What does winter training look like for an academic athlete?

pudding

I think it’s fair to say winter is here and since my return from Madrid, lots have asked me what I am up to. I think most hope I am going to say that I am vegetating on the sofa. I know quite a few triathletes who like to take it easy, to virtual standstill in winter. I think I understand that, let’s be honest, it can get pretty tough sometimes. However, training in winter is fundamental to my academic world and is also where I believe I earn the summer’s results. I also train because it’s my love my drug and I can. Here’s a short little update for those interested.

My recovery from Madrid was quite incredible, just 8 hours post-race finish line I was spinning my legs in the hotel gym! In the immediate week I enjoyed running and cycling relatively gently in and around my favourite part of Spain. By 7 days after the event I was able to ride and very much enjoy 106 miles in the glorious Autumn sun (without a horrid brick run after!). I carefully tracked my heart rate and its variation, and all was good. Don’t get me wrong, I understand my body and know when it’s OK for more effort or when it needs a rest.

I knew in those first few weeks post racing that I didn’t have long until the clocks changed in the UK and so switched to winter training and routine almost immediately. This means religiously being at the gym early doors to keep to routine and sleep patterns and by continuing to get up early I don’t tend to notice the shift to Greenwich Meantime too much. It also helps keep up writing routine (the drill stays the same, woken up by Lumie light from 5.35am, train 6.30-8.30am fasted, shower, coffee, breakfast at 10am post first block of writing). I also cut down some of the very long-distance riding like 6-hour death rides outside in the freezing cold. I find it pointless going out for several hours when I have to wear everything I own and still struggle to keep my heart rate up to a reasonable work load. I feel the cold quite badly and I have a borg like heart that requires substantial effort to get it to rise. I therefore train mostly indoors, cycling up to 150 miles a week on my Wattbike and running for circa 4 hours on the treadmill.

My weekly training load will stay the same now until probably the 1st of week February and is basically what Ironman would call week 12 of a 24-week full distance plan. The sessions are shorter but can produce a much higher training score stress. I love to race and train for long periods, but some of these shorter sessions give me the most amount of pleasure. There’s something about being on your Wattbike, drowning in sweat with Blink 182, riding at your threshold. Those are some of the hardest sessions I complete all year and because I don’t have to be ‘race fit’ it doesn’t matter if I take a few days to recover from a giant effort. The same can be said about brutal leg training.

With some slight variations a week normally looks like this:

30-mile ride (largely spent in the sweet spot)

50-mile ride (sometimes split into two)

30-mile ride plus 5K run just below race pace

60 minute all out ride (bucket often needed)

90-minute hill run on treadmill plus short abs workout

60-minute interval running session (800 metres beyond race pace /200 metres rest), upper body weights #1

30 minute cross training, leg weight training, 30 minute swim

10K fast run plus upper body weights #2

1 hour/ circa 2 mile swim

A bit of rest and then whatever else I fancy, which usually means chucking myself on my Wattbike.

I only make minor adjustments to my diet and keep to pretty much 90% on it, 10% a bit more relaxed, occasionally 80%/20%. One can relax a little more in winter nutritionally, but I am always mindful that what I put on now will have to be worked off come Spring. Admittedly I am vain and tend to like my abs! Training on a Wattbike also burns considerable energy and needs to be fuelled even more than riding outside sometimes. I therefore will use carbs mostly around training and in conjunction with the day’s effort levels. Cue the rice pudding above. If I start getting fatter, I’ll do a bit of ketosis but I don’t expect that to happen this year.

But winter isn’t just about training hard and protecting my academic sanity, it’s also the time a triathlete gets to make adjustments. Some of my aims this year include: perfecting my swim stroke and breathing, building a new aero bike to take more pressure off feet, running in a new pair of insoles, studying my Oura ring and sleep patterns, and lastly trying to increase my cycling cadence and pedal stroke. The latter is a big job but one I am confident will save me foot pain. In four weeks I have already increased 2 rpm.

At the moment my first planned race next year is Marbella 70.3 in April. I am heading to Tenerife for two weeks over the festive period and will put some long hours base training in then, almost certainly riding up and down Mt. Teide.

Time for hard graft.

