2016 Swim/Bike/Run Plans

It's January, and the internet is groaning under the weight of blog posts setting out peoples' extravagant goals for the year, so not wanting to be left out, it's probably time to write down a few things.

Triathlon

If I was to remind you that in 2014 I raced my first sprint distance triathlon, and in 2015 my first Olympic distance race (along with several more sprints), you might - if you're familiar with triathlon distances - hazard a guess at the obvious next step.  There may be a further clue in the fact I made a point of racing a half marathon last year, as well as doing some fairly long open water swims and bike rides.

In case you haven't figured it out, my main aim for the year is to get a half-ironman distance triathlon - 1900m swim, 90km bike, 21km (half-marathon) run - under my belt.  Lower-case 'i' deliberate, because it's not going to be with 'Ironman' trademark owners WTC - much as the 70.3 Staffordshire race is fairly local, I can live without £200+ entry fees for now.  That said, I have actually spent £200+ on entries - but I've signed up for two events.

The first is the OSB Events 'Outlaw Half' in Nottingham on 29 May.  Close to home and one of the bigger non-WTC events in the UK with something like 1400 entrants.  I raced, and enjoyed, their sprint triathlon organised as part of the same weekend last year. The second is the 113 Events Cotswold Classic on the 21st of August.  Conveniently close to my parents house, and apparently a fairly fast/flat/easy course - so in a way it's something of a backup policy in case the Outlaw Half doesn't turn out how I want it to.

I've already run down the Outlaw Half finishing chute.  I've only got to go about four and a half times further to do it again.  Should be easy right?

So how do I want it to turn out?  Well, finishing is obviously a first priority, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about times.  I think I should be able to get under six hours.  If I manage to hit that at the Outlaw, I'll come up with a new target for the Cotswold Classic.  Otherwise, I'll just hope that the fast course and a few more months training makes the difference.

I'm also intending to race the Nottingham Uni Varsity sprint tri again this year (24 April).  Partly because it falls conveniently about a month before the Outlaw Half, and I think a bit of reminder of how to put my shoes on quickly would be good, but also because it was a really fun race last year.

Running

I'll be book-ending the triathlon season with a couple of running races (if you'd suggested to me a couple of years ago that this would be the case, I'd probably have laughed at you).  To get things started, I'll be doing the Bath Half-marathon on 13 March - mostly to give a bit of focus to working on my running over the winter.  After my infuriating 2h00m12s at the Severn Bridge Half last year, I would have said (a couple of months ago) that anything with a '1' at the front of it would be OK, but with that couple of months of training behind me, I'm starting to think I can do 1h50m.  Can I?  We'll find out in seven weeks.

To round off the year, I've entered the Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon on 25 September.  No time expectations for this one, it really is just to run it and see what happens.  Again, a year or so ago, I'd have flat-out said I couldn't run a full marathon.  These days, I'm starting to believe, although there's a fair amount of work still to do.

Other stuff

I'll be doing the Cycle Derby 160km Spring Classic sportive again on 1 May, mainly to keep building up the cycle miles.  Hopefully, the weather will be a bit less horrible this year.

Then, between the Outlaw and Cotswold triathlons, I'll be going along to another - the full ironman distance Cotswold 226 event run by the same organisers as the Classic.  Not to race the triathlon, but because they're running a 3.8km swim race on the Saturday (16 July), and a 'Tri rules 180km sportive' (ie no drafting, TT bikes allowed, bad fashion choices positively encouraged) alongside the triathlon on the Sunday.  I've entered both, just for a bit of fun and to get a feel for the area the Classic is held in.

Attentive readers might note that, between this and the Nottingham marathon, I will hopefully end the year having done every element of a full-ironman distance triathlon individually - much as I did all the elements of a half-ironman last year, but that's something to think about in the autumn.

So then the rest of 2015 happened...

