Marbs 70.3: A brutally beautiful event, rest in peace fellow comrade

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Sunrise on race morning circa 6.15am

I’m back home and having recovered and dealt with the post race tidy up I am now able to reflect on just how much of a ball I had in Marbella racing Ironman’s inaugural 70.3. It was a special event and I was overcome with emotion on the start line particularly, but the buzz and Ironman unique atmosphere was there all weekend and even continued in the departures lounge as we left Malaga three days later. I’ve written a full race report here (scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to read my review) and so won’t go into too much detail but in short, apart from the shortened swim on race day, it was a perfect early season race. On an individual level it was also perfect in the race set up and post race taper as I am fortunate enough to live only 20 minutes from the race start and thus had full training apparatus at the ready, and a beach and sunshine too. I sincerely hope all athletes behaved themselves and the town and residents of Puerto Banus are happy for us to return in 2019.

Results wise I am also happy. I finished 24th in my age group overall and within that I was 5th amongst the GB contingent. The time was 6 hours 18 minutes which is almost an hour slower than my PB but I am more than happy with that as a brutal first race of the year. Next up for me is Outlaw Half in Nottingham on the 20th of May where I will be racing the lowest race number I ever had. Numero 9 and going off in the elite wave. I didn’t select myself in that wave but clearly I have myself a little promotion there.

Back to reality and I am very aware I have a lot of grinding to do. There’s heaps of work and writing to be done and equal loads of training to be achieved by August. As the going gets tough the hardest part will be maintaining some sense of balance, the danger comes when I try to push boundaries. I have my quota of work and training each week and I need to try and maintain that because once that breaks it becomes a vicious cycle.

I have kept my race report short because I wanted to leave space for something which is way more significant and important. We didn’t find out until the day after the race but a fellow athlete, Sharon Lang, had a cardiac arrest in the water which left her brain dead. It is suspected that she had a heart attack and very sadly she passed away on Monday in Marbella. Thank you to those who knew I was racing and checked in with me on Monday when the news hit the UK media. To Sharon’s family and friends, please know there is an army of fellow triathletes sending you considerable comradely love during such a difficult time.

I’ve seen very serious accidents (including head injuries and it being me calling 999 from a field in the middle of nowhere) whilst out riding before, but I think this is either the first or second time that a fellow competitor has lost their life. I’m no medical doctor or cardiologist but I would imagine that whatever defect the lady had then this would have been catastrophic whether it happened in the water or later in the race during the bike and run. The swim was indeed very rough but it was not especially cold by comparison to usual temperatures. One possibility is that the high waves caused her too much stress.

Sometimes the media like to suggest that endurance sports carry greater risks than any other sports. They also play on the branding of an “Ironman” that is supposedly the hardest one day event one can take on. However, their views are very much based on the warped sense of moderation that journalists have of the general public’s health and athleticism. When someone dies in a race, and usually it is the heart, to my mind there are two types of death and one is far more riskier than the other. The first is the Joe Bloggs who attempts to run a marathon in full fancy dress attire despite having no history of sport or fitness. They spend a few months on a health kick, pushing their body to limits that a more trained athlete has known for life. I don’t wish to sound demeaning, I admire anybody who takes on a new challenge and breaks their comfort zone, but, such an individual is always going to be at greater risk for losing their life than someone who has even a small history of exercise. The lady who died on Sunday was a known runner/triathlete and I would guess has fallen to a second type of death that is more common with athletes and is the result of an unknown defect, rather than a broken body put under too much self-inflicted duress.

In terms of how I see it personally, none of my spiel here will take away any of the enormous amounts of pain these athletes’ families are feeling right now. Whilst I maintain that marathons and ironmans are no more dangerous than other sports, these recent events (I include the Master Chef Matt Campbell who recently died in the London Marathon) have made me feel luckily than ever to cross a finish line, but they won’t stop me continuing to cross them in the future. When I race for GB it is mandatory to have a medical, which usually involves me taking an hour out of my day to go and have an ECG. In the past I would have complained at this inconvenience and the £25 fee I had to pay for it. I have vouched never to moan about this ever again. Whilst I sign a waiver at the beginning of every race and accept a huge amount of responsibility and agree to abide by the rules of the game and ensure my own safety, I think perhaps what is necessary is to make ECGs a more formal requirement. This could be attached to a race license that is renewed once a year for instance. Such medicals are often spoken about in the media for football players and the physical requirements of even an age-group triathlete are no different.

Adios, rest in peace comrades x

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 anecdote. Organized chaos: A few days in the life of Hurricane Charlie

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People often say they can’t do what I do, but they are usually referring to some form of exertion and the physical amount of training rather than the labour around being an academic athlete. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have even considered that part. After a few quite hectic days earlier this week here I am thinking about what I really do, how much goes on behind the scenes to be a working academic and race fit athlete Charlie.

It is so much more than those ghastly 5.15 am starts nearly every day. Getting the athlete into the right place, at the right time, with the right kit, support team and food is a military operation in itself, like you wouldn’t believe.

We are now entering pre-season for a triathlete and it will soon be play time. Play time is sweet but essentially the more I train and race, the more I sleep, the more I eat, the more washing that needs to be done. Whilst I have been on study leave I have a bit more freedom and so last weekend I worked two long days to ‘clear’ my desk for a few hours off Monday. Except, ‘clearing’ one’s desk in my world doesn’t actually mean that because all I do is take myself away from my Mac and transport myself to the perpetual train of triathlon organizing.