Charlie’s taxis: Loving the labour of driving the disco bus

disco bus.jpg

A slightly off the wall post this one on driving, even if it is something relatively mundane in the modern world and just seen as a mere accompaniment to what we do nearly every day. It’s often framed as an annoying and exhausting addition to a working day when we want to get home and put up our feet. It’s considered laborious, but not work per se and we supposedly get no payment, at least not in monetary form. However, I am not with the majority here and have never really understood it in that way. It’s a space closely connected with being an academic and an athlete and for me far more than time eaten up just travelling to work and training. It’s not uncommon for an academic to make long commutes at some stage and as experience is gained as a triathlete there is no choice but to travel to bigger races.

Wherever we are going, whatever the time of day or driving conditions, the type of roads, however tired I am or how far we will go, you’ll have to wrestle me for the keys. I only drive circa 19,000 miles a year at the moment (about ten hours a week), but it genuinely gives me the utmost pleasure, so much so that I am usually sad when I park the car after only 10 minutes driving. This is not an arduous form of labour in my life that might be expected. I can understand why many commuters think it’s a waste of their time and money, but I’ve never felt that way, perhaps surprising giving that I cram every minute into my working and training day and devote every bit of spare money to either bike parts or race fees. However, I never find it tiring, perhaps being quite fit helps. Similar to racing drivers who are exceptionality fit outside of driving and are often endurance athletes themselves, Jenson Button and Mark Webber two notable examples. On a tiny bit of caffeine chewing gum I can drive for hours on end.

Of course, we all know I adore riding and racing bikes and a cyclist as a driver is supposedly more proficient in reading the road, has quicker reactions, is more aware of other cyclists, is more adept at controlling and steering a vehicle etc., at least that’s what some insurance companies who give reduced premiums suggest. I certainly drive a car like I ride a bike but more on that analogy later. I adore racing and I can’t deny the similarity in occurrence when driving. I love the intuition with the car itself but also the memories of the regular journeys and things gone past. Precisely nailing every corner, roundabout, overtake, and gear change to perfection is my love and drug. It’s also a chance for me to enjoy music and I never ever drive without my iPod on shuffle. OK, I am destroying the environment and spending a fortune on fuel I won’t deny but it’s also a very effective means of sustaining some sanity, especially if I can’t get out to ride much. It thus remains a fundamental part of my lifestyle that I factor in every week and never feel guilty about it. It’s simply what I do.

Beyond the physical labour and enjoyment of driving the car, there is more concerning the labour on myself during the drive. Like most people, I tend to drive two types of journeys, either longer ones or shorter versions ten minutes to work, the shops or gym (yeah, I am lazy, an athlete never uses extra energy when they don’t want or have to). The shorter ones become more of a transition, usually from training to work in the office or work at home. Those shorter journeys enable me to enjoy myself for a few minutes before shifting to a work mind set in a different physical space. After ticking off my training tasks, I then put the academic ones to the forefront of my mind. Driving also gives me the greatest sense of calm and distraction, probably because I just love to control something moving, ten minutes in the car before an anxious appointment or meeting works wonders like you wouldn’t believe.

During the longer journeys, I love being away from my 3G/4G/Wifi, namely my iPhone and MacBook. No TouchId here, I am out of touch. One of my more frequent drives consists of the A6 and 55 junctions of the A14 and those miles happen automatically, on repeat without any thought. Even though I am not thinking about the drive, I don’t get bored or lonely either, I like that I have to have a lot of trust in the driver in front, but I also like that I don’t have to talk to them. Thinking time. Academically I conjure up my blog posts, lectures, seminar exercises, paper ideas and various other forms of writing. I try to store ten points and if I can remember them when I get home, then they are keepers (of course I can’t or don’t write them down in transit). I also think on a broader conceptual level about myself as an academic rather than my academic work, what’s my research identity? What are my one, three and five-year plans? In this sense both of these pursuits remind me of one of the great benefits of an academic job. I am not always welded to a desk, I think fora job, rather than solely just about my job. In my solitary journeys I find I can think far more easily and freely without the noise of emails, other worries or simply the noise of my own mind telling me I am thinking non-sense. Without the commitment of a screen or piece of paper I can also think far more liberally and give myself a chance to wander with impossible ideas. I don’t have to subject them to a premature death by writing them down until I am ready.