(but apparently writing stuff didn't, so here it is all in one go)

I had two more racing outings after the Erewash Triathlon.  The first was the Severn Bridge Half Marathon at the end of August - my first half marathon and in fact my first standalone running race since I was at school.  I'd set a target time of two hours, and I finished in... 2:00:11.  Curses.  Aside from that frustration, it was quite satisfying to tick off the distance, which had been one of my goals for the year.  I'm finding the race itself quite difficult to write about, which is partly why this post is so delayed.  Basically I started running, then ran, and ran, and ran some more.  Somewhere in the middle there was a big hill.  Running with thousands of other people on closed roads is quite a nice experience.  Towards the end it got really, really hard, especially trying to keep the pace up coming back over the bridge to the finish knowing that the time would be close.  I think it was probably harder than the Blithfield Triathlon, even though that was almost three hours long.  I definitely felt like I'd earned the (proper chunky) finishers medal.

Next up, just a week later, was the Ilfracombe Triathlon.  A long way from home, but local to the in-laws, and we needed to be down there the following weekend for a wedding.  I could have raced the Derby City Triathlon (my first one last year) on that weekend instead, which would have been a useful measure of my improvement over 12 months, but the North Devon event sounded considerably more interesting - and so it turned out to be.  By way of illustration, here's a list of 'firsts' which I racked up during the race:

 - Riding from home to the start/transition area in the morning.

  • A sea swim.
  • A beach start to the swim.
  • Having to climb two flights of steps to get from the swim into T1.
  • Using the small chainring in a triathlon (for the first twenty minutes of the bike leg, and another 10 minutes or so by the end).
  • Having to wait at a set of temporary traffic lights in the middle of nowhere (although the organisers had a marshall there and did a good job of crediting people their time back).
  • Having to filter through car traffic on the run course.
  • Having to climb and descend a flight of steps during the run leg.
  • Walking a stretch of the run leg (up an endless series of switchbacks on the coast path).
  • Having to negotiate a kissing gate during the run.

It was good fun, although my performance was somewhat 'mixed'.  After making a reasonable job of the beach start my swim lost all sense of urgency, and I went backward through the field during the swim itself and the climb up to T1.  These exertions left me feeling fairly rough as I got out onto the bike and went straight into 5km of climbing, and it felt like I was still going backwards - probably the low point was getting passed by someone on a hybrid.  With hindsight, I think my pace was actually fairly sensible, because I went back past a lot of people on the rolling middle section of the course, and up the series of steep climbs towards the end as they ran out of steam.  The run was just brutal, but I think my pace was OK.

Back home a few weeks later, I did the 50 mile version of the Cycle Derby Autumn Sportive with some current and former work colleagues.  Fairly leisurely ride overall due to mixed abilities (although the climbs are still really hard no matter what you've been doing over the rest of the course) and a really nice morning out once the sun had taken the early morning chill off.

The sportive marked the end of the season as far as sporting events went, leaving the rest of the year to actually spend some weekends at home (I didn't do that many races, but given holidays, stag dos, weddings, and other shenanigans we had about three 'empty' weekends from mid-April through to the end of September).  It also gave me chance to try and figure out some training routines that fit around work and family.

I finally bought some new running shoes, which are Extremely Blue, although nearly 100 miles later I'm still not entirely sure I like them.  Somewhere along the line I also realised I've actually started to enjoy running, rather than viewing it as a necessary evil of triathlon.  I feel like I've made some decent progress since the Severn Bridge race, which bodes well for 2016.

I also had a bit of an end-of-year splurge which saw me acquire a TT bike from a friend and then shortly after add a power meter, enabling me to combine cycling and extreme nerding into one activity.

I wrote down the following sports-based goals at the start of 2015:

  • 6 sprint-distance triathlons
  • 1 standard/Olympic distance triathlon
  • At least 1 open water triathlon
  • Swim 1900m (half-ironman distance) in open water
  • Cycle 180km (full-ironman distance)
  • Do two 160km sportives
  • Run a half marathon

I racked up the seven triathlons as planned, three open water including one sea swim.  In training I did several open-water swims of more than 1900m, including a couple up around the 3800m full ironman distance.  As above, I finished my first half marathon, and have since done the distance again in a training run.  On the cycling front, I did one 160km sportive, and given how horrible the weather was and that I did ride about another 20km getting to and from the start, I'm counting it as doing the 180km ride, even though it was spread over about 12 hours.  The second 160km sportive just didn't fit into the calendar anywhere, but overall I'm pretty pleased with how the year went.  