Sunday: drove in the evening from Leicester to Ipswich, where I am stationed less than 18 hours. 1000 miles in a week driving. As I fly through the door at 7pm, I am an hour earlier than normal, my Mum is as always delighted to see me, but is swallowing the last mouthfuls of her tea and I can see she is wondering about what she was doing before her meal and before any sense of calm was about to be disseminated by Hurricane Charlie.

Still Sunday night and so we get to work. Every second counts in this world. What is the urgency to drive over 300 miles in sub two days you might ask? Preparing a bike box ready for the airport on Wednesday and it has to be done in case I am not back again. Said bike box is destined for Spain, except I won’t board the plane with it. It’s all in preparation for when I arrive in three weeks time. Not now. I send everything I need to ride a bike with my parents who are boarding the plane, paying attention to every last detail, from the subscription to Trainer Road trainer software, through to the right pair of socks and energy gels.

Yep, still Sunday evening. No day of rest in this house. Next job. Never-mind, been going since 5.15am, a full days work, 30 mile ride and 125 mile drive. Next, sign all forms and deal with all post etc. that needs doing and do the all-important check to make sure my writing from the week is syncing to every single Mac in every location I work (5 in total). Whilst doing that I announce another gem for my dad. “We need to put the new airless tyres on the new bike before you leave to go on holiday because we won’t actually see each other when you get home, we will be handing Baggles (the cat) over virtually. I’m riding in the Midlands that weekend and wont drive to Ipswich first”.

He sighs. “What I have to do that before I leave for holiday?” I hear my mum do a little sigh too, perhaps a more sympathetic one more sided with Team Charlie. She asks him “What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?” There isn’t a clear answer. There shouldn’t be, he’s retired.

I can almost hear my Mum telepathically communicating to my Dad in husband and wife language. I think she goes something like this…“Honey, I know you don’t really want to do that (the airless tyres) after the gym and would rather read your book and enjoy lunch, but, if you don’t do it then, you won’t like the alternative. I promise. Boomerang (our daughter) will be back at a less than opportune moment and there will be very little patience involved. Plus, I have to go to Sainsburys after the gym to get food for the machine before I leave for my afternoon appointment and so you are definitely not alone”.

Time for my dinner, no effort required. There is one prepared meal left. It’s chicken and broccoli. It was cooked a week ago and left in Ipswich with enough carbohydrates in it for tomorrow’s planned training. Simultaneously I start food prep for the next week and think that there doesn’t seem much chicken left in the freezer as I get meat out for week. Silly me, delivered on Friday at the end of the week, pre-ordered, the date chosen to maximise time riding and writing at the weekend with less defrosting required. Seriously.

Monday: I finish preparing food for the week at 7am, I then pack the right amount of meals in the car based on the number of days I’ll be away for. I count out every supplement. I work out the order of every day’s training. Writing my own training programmes (just another of my laborious tasks away from training). After I deal with a tonne of triathlon admin. Booking events, appointments, races, rides, travel, bike boxes, insurance. Endless. I then head to the gym after the rest of cooking is done and the meat is cooling and prior to the rest of the additions in the 20 odd tubs. Yes, I just organised my training around meat cooling.

Back from the gym. Note to self, no dirty kit from Leicester, no dirty kit to Leicester. Remember. If you came with kit, make sure you go back with it. Otherwise, you will totally disrupt the balance of the right kit in the right place.

Guess what dad’s doing, the tyres!

I pause for a brief moment as I ferry around the kitchen and I notice Baggles sitting by his food bowl. He hasn’t had his breakfast, its 1pm. A gentle and calm soul of a cat. He’s not starving, you don’t need to call the RSPCA, he’s just patient and delightful. He offers me a little meow, not a screaming “do it now” (the kind I regularly deliver) but just a little reminder “hey! I’m here, I’m ready now, whenever you are”. He’s used to the madness around here.

Dad carries on in the kitchen with the tyres. He says it will take him another 45 mins to prep the second tyre before he needs my help finishing them off. So, I train a second time, next door on my Watt bike and come ready, dripping in sweat at my allotted time slot.

Monday afternoon progresses and I am all done here for now. A 13 minute shower. Back in the car. Drive to Leicester, via Norwich. Yes, you read that right. Foot treatment in preparation for racing season. All part of the deal. I make a note of how my feet are feeling and also set a reminder in my phone to check progress in 6 weeks. Performance and fitness monitoring all on my to-do list too. I arrive in Leicester where every single thing is ready for an interrupted day of work tomorrow before driving back to Ipswich. And of course, meal and clean kit included.

Tuesday: Back to Ipswich after work where I am then all installed for a week of heavy writing and training.

This all sounds like hell, I know, and it also sounds like I micro manage my life to within an inch of it, because I do.

However, these last few days epitomise organized chaos. I live in busy and chaotic moments now to ensure the day to day running later is totally organized and entirely not stressful. These give me the calm spaces to write and train, eat and sleep with very little effort required. I have as much space and time as I want for all of those things. It goes like: train 6am, write 4 hours offline, 30 minutes recovery sleep (very important), write another 4 hours offline, train 6pm, finish remaining odd bits of work. Sleep.

I work just as hard at all of the preparation to get the quality academic and training time as I do the training itself. And as you can probably see, I am very gratefully supported by my loving parents (who probably collapse the moment I hit the A14 out of Ipswich). I couldn’t do it without them.

Oh, and where’s Baggles? In the bath fast asleep. Thank God. Team, the fort is held for another little while.