During those long journeys I don’t have a list of things I work through. I just let things pop into my head. So naturally I can’t help thinking about triathlon things given that it’s such a huge part of me. I plan races, strategies, I consider the order of next week’s training sessions, and I believe without restriction. I also use it as a form of recovery. I am sitting comfortably, pretty much resting my body from the week’s or day’s efforts and barely burning calories. I therefore use my drive as time to make sure I am up to scratch with the day’s eating and drinking and if it’s after a long race or ride I will usually be driving on recovery shake. I can’t obviously have a three-course set-down meal but you’d be amazed what can be made portable these days.

On that note re portability, I have recently moved to driving a ‘bus’ which is unavoidable given the amount of kit I shift each week. An athlete virtually lives out of their car. Never go anywhere without anything, just in case an opportunity for a few minutes training presents itself. It makes the labour of shifting to training before or after work much easier when you don’t have to prepare too much kit.

So there, as an academic and athlete, it’s safe to say driving is like my own version of an after-work or training feet up TV show.

Game face on, 2018 race schedule: “Race the race you have trained for”

run your own

Wow. We are now just two weeks out from my first race of the season at Marbella 70.3 Ironman on the 29th of April. As I work my way through some race admin I thought I would share a few moments of reflection and my schedule. If you want to support or say hi just drop me a line. I have a lot of other blogs written but I am looking to upgrade the site in a few weeks so will save them for now. The quicker bit:

29th April – Marbella, 70.3

20th May – Outlaw Half, Nottingham, 70.3

3rd June – UCI Gran Fondo, Cambridge, World Championship qualifier

8th– 10th June – Tour of Wales

1st July –  Outlaw Half, Holkham, 70.3

8th July – Castle Hever, 70.3

29th July – Outlaw Full, Nottingham, 140.6

8th September – Vitruvian, Rutland Water, 70.3

23rd September – European Long Distance Championships, 140.6

So that is quite an ambitious race schedule and I always find the first race of the season a somewhat tricky one. On the one hand one is terribly excited to see what results winter has brought and simply to enjoy ‘racing’, it’s what I do after all, but on the other it is important to remember that my ‘A’ races will come later in the year. I can’t afford to totally flaw myself and spend weeks recovering. In short, I am in a hefty few months of full distance Ironman training until late June as the mileage and volume increases week on week. I heard a well-known Ironman commentator say the other day “Race the race you have trained for”. That is sound advice, indeed, do your thing. If you are not quite at your peak fitness make sure you avoid the temptation of chasing a faster athlete if your gut instinct is that you are not quite there. You will blow up and you will ruin your day. Likewise if you have had an injury or illness.

Tapering, when an athlete reduces training volume before a key race is often the cause of much grumpiness. It is unbelievably hard to significantly reduce your training when you are at your fittest. This is also hard for me when training is so closely connected to my writing and academic productivity. That’s going to hit very hard this year. It feels a bit like a self-inflicted injury. The grogginess is vile as is the few pounds gained. Meanwhile your legs start getting very edgy. In athlete’s terms, they feel like they want to “bite”. For bigger races tapering is an absolute must. However, I won’t be tapering much for Marbella because it’s not one of my bigger races and its early. I just want race time in my legs. In fact I will ride 200 miles the weekend before and then have a very short taper, just enough to feel fresh on race day.

I still obviously must “prepare to race” and I find this possibly one of the most pleasurable parts of racing and being a triathlete itself. How each individual approaches their race preparations are very individualised but there’s a few sessions that I do and take as signs to know I. Am. Good. To. Go. These include a sprint set on the Wattbike (20 secs on 40 off, numerous times), riding 30 miles in about 1 hour 20 mins, a fast 1.2 miles in the pool with sprinting every 4th length and the last a 20-30 minute “brick run” at full race pace after 30 miles on the Wattbike. After all those things I can assess just how much my legs are biting.