Going Long(er): Blithfield Olympic Distance Triathlon

The term that seems to be used in the triathlon world is 'A-race', although I'm not sure it's quite right in this situation.  To claim I had had a season-long coherent plan leading up to this point would be bending the truth (a lot).  "Thing-I'd-not-done-before-but-really-wanted-to-do" would probably be more accurate, if a bit more cumbersome.  Whatever you call it, the idea of doing a standard/Olympic distance (1500m swim/40km bike/10km run) triathlon in 2015 has been firmly planted in my head pretty much since doing my first two sprint distance events last September.   

The specific event was the Blithfield Triathlon, run by Punishing Events - the same local organiser who ran the first (Derby City) event I did last year, as well as the Ashbourne race in May.  The event was run out of the sailing club on Blithfield Reservoir in Staffordshire, about half an hour's drive from home for me.  Oddly, this wouldn't be the first time I'd put on a wetsuit and got into this stretch of water for a race, although the previous occasion dates back to the last millennium, and was for a windsurfing event. 

I did try to do a few bits of sensible preparation, mainly for the swim - acquiring a wetsuit, going along to a few open-water practice sessions with a local tri club, and entering the Nottingham tri to get some race experience at a shorter distance.  Mostly though, I just did what I'd have done anyway, riding to work as often as practical and going out running when time and one-year-old son permits.  I think I managed a reasonable training volume through May and June, but then things went a bit astray in July.  Two weeks of holiday meant no riding (although a few decent length swims in the Mediterranean), but it was the lack of running that worried me.  I'd actually taken my running gear with me on holiday, only to have a bit of a shoulder niggle in the first week which wierdly allowed me to swim with the exception of a few days, but really didn't agree with the shock loading of running.  I didn't do much better on returning home, only managing one 5k outing in the next couple of weeks. 

About ten days before, I turned my ride home from work into a full length 40k/10k brick to get some feel for pacing.  Wasn't too bad, but I started the run too fast and it all fell apart in the last few km. I decided that not taking any food on board during the 2h20m-ish total duration probably hadn't helped either.  One more leisurely round-trip cycle commute in the week leading up to the event and then it was race day.


The (mass) start time was 0850 for the standard distance, but they were also running a sprint event with an 0830 start, so everyone had to be signed on, briefed and racked by 0820.   This worked back to needing to leave home around 0650 - too early to get The Boy out of the house, so I was on my own again. 

I'd carefully planned to arrive, sign on, go to the briefing, then go back to the car to grab all my gear and drop it off in transition before it closed.  This got thrown out of kilter when they didn't run the briefing at the time in the competitor info document.  After standing around looking confused with a few other people for a while someone went in, asked, and came back with a new time.  I then missed the start of it because I was still sorting my stuff out in transition.  Oh well.

After the briefing and a quick pre-race comfort break, I watched the sprint race go and then we were counted into the water.  The organisers had measured the water at about 18 degrees, nice and comfortable in a wetsuit - although you wouldn't have known it by the amount of whinging and general reluctance to get in from a decent chunk of the field.

The course was two laps of a simple triangle, starting and ending at the corner nearest the sailing club.  The field here was smaller (about 150 vs 225) and the start line considerably longer than the Nottingham Tri, and after the startline mayhem there I chose to position myself towards the less crowded shore end of the line, accepting a (possible, and very slight) increase in distance to the first buoy in return for being able to settle straight into my preferred rhythm from the start.  This seemed to help, and by half way through the first lap I was in much better shape and even comfortable enough to engage in a bit of gentle jostling for position around the turn buoys - in contrast to Nottingham where, after getting beaten up in the start frenzy I pretty much steered away from anyone that came anywhere near me for the rest of the swim.

