All the fours: Outlaw Full (29th July 2018), 4th AG, 4 Iron distance finishes and 4 years

Racing Outlaw full (140.6 miles) yesterday was bitter sweet for a lot of reasons. The short of it was that I came 4th in my age group. That sounds and is my best result to date in a big event and would have been beyond my dreams when starting out. However, whilst I have only been racing four years, coming 4th in any sport is never easy. The winner in my AG was also the overall female winner who is a pro, broke the course record and whom I would put my bets on winning the Ironman World Champs in Kona. I’m pleased of course for her but also a bit annoyed that there wasn’t elite wave as in some other events because as the results stand virtually nobody in my AG could get anywhere near a GB qualification time. The overall winner isn’t usually allowed an age group prize as well either.

I know for a fact that I put in an absolutely solid performance and in the conditions encountered, 25 minutes slower than last year felt like an hour’s personal best! The foot pain is a permanent worry at the moment but on Monday last week I promised myself I would get to the start line as I wouldn’t make it worse. I wasn’t in the mood for dithering and ripping myself into indecisive bits further as to whether race or not. Green light from first thing Monday, head down and I put in to execution a good taper. I did everything I possibly could to minimize the chances of pain at the weekend and part of that meant minimizing time on the bike even more than usual. It wasn’t an easy week.

I was soldiering on nicely riding the tapering emotional roller coaster pretty well and then I looked at the weather on Thursday and then the game playing came along on its own accord. Thankfully I managed to ignore all future social media posts about the weekend, packed 3 rain coats and applied Velomati rule number 5 (Harden the f*@K up). I’ll be the first to admit I am terrible in rain and even worse in wind but there was a tiny part of me thinking that doing an Ironman distance in these conditions (permanent rain for 13 hours, 40mph winds at times) in some way speaks to the character of the sport and its bragging rights. I also very logically reasoned with myself that being freezing cold and wet would substantially help the feet situation.

The swim was changed to an Australian entry/exit which meant three laps opposed to one. I was out completely in 61 mins and 30 secs (getting closer to that sub hour!) which I was pleased with, even allowing for the ensuing rage in the first minutes from a bullying man who tried to rip my arm and leg off. Sorry Mum, I called him very bad words. The worst I’ve ever done in a race.

Strava and Garmin tells me I was faster on the bike in quite a few places compared to the same course in May (18) and last year. I did a lot of things right but it didn’t always feel like it. I suffered big style in the rain and wind and was on pain management until 90 miles (out of 112) until I finally pressed play when I realized I would complete the course without causing too much agony or further damage for the run. But I have to remember, I’ve had days in the past two weeks when I haven’t been able to manage more than 5 minutes without pain and ultimately its taking a lot of effort to have any confidence in riding a bike and any sustainable power (always been my game plan till now) of note is impossible. There were some further vile bits, like the puddle in my shoes for nearly 7 hours but then I also remembered that water was probably keeping my feet cool. My helmet ripping every neck muscle I have and oh, and jumping two feet across the road with deep rims wasn’t so great either.

Onto the run. I have never been so pleased to see retrieve a pair of dry socks from one of my kit bags in all of my life. I don’t always have a second pair but this was a big bonus psychologically. Just a few miles with agonizing feet but dry ones was a highlight for about an hour. I ran very solidly with a good PB on last year but it was enormously painful in the first ten miles and didn’t get much better really. I had miscalculated paracetamol timings and so when I ran bare foot on concrete through transition off the bike I knew what was coming on the run. Even with the pain I managed to keep running. I tried run (0.45 miles)/walking (0.5 miles) at one point but quickly knocked that on the head when I realized my walking was so bad that I couldn’t let myself do that. It wasn’t even a proper walk and I would get cold and join the growing number of other comrades who were getting hypothermia from being so wet and completing their race walking the run route with a foil blanket. Slow-ish and grimacing running was better. I had intentionally left the run as bit of a “training run” anyway for the European champs as I hadn’t been more than 2 hours and 15 minutes all year for various reasons. I was steady and lasted until about 21-22 miles when I started to fade a bit but kept running. The pain might still be there but so is the fitness and I was happy.

Overall I’m a little disappointed but this is the start of a journey to hopefully recovering my feet and I also know completing an Iron distance in those conditions has given me a massive weapon for the future, for the rest of my life riding and racing in fact. I can’t imagine I will face that weather on many start lines ever again, even in British summer. It was spectacularly awful and whilst I left my support team at home and missed them, I’m also glad they didn’t suffer that.

I felt an absolute car crash this morning but am now nicely recovering and reverse tapering back into training the way I went into race. August will be a relatively normal month’s training (for a long-distance triathlete with potential bone bruises/fractures) without racing before resuming a short race schedule in early September.

6th last year, 4th this year…next year? It’s only Nottingham and really is my home race anyway and I know the course well. Let’s repair the feet, and watch me grow into making me the athlete I have always threatened to be. It’s going to take a while but yesterday has shown me I still have something.

Oh and I’d be lying if G winning didn’t encourage me all the way around yesterday. Vive le Tour!