There’s also a reason it’s called “race week” – even though the race is only one day. That “week” requires lots of arduous and laborious working outside of training. The training is nothing really and just keeps you ticking over. The key is maximising recovery after training which is usually shorter faster efforts, eating at the correct time slots, timing the carb load, sleep, hydration, massaging and getting every bit of kit in the right place so any last-minute panics are avoided. And then, once you have racked your bike the day before the race you get out of the way of everyone as quickly as possible (never ever go to the pre-race pasta party it is a very evil thing) and hide/sleep. Being as precise and perfect as you can during that week inevitably produces results come race day. It is the difference between getting round and high end performances.

A little anecdote. Every year I have one song that I memorise every single word to so that I can rehearse it over and over in my head when I need to pick up the pace and volume during races. Headphones are not usually allowed racing so I have had to improvise. This year it is Ben McKelvey – Stronger.

The signs are that I am training well, although I don’t have as much long distance cycling in me as I would like. I’ve been bit of a lightweight with the British “spring”. However, by far the biggest victory for me this winter has been resolving my foot pain both running and cycling. I have trained more effectively and harder than ever, but, I have spent an awful lot of time with foot mobilisation therapy, getting new running and bike orthotics/shoes custom made, wearing in new orthotics, self-massaging my feet, treating blisters, etc etc. To be able to bike, run and bike and run together without pain is a sweet thing. If I finish Marbella without any repercussions of those pains I will be well happy.

Let’s pick up the pace and volume. I’ll be back soon!

The journey from triathlon to Ironman to Team GB Long-distance Athlete 2018

IMG_1568IMG_1641Starting and finishing my first Ironman and raising over 3K for charity was a little scary and a big challenge.

Not finishing my second due to a bike mechanical was a hard but lesson well learnt.

Completing my third with a big personal best brought the realization I could race at that distance.

Coming 6th in my fourth after throwing away 3rd place on the run was OK.

Preparing to be on the start line of my 5th in July 2018 is already making me think of last year’s unfinished business.

Starting my 6th in September 2018 in Team GB kit is everything I’ve been waiting for.

My journey as a long distance triathlete began a fair while ago, perhaps when I was a competitive swimmer until I was 16 years old. I don’t remember my route into swimming but I raced the hardest discipline, 200 metres butterfly. I’ve had a lifelong passion for endurance sport. Racing forward a few years and I was brought my first road bike at around 20 years old. Almost immediately I began riding 100 miles for fun. I had always run in various guises (another story for another day) but suffered from biomechanical foot pain which meant anything beyond 5 miles was agony.

I got to work. I knew if I could run a marathon then I would become an Ironman at some stage. It was the last part of the jigsaw. I had a biomechanical assessment and then with orthotics and many blisters did my first marathon at Bungay and happened to run it fast enough to qualify for London the following year. No ballot lottery for me.

Once my running was secure I headed to Bolton for my first Ironman. Training for your first full distance 140.6 miles is no small thing and like every other “virgin” (their words not mine) I was happy to just finish. Well perhaps not “happy” I thought I was about to die. However, I remember to this day standing in the Macron Stadium and looking at the results. I was around the top ten but in reality I wasn’t bothered about that. I had my eyes on qualifying for Kona (Ironman’s branded World Champs), in the days when you could get there by racing lots. But, even more than that I wanted to race for Team GB. From that day on it was my target but I kept it quiet. In the course of those 14 hours I had gone from completing my first Ironman to racing them. Huge difference, completing is dragging self around and having a cheeky rest when you feel you can justify it. Racing one is a significantly bigger more focused effort for 12-14 hours. Every female you chase because you can’t always see their age group on their race belt. Seconds count, places count. Eyes on the prize. So you chase, everyone, no matter how much everything hurts. Find a way, make a way, do whatever.

December 2016 brought some nice news, I had become an All-World-Athlete for Ironman – in the top 10% worldwide. That was nice but you could get that status by racing lots rather than being fast and beating people. That wasn’t necessarily the case for me though, I made my position up with just two races.