I was out of the water in about 35 minutes, about five minutes slower than I'd have expected/hoped to be over 1500m, although I'm pretty sure the course was long.  My Garmin 910XT called it short at about 1400m, but is visibly wonky when you look at the track against a satellite picture (below).  Most of the other competitors' tracks which show up on Strava seem to be around the 1600-1700m mark, which would explain most of the difference.  Maybe I should have found the extra hundred quid or so for the new 920XT.


There was a short run from the shoreline up to the grassy transition area above the sailing club.  I managed to make less of a hash of stripping off the top half of my wetsuit during the run, but managed to hit 'stop' on my watch rather than 'lap' (to tell the auto-multisport mode I'd finished the swim), then wonder why it still showed 'swim' rather than 'transition' when I got to the rack.  Fortunately it was easily restarted once I figured out what I'd done.  Stripping the bottom half of my wetsuit and getting my shoes on still seemed to take an age (official T1 time was 2:42) before I was ready to head for the exit. 


The bike leg was two laps of a loop course with a short spur connecting to the sailing club at the start and end.  Heading out along this spur was a bit tricky, trying to get past people who had exited T1 just ahead and find some clear road, while simultaneously trying to avoid the sprint race front-runners who were coming back in at the same time with a 40mph+ closing speed. 

The start of the loop passed through the centre of Abbott's Bromley, complete with traffic calming chicanes and parked cars (I got briefly stopped on both laps behind cars that had to give way to oncoming traffic).  Once through the village, the rest of the lap was easily navigated with no traffic issues.  The marshalls (both on the bike and run courses) were great, shouting encouragement at everyone that passed, and the sun even came out at some point in the first lap. 

With running remaining my weak point, the byword for the bike leg was 'restraint'.  It's one thing to suffer through a 5k after giving it a big effort on the bike, another entirely to do that for 10k.  I'd decided, more through gut feeling than science, that if I kept my heart rate just under 150bpm most of the time I'd probably be alright.  This seemed to work out well, and I actually ended up doing both laps of the main loop with only 36 seconds difference over 35 minutes (and pretty similar speeds at all points on the loop).

The other key point for the bike was to remember to take some fuel on board.   I'd gulped a gel down during T1, reasoning it would only add a couple of seconds and is much easier to do stationary with both hands available, but I'd guesstimated wanting another mid-bike and then to have a third handy for the run.  Incidentally, I was trying out using a Flip-Belt (no, I don't look like the people on the link when I exercise) as a number belt at this race.  I'd bought it a month or so earlier - primarily to keep keys/phone in when out running, but also with half a thought that it might work as a number belt (given the only real requirement for a number belt is 'you can stick safety pins through it') for longer events where I did need to carry food/gels.  I did look at some other products like the SPIbelt which are actually intended to be used like that, but decided I preferred the 'clean' look of the Flip-Belt.  I was wearing it with the openings on the outside, since I was more concerned with ease of access than the risk of losing a quid's worth of gels, and it was easy to reach round and grab one out without even lifting off the aero bars.  Go me.

I think I gained places overall on the bike, although at the time of writing the full results file is missing some columns so I can't check.  Naturally a few came past, including one on what I think was the full-fat non-UCI-legal Specialized Shiv Triathlon.  Fortunately he vanished up the road before I dribbled too much.  I just about managed to hit a 30kph average over the bike leg, which I'm fairly pleased with, since it matches the fastest I've done over the sprint distance on a 'proper' road course with some hills in (at Ashbourne).  I did about 34kph average at the Nottingham Tri, but that was on the pancake-flat, traffic-free perimeter road of the rowing lake. 

(Although to ensure I don't feel too pleased with myself, while I was doing this, a friend of mine was out doing a 50 mile (80km) time trial - double the distance - at 37kph average.  I doubt he ran anywhere afterwards, but still.) 

