bike - gargle and drink lots of water to get rid of the sea salt in my mouth and throat. Load up with energy gels and drinks and head off at a steady pace


Drink before I feel thirsty and take in energy gels - at least 3 each hour. Keep pace steady and conserve as much energy as possible for the run

Transition to run -walk  really slowly as the legs get used to forward motion rather than just turning around and around.


Avoid a fast early pace which apparently accounts for most people who fail to complete the course. Try to run at all times and not fall into a walk.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Of Dipping Your Toe into Training

Now, I have just over 8 weeks to go to the Ironman 70.20 in Majorca.
I would like to state that the training is going well and is on schedule but that wouldn't be true. You see about a month ago I erected a baby gate at the top of the stairs. The following day I forgot it was there, fell clean over it and down the stairs. The injured toe was in agony and still isn't right. Anna laughed that I didn't look at that moment much like a potential Ironman and as I cursed my toe at the bottom of the stairs and I guessed she was right.

So for the last fours weeks all I have been doing is swimming. This is improving however and significantly. To improve my style and speed courtesy of a lot of Youtube videos I've learnt the following is important to do and keep doing :

# kick from your hips, relax your legs and point your toes. This instruction still feels counter intuitive. Physiologically I can't believe that it is possible to point your toes whilst relaxing your legs so at the moment I'm settling for the former in the belief that it's more important than the latter. The kick from the hips bit I do get and it does make a big difference.
# pull hard through the second part of the stroke underwater and continue pulling until your hand exits the water past your hips. This I've decided is where the power and momentum is. Get this right and your velocity increases big time.
# hand shape must be exactly right for the best pull. I'm still working on this but the angle of the hand whilst underwater is clearly critical and I need to give this some more Google and wet time.

For the past month I've been up to 50 lengths each working day doing 100 lengths on one of them only. 75 lengths is the distance for the Ironman 70.20 swim and half the distance of the full race.

I need to get on my bike and back in my jogging shoes and plan to do just this as soon as my toe morphs from black to white through the 50 shades in between and lets me walk again properly.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Of A Truly Memorable New Year's Eve

Christmas and New Year 2014 was great. Really great. It was full of special memories of family, fun, food and an awful lot of travelling.

We spent New Year's Eve in a Russian dacha or, if you're not familiar with this term, a lovely log cabin in a small village about 4 hours drive from Moscow. Thankfully we took the train and what a journey that proved to be (a story for another blog occasion be assured).

The evening was special because some dozen or more of Anna's relatives came together and put on a night of fun and feasting that make a good New Year celebration truly great. Although everyone contributed to the evening for me it clearly belonged to a fine lady who left me with a very special memory I'll treasure for a long, long time.

Anna's babushka or, if you prefer, Alicia's great babushka, sat at the head of the table. Although late in years she sat very upright, gait quite perfect, almost majestic. She talked slowly, deliberately, gently and quite beautifully.

Sat next to her was a man who understands opportunity when it comes knocking and surrounded by relatives good in both Russian and English I slowly began to probe and open up a wonderful personal history that confirmed my view that I was in the presence of a very special lady who had some stories to tell.

She told me that her mum was a member of the communist party aged just 15 and "took an active part in the Revolution". She said she remembered when she first heard that their leader was a man called Stalin and how they thought he was a man "next to God". She explained how she and others laboured hard in the fields because they wanted to serve him well. I asked her if she remembered the day Russia declared war with Germany and she replied of course she did. She said she remembered it well "we cried all day long because we knew so many Russians were going die" she added, her face looking disturbed and stressed.

As we headed towards the latter part of my interview I wanted to lead her into more positive memories in the hope she'd finish feeling good about my gentle inquisition so I asked her when she first met her husband. Before I did so I looked at her and I couldn't help but think of the Titanic movie where a once youthful lady recounts her life story at the beginning and end of a film. The lady in front of me smiled gently through a face that though now "a carefully written page" was still very beautiful.

She told me she had met her husband at a college dance and the attraction had been immediate - a statement confirmed by the fact they were married within six months. When I asked if it was love at first sight she merely replied "we both knew". I couldn't help but think about the happenstance around it all which scared me terribly. What if either of them hadn't turned up at that dance? Might there have been no him, no Tatiana and no wife and certainly no daughter?

She explained they had both worked for the first three months in one place before being posted to another much farther away. She worked on environmental matters and he in agriculture. For a good period of their early marriage he was away mapping a huge forest returning only for the weekends. But he was a family man and lived for his wife and children.

By the end of the ending everyone but she and I had peeled away and gone to bed. I thanked her for sharing her world and tremendous personal history with me and others. I hugged her and struggled to let her go.