Throughout 2017 I raced pretty sound, although as I have already said elsewhere, I literally threw away third place at my only full distance triathlon with foot pain and then the flu. Neither were a fitness issue. That was all forgotten when I qualified for Team GB age-group cycling the very next day. I remember saying to a friend at work that I am not quite ready for Team GB triathlon yet, and so I had a trip to Albi for the World Cycling champs instead. Apart from the foot pain and cost and commercialisation issues I have already written about, I probably said what I did about the triathlon because I wanted that place more than you will ever know and I was beginning to dream. At some point I have also bribed myself with qualifying just for the half Ironman distance and that indeed was my aim for 2018. Little did I know I had qualified last July for the triathlon long distance World and European championships.

Now, I don’t believe in luck, sorry for the cliché but I make my own if I can. I do however have a bit more time for superstition and a few things have fallen into place. Last Autumn I purchased my own bike box with the intention to travel internationally a lot more. I have also spent a lot of time this winter when not training getting my feet fixed, sorting my running orthotics out etc. The off season this year has also been successful from a training point of view and I am lean and fit for the end of February. The latest readings on the bike suggest I am putting out somewhere around an extra 20 percent of power compared to January 2017.

I have had a two week wait for the news after submitting my intention to qualify for Team GB in mid February. To pass that time I have trained like a demon, safe in the knowledge that even if it didn’t work out I would be ready at some stage. Just last week my feet are well enough to run again and today I have managed an hour non-stop up and down a hill. I had also previously arranged my race season so I reach peak fitness again in September. Just so happens the long distance European championships are in Madrid in September. The day before I submitted my intention to qualify and had done the maths I had booked a project meeting for July. I didn’t know it clashed with the triathlon World Championships. I now firmly believe in that start line in Madrid in September for the European Championships. I have no intention of stopping all of this anytime soon but to some extent tonight I feel I have arrived at my destination and “made it”, at least with my own goals.

Right now, though, I have a ‘Q’ next to my name and I think I need a new tri-suit. It’s blue, red and white and has my name on it. I’m dead excited to see what happens next. Let’s goooooo. Pick up the pace and the volume.

 

An academic allowing herself to love writing, even if the future for Universities and Business Schools may be tough. How is it for you?

I am currently on study leave. Which basically means writing and quite often doing so in my pyjamas. Admittedly the first two weeks have been a bit rough, I was perhaps a bit surprised at that given how religious I had been about a Deep Work writing regime over the past year. But yesterday, the words began to flow once more. Sorry about the cliché. I was made up about this, I know there will be bad days again but getting some rhythm together certainly helps me. As I sat working at peace with the world for once I couldn’t help muse along with some things from deeply treasured friends this week. One was considering the ‘School for Business’ blog posted by Martin Parker on his last working day at the University of Leicester. As I tried to imagine the prospects of the future Business School or lack of, I was also struck by a tweeted comment in response to Martin’s post made by Jo Grady. It went along the lines of ‘University managers come and go. Collegial scholars do not. Be who you wanna see in universities’.

So, whilst my work yesterday was more solitary and not necessarily collegiate given I was drafting a sole-authored paper by myself for most of the day, I really enjoyed letting myself be a “proper f**king academic” for once. Thanks Gibson, that one always has and always will work for me. The current higher education context and climate admittedly is not all that rosey and it certainly has affected me substantially in recent months and I’d be the first to concede that I have perhaps let it consume me too much at times recently. However, as I wrote yesterday, I gave myself free rein to consider what are the most pleasurable bits of this craft? What bits help me to rekindle my love for academia?

I am writing about this elsewhere in my book but here are a few reflections about what I love about writing, especially.

…When I can write without any inhibitions, when I can speedily and sporadically put half-baked comments here there and everywhere to later join them together for a fully-fledged argument. Fixing a jigsaw I guess.

…When I can think across disciplines however outlandish the marriage might be and have the space to ponder about otherwise seemingly impossibilities.

…When I can really enjoy thinking about my broader research identity as an academic. A bit vomit worthy but essentially my elevator pitch or better, my proper academic bit. All academics have one of those even if they do not make it explicit and it certainly should not be the thing that is only worked out when one is in the labour market. It’s you, your research identity, the bit you can proudly stand up and say “This is me, this is who I am, this is what I do”. How does thinking about that on that research project connect with that other project over there? What do they compile and say about my research as a whole beyond surface level connections? 