The run was again two laps (almost as if they were running another event half the distance on the same course), out and back along the shoreline, with the turnaround in the middle of the causeway which divides the reservoir in two.  About half dirt/packed gravel and half tarmac/concrete.  The first few minutes out of T2 was horrible.  Everything hurt, and I was preparing myself for my target time to disappear out of the window and to be fighting just to finish.  Of course once I'd gone far enough for the average speed reading in my watch to stabilise I realised it was because I was actually going way faster than I thought, and indeed way faster than was sensible for that point in the run.  After that I relaxed a bit, although looking back my pacing was still all over the place.  The sun was well and truly out by this point, and it was quite hot.  The split into four obvious chunks (out/back/out/back) was a psychological help at least, as was gulping a final gel on the first lap.  I flagged a bit on the second outward leg, but managed to pick it back up in the last quarter, and even sprint for the line (for a loose definition of 'sprint') to make sure I stayed clear of the person I'd been able to see coming up behind me looking back across the last few bends.

I crossed the line in 105th place in 2:51:43, which I'm pretty happy with.  I had three hours in mind as my "I'd be disappointed if I missed that" time, so it was good to be comfortably inside.  I still need to run faster though - or improve my cycling to the extent it doesn't matter.  I came out of the swim in 106th place, so any places I made on the bike disappeared again on the run.  The other point of note was that I was still a bit marginal on fuel.  I didn't have much left in the tank at the end, and having forgotten to pack anything to eat immediately after I was almost chewing the steering wheel on the half-hour drive home!  I'd probably slot in at least another gel or something solid into the bike leg next time.

For now though, the next few weeks is all about running.  More on that later.

Cycle Derby Spring Classic Sportive 2015: The Hell of the Midlands

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.  After having completed the 80km (50 mile) distance at the inaugural Cycle Derby Sportive last September, the obvious next step was to try and complete a 100 miler. Of the three available reasonably close to me this seemed to be the best opportunity, being considerably flatter than the September event and not in the middle of the tri season, unlike the Great Nottingham Bike Ride.

(Note - this has the potential to turn into a terrible mess of units, so from here on in I'm going to stick to kilometres, chiefly because that's what my cycle computers, Strava account, etc are set to)

I signed up at the end of January, then came down with a cold and didn't do anything for a couple of weeks.  Not the best start to a very limited window for training.  My training log says I rode the bike 17 times between signing up and the event itself.  Of those, twelve were my 25km commute, and one was the bike leg of the Varsity Triathlon - all involving an hour or less in the saddle, so while they probably helped my fitness, they didn't give me much idea of my endurance. 

In amongst that, I managed four longer rides.  The first was utterly dispiriting - I covered 60km, but was absolutely finished by the end of it and seriously doubting that I'd ever get to the 160km distance.  With a bit of time to reflect I concluded it was mostly a complete nutrition failure, and having planned a bit more carefully - carrying enough food, and remembering to actually eat it at regular intervals - I proceeded to rack up two 100km "metric centuries" and one 130km outing. 

My last ride before the event was one of the commutes, which came to a premature and embarrassing end with a slow speed crash which resulted in a couple of broken spokes in my Kinetic One front wheel - on the Thursday before the Easter weekend when we were going away, all the local bike shops were closed or busy, and K1 themselves were closed for refurbishment.  A slightly stressful situation solved by getting the credit card out and buying myself the shiny Planet X 60mm Aero wheels I'd been eyeing up for a while. Oops.

And so the day came around, with an early start to ride over to the Derby Arena velodrome and sign on before taking shelter from the wind behind the registration tent to wait for the start.  Last September, the route passed through the centre of Derby - requiring road closures and therefore starting all the (more than a thousand) riders across all distances pretty close together to minimise the closure time.  This time, departing in the opposite direction, no closures were necessary, leading the organisers to spread the starts out to avoid traffic issues.  This meant the start area was still fairly quiet when the 200-ish 160km riders were set off in waves of fifty from 8am. 