Keeping in the game: The relief of Team GB Middle distance triathlon qualification

For a few months now I’ve been wondering about my presence in triathlon racing both next season and beyond. And those queries being particularly relevant to full Ironman distance racing (140.6 miles). With things going on at work, having lots of project work, not sleeping well, the cost of racing (with no spare time to find a sponsor even) and unbearable foot pain, start lines have begun to become difficult to cross for the first time in my life. Apart from foot pain though, I’m in good physiological shape considering. Heart rate and particularly power readings are tops. However, racing requires the next level that I’ve been short of recently. I can push myself in training when planned (e.g. Trainer Road bike software says, 2 minutes at 110% of my full power and I will do it because I know its coming), but when someone else (i.e another competitor) puts the hammer down, I simply flop. I’m also not enjoying riding my bike like I always have done due to torturous foot pain virtually all the time. Without being able to ‘get in the zone’ I’ve found my mind switching to worry mode as I think about other academic stuff whilst riding and not about moving my bike forward in the quickest and most efficient way. These feelings were all made very apparent with twenty hours riding in Wales in early June. I had a really enjoyable Welsh tour but ultimately I had pretty much overdosed on paracetamol and ibruprofen in a desperate attempt for just a slither of less pain. I was slower at every stage compared to 2017 despite knowing deep down I am much fitter and capable of considerably better. That hurt. It’s also not just about racing though, riding a bike is my love and my drug and it is one of the most pleasurable ways of spending time and seeing the world, more so than running. As I drove across the M4 home, with my feet throbbing, I was truly gutted.

So with all that taken into account I decided I’d do my 7 races this year (5 half ironmans and 2 full ironmans), get a new related tattoo (still happening, sorry Mum) and then not plan for any next year yet. This could backfire very badly as I really need to be registering and planning now. At my cross roads though at the back of my mind I had been hoping to qualify for Team GB age group at 70.3 middle distance half Ironman as this may provide an answer of sorts to work issues and foot pain. I know this shorter length of race would give me far less pressure training and ultimately require shorter harder sessions that so far this year have been very effective. It would still cost just as much money but it would give me thinking time. I love to train, swim, bike and run and that will never change, but going 70.3 miles is much easier to get around one’s head than 140.6 miles right now. I am also too aware that I don’t need start lines to keep me fit, I’ve done that all my life without anyone ever telling me to do so. Ultimately though, if I can’t be competitive, I don’t want to race. Just finishing stopped being enough for me several years ago.

Here comes the more positive bit. Promise.

At 4.30am last Sunday morning I looked up to the rising sun as I drove through the countryside from Kings Lynn to the start line of Holkham half Ironman 70.3 and thought this is going to be a good day. I can sense a good race coming and as I munched my pre race caffeine gum and listened to my pre-race tunes, I knew if I tried quitting triathlon, I would miss the race atmosphere like hell. On the Saturday I’d decided to leave my loving team behind and go and stay in a hotel the night before the race, by myself, in the interest of energy conservation and catching up with work. I’d had a really good week of preparing for the heat, tapered really well, had slept, had eaten and was getting there with hydration. So I took my chance, I knew I wouldn’t get many chances at races to do all those things right this season, even though they should happen every time. Things just aren’t like that just now.

The swim was good (no getting lost this time). I came out of the lake in 2nd. 1st was just in front but I didn’t need to push past, even though I could. I preferred to keep my heart rate down due to the heat. However, I did do a pretty nifty transition and that saw me out onto the bike 1st. The bike itself wasn’t great, more foot pain and I am sad about that as its probably my best and the most important discipline, but it could have been worse. That was made up with a run, that saw me actually running 13.1 miles, non-stop, with perfectly nailed feed stations and a steady pace the whole way. Interestingly I stuck to liquids and didn’t have a single solid bit of food all race.

I came home 12th, higher up the placings and faster than the same course last year and I felt I had been able to race. I found out the winners’ time and knew it was close enough to be worth running the maths. As I drove two hours home, working out 115% of the winners’ time over and over again in my head, I knew my maths wasn’t that bad. I was well within 115% which is enough for Team GB qualification at that distance. The relief is massive. I’m probably better at 140.6 miles as opposed to 70.3 miles but this will keep me in the game long enough to work things out. I’m also proud to say I now have Team GB qualification at cycling, half Ironman and full Ironman and hopefully soon Aquabike distances. It’s good to have choices, right? I’m still learning and the decisions and practices I deployed last week for heat management worked a treat. I’m also a little hopeful that I have learnt yet more about managing the recent collisions between academia and athlete stuff.

This weekend is the British Championships at 70.3. Recovery from last weekend has been good. I’ve never raced two half Ironmans a week apart though, which might prove difficult, but we will see and there is reason to believe a bit at least now.

Catch you all later

p.s. I’ve also found some new storage space for a new time trial bike! I suspect such is not actually for storing bikes, but instead is my Dad’s new shed he was hoping to keep bike and Charlie free. However, I am pretty sure I can find the key under his pillow.