…When I can write without the monster of the Research Excellent Framework or some other time dependent ranking sitting on my shoulders. I am not going to critique those agendas now, the whole point here is imagining the good bits, because there still are a lot. But I do like being able to say what needs to be said. Or at least what I think should be said. And if I can do that in an unorthodox fashion, even better.

…Working out something in a moment without really thinking too hard about it despite it perhaps being keeping me awake for months previously in a furor of anxiety.

…When my mind and body becomes addicted to the flow of the writing, when it wants to write and I want to write with it, rather than when I desperately want to write and my brain and fingers resist every single word.

…When it becomes even more infectious. Perhaps when I have finished at my desk for the day but find that my mind continues to run and race with ideas for hours on end. Working out the next bit of the scenario, finding a reference, building. Always growing something.

…When it allows me to be in a calm place and naturally produces creative, reflective and reflexive spaces. Specifically, in my 15 minute writing breaks I find that they offer some of my most fruitful thoughts. It’s always amazed me at just how clearly I can think when away from my mac, some might say skiving, putting the laundry on the washing line, doing the dishwasher etc.

…When it helps me to learn about myself, and as a result I find quite often that when I am writing a journal paper that I simultaneously have open my Academic Athlete manuscript draft primed for sporadic inserts. Whilst there is an argument that one should focus on one thing at a time and concentrate on it properly, I find it more disruptive to ignore these other thoughts.

So, if you sit down, free of all academic contextual and institutional ties and baggage, what do you like most about writing? What do you feel? And, how does it feel for you?

Riding outside in the UK winter is…

…Looking at 5 different apps on your phone before finally grasping it will never actually be 20 degrees and dry in the UK in January

…Dressing to go to the artic then sweating like you have the flu before even putting your    shoes on

…On that note, cursing everything in the world whilst you navigate your latex overshoes    over your cycling shoes

…Wobbling like a toddler when your first head out after months of a stable indoor bike

…Needing a wee within five minutes despite going ten times before leaving the house

…On the flat noticing just how much power you’ve built this winter. Nice one rocket

…And then having your hopes dashed as you hit one of Suffolk’s slight bumps and Thursday’s legs day smarts the whole way up

…Enjoying the burn in your lungs from the fresh air and feeling the beat of your lower heart rate. Thanks Watt Bike

…Loving the sound and feel of the rubber tyres on the tarmac. The hum. Yes, the hum

…Doing an out and back route just to get the benefit of a tailwind on the way home

…Snot everywhere, everywhere, despite the best directed snot rockets

…Seeing a slither of blue in the sky and telling yourself Spring will be here tomorrow

…Being thrown sporadically into the middle of the road due to the wind and using deep    rims

…Enjoying swearing at drivers again. It would seem the British public haven’t developed     their driving awareness over the winter like you have your cycling prowess

…Forgetting about work for a bit, too busy avoiding being flung in the ditch

…Whacking up the volume on your bone conduction headphones and riding like you stole your own several grands worth of bike

…Going the long way home just to go down a good hill at 42mph. Cheap thrills, eh.

…Hoping you beat a few by being out today

…Enjoying a post ride bath a bit too much, knowing in a few week’s time that will be ice     cold and after a brick run

…Looking forward to a lunch of champions before remembering it’s measly chicken and    leaves. Again. The six pack thanks you

…Realising after a quick snooze that you’ve only been 45 miles, still time to do some work and writing

…Having a bright red face for hours after. Horrible wind burn. I’d prefer sun burn

…Being able to walk on a Monday

…Buying a new bike. The January sales are dragging on. Damn. Welcome home #7.

Here’s a little snippet of a memorable tune from my ride as I climbed the last hill home:

“Staring at my empty glass just trying to figure out what to do

And I needed you, to tell me what I already knew

I caught myself around the kind of thoughts I never knew I could have

Show me how to move on, show me what it’s like to be a (wo)man

Yeah, I needed you, to tell me what I already knew

Anyone can tow line, the choice is yours son to live a life, find a way to rise above

Your only here once now

What goes around comes around

Grit your teeth when they kick you down

Find you way, find your love, your only here once now, your only here once now”

Ben McKelvey – Only Here Once.

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