The pace was fairly quick away from the start line, and although I'd entertained the notion of sitting in a group at the start to help with the difference between my training and the full distance, it quickly became apparent that I had a choice.  Either I rode at the sort of pace I was confident I'd be able to sustain on my own, or I rode quite a bit faster to stay in a group, and just hope that I was actually using less energy rather than more.  I opted for discretion and let myself slip off the back.

I did get a nice surge of speed about 10km in, as I was passed by a group of about 20 riders from a subsequent wave who were only going marginally faster than me, giving me several minutes out of the wind and a bit more speed, although that was brought to an end when we all hit a massive pothole, forcing me and a couple of others to stop to rescue escaped water bottles (this is actually an ongoing theme for me, as I try to find some bottle cages for my seatpost carrier which don't either break or allow bottles to fall out when used in this slightly unconventional orientation).  By the time I crossed the M1 and reached Kegworth, I was pretty much on my own.  Still, I consoled myself, triathlon is all about the long solo efforts.

I arrived at the first food station at about 53km, to find that they had run out of everything but energy drink.  Unfortunately, I found this after I had just used my remaining bottle of water to mix up my own, then gone to refill with water.  Not ideal, since I don't like drinking energy drinks constantly, or having the taste of it left in my mouth.

(This is the only criticism I could make of the event organisation.  I'm fine with them having run out of food - I was right at the back of the field, it's hard for them to predict how much people will take, and they don't want to end up with a load left over.  I'd taken enough food with me to get through the day.  But there should be water all round the course.  The energy drink had been mixed up from powder at the food station itself.  It would have been much better, in my opinion, if they had kept the water as water, and just had the powder there for people to mix their own up if they wanted it) 

I seemed to spend less time stationary than most, and so left the food stop back in a group of about ten riders, the pace having slackened enough from the early over-enthusiasm (permit me, the tortoise of the fable, to feel smug at this point) to allow me to stick with them and have a chat.  Notable amongst them was a chap riding an Elliptigo, much to the bemusement of pretty much everyone.

Passing underneath Belvoir (for the non-locals, pronounced 'beaver' - no really) Castle, we came out into the open, and with it a howling crosswind, somewhat alarming at 25mph plus downhill with a deep section front wheel in.  It was almost a relief to make the turn to start climbing the ridge itself - two successive climbs of 10-15%, but well sheltered by the hedges on either side.

Then we turned back westwards, into the wind, and the horror began.  Below is a screenshot of the speed trace for the whole ride.  I'm sure you can guess which part was travelling with the wind, and which part was against it.

Here's a closeup of the segment from 80-100km.  The first slow section, around 66km, is the first steep climb.  The second steep climb is around 70-71km.  The entire stretch from 74-78km - during which I'm going just as slow as on those climbs - was pretty much level - but on high ground and very, very exposed.  

It was a surreal experience - the sorts of speeds and gears you might associate with mountain biking in particularly muddy conditions, yet on a dead flat tarmac road.  As one point I stopped to pick up a guy who had been blown into a foot-deep pothole at the edge of the road and gone over the bars.

The second food stop, on the outskirts of Melton Mowbray, came round just short of 100km, and again there was no water, only energy drink, although I did get half a banana this time.  Again I seemed to move off again quicker than most, and there were a lot of people at this stop who I didn't see again - including the guy on the Elliptigo.

At 122km, my old Aim MyTach GPS watch flashed up a low battery warning.  I stopped it recording, turned it off, and set the Strava app on my phone running instead for the sake of having a record, but this left me 'flying blind' in terms of the speed I was doing and the distance remaining.  I was reduced to just watching the time on my heart rate monitor, estimating how far I'd been, and trying to reassure myself that I would get back before they turned the timing mats off at 6pm, ten hours after the start. 

(Incidentally, since then I've bought a Garmin 910XT, which promises a 20 hour battery life as well as a lot more cycling and triathlon specific features than the motorsport-oriented MyTach)

The next 10km or so from there - passing to the south of Loughborough and towards the M1 - was all uphill in terms of the road, and mostly downwards in terms of my state of mind.  My left knee, which had been giving the odd twinge since halfway through the day, was now protesting loudly at the idea of climbing.  I spent most of the time between about 110km and 150km pondering the idea of stopping, but whether it was because I didn't fancy sitting still waiting to be picked up, or if I was just slightly too stupid to act on the thought, I kept moving.

I re-entered familiar territory as the route approached the A42, although this turned out to be a mixed blessing.  I knew the roads and had a feel for what was coming up, but I also suspected that, while I was close to home, I was actually too close for the distance required to get up to 160km, so the route wouldn't be heading directly in.  Probably the cruellest was at A42 J14, turned left, away from Derby, just as the heavens opened - without the wind I'd probably have finished before the rain arrived.

I was saved by the surprisingly cheerful ladies of the final food stop at Breedon-on-the-Hill.  'Surprisingly' because they had been standing around in the cold wind, with only a steadily disintegrating gazebo to keep the rain off, yet were still in good spirits and cheering everyone who came in.  Even better, they had jam sandwiches and plain water, although ironically, while I wolfed down a few of the former, I didn't bother topping up a bottle this close to home.

Re-energised (at least slightly), I set off for the final push, up through Breedon, Wilson, Melbourne, and Stanton-by-Bridge.  More downhill than up, so I was even moving at a reasonable pace for once.  I crossed Swarkestone bridge, then was passed by the Cycle Derby sweeper truck, who pulled in ahead as I rode up towards the A50.  Stuck head out of the window.  "Are you alright?" he said.  "Yes"  I shouted.  "No, I'm really not but I'm not stopping now" I thought. 

Past the turning for home and on towards the velodrome, with that wierd mix of emotions caused by fatigue, assorted aches and pains, but knowing that you're going to make it.  As I turned into the car park there wasn't much left but the timing mats. "Make sure you cross the line, then get in here and warm up", one of the organisers shouted from the Arena doorway.  Followed by "We did have an event village, but it blew away at about 11 o'clock this morning." when I'd made it inside, just under nine and a half hours after starting.

I just about managed to take my own gloves off, but had to ask one of the organisers to unclip my helmet.  "I'll just hang your finisher's medal on your bike shall I?" "Cheers".  Time to grab a hot chocolate and sit inside for a while to warm up while chatting to the other stragglers.  One guy planning a Lands End to John o'Groats ride, another a London-Paris.  I finally pulled myself together enough to ride the few miles home, taking me up to a total of 179.3k for the day - incidentally pretty much the cycle leg from an Ironman triathlon, although rest assured there was no question of me setting off to run a marathon at this point, more like a hot bath followed by inhaling vast quantities of pasta.


2015 Is Go! Nottingham University Varsity Triathlon.

So then somehow it was mid-March, with all the posts I'd been planning to write at the start of the year about racing goals and training plans still unwritten, and the first race of the year already finished.  I'd blame the (now just shy of eleven month old) little man again, but he gets blamed for all sorts of things, so let's just chalk this one up to my own laziness.

(Photo by Shawn Ryan)

The race was the inaugural University of Nottingham Varsity Triathlon, which took place on Sunday in the grounds of the University's Park Campus.  I wasn't actually expecting the tri season to kick off until May, and had been focusing my concerns on the 100 mile Cycle Derby Sportive - which I (foolishly?) entered in a flurry of optimism in January, before getting ill with a lingering cough and not going near the bike for two weeks - when this event popped into my Twitter feed a few weeks ago.

With a fairly early start time at 0920, a recommendation from the organisers to allow plenty of time for signing on, and the pessimism about Nottingham traffic that comes from working near the University during the week, I ended up leaving home around 0700 - meaning I was on my own, because there's no way we were getting the aforementioned little man out of the house by then (hence not much by the way of photos).  I was slightly concerned about the way the temperature reading in the car stubbornly refused to rise above 5 degrees on the way over, given I'd shortly be running out of a swimming pool in just a dripping wet tri-suit, but blue skies offered some hope.  

I arrived with plenty of time to sign on, figure out where the pool actually was, put a bit more pressure in the tyres, rack the bike and scope out the transition layout, and remember how awkward 'just popping to the toilet' is when wearing a tri-suit with warm clothes over the top, before dumping said clothes back in the car and making a swift move to the warmth of the pool building.

This event was run slightly differently to the two I did last year, with distinct waves rather than a continuous stream of people entering the pool.  Each wave of 32 (of which I was in the second) got a briefing before heading poolside, four people to each of the eight lanes, and set off at ten second intervals.  I thought it worked pretty well - no mismatch of pace between people at the start and end of their swim, a bit of reassurance that you've counted your lengths right because others are getting out at the same time, quite a long time before overtaking is necessary, and (crucially), every single person there had been told five minutes earlier "overtake by tapping feet at the ends of the lengths, not in the middle".  I was the second off in my lane, and there was very little between the first three of us - the guy behind overhauled me part way through but I then sat just behind him the rest of the way.  The fourth was slow enough to get lapped by the end, but got out of the way politely enough.

I exited the pool with all the elegance of a beached whale thanks to the high poolside and deep water, and didn't even think about the outside temperature as I headed to T1.  I thought I was fairly quick through the transition area itself (but the timing sheet says otherwise), then out for the 200m or so run down to the mount line, which made me glad that I was in mountain bike shoes rather than road shoes or barefoot - although the latter approach makes for an indisputably faster transition.

The cycle leg was five laps of a 3km loop contained entirely within the campus - which sounds easy on paper, and is short even for a sprint tri, but contained a lot of elevation change, a lot of acceleration, and a rather interesting chicane.  Although the campus was still open to general traffic, it was naturally quieter than the open road, and a one-way system had been enforced in the same direction as the race, so we could generally just concentrate on riding, with what cars there able to easily pass on the 'wrong' side of the road.  

(There was one exception - most of the entry points to the campus were well marshalled, and they were holding cars back when bikes were coming through, apart from one, where the marshall was only making sure people adhered to the one-way system, and waved cars onto the roundabout in front of me pretty much every lap - at the only junction with any real potential for danger, with bikes coming downhill at speed and trying to make a right turn.  The cars should have - and generally did - still stop, because the direction the bike course was coming from had right of way, but drivers have a nasty habit of assuming it's OK to go when someone in a yellow jacket points them in a certain direction, so I was always on edge preparing for an emergency stop at this point.  This is genuinely the only complaint I could possibly make about an otherwise brilliant event.)

After a slightly slow first lap trying to find my legs and figure out where the course went, the next four were pretty consistent (-ly painful), and included the satisfaction of flying past someone on a full-on TT bike on one of the climbs (where admittedly the bike wasn't really giving him any advantage) before it was time to get off the bike and make the long run back uphill to T2.  The sun was well and truly out by now, enough to merit grabbing sunglasses out of the transition bag before setting off on the run.

The run course covered an even greater height range (albeit only once rather than five times), following the cycle course over its highest point and down the first steep drop, a chance for a breather on the bike but a desperate attempt to avoid tripping over tired feet here.  Another short rise followed before diverging from the cycle course and dropping right down to the very bottom of the campus for a lap of the lake, dodging the families and pensioners out for their Sunday stroll.  Then back up, up, up, passing through the courtyard of the Trent Building on the way, before a final few hundred metres down to the finish.

Final results say 106th, and on closer inspection that the run is still my weakest point relative to the rest of the field (well, apart from transitions, but there's less time to lose there).  I think my running has improved over the winter, and I did a decent (for me) 5k off the back of a session on the rollers a week or so before the event, but the hills were the killer here - both on the bike and the run.  More work to do over the rest of the year.

(results from DBMax)

A mid-summer mini-adventure

Last weekend saw the second running of the Horizons Unlimited 'HUBB UK' event to be held at Donington Park Farm (following on from the old 'Travellers Meetings' held at Ripley, slightly further north).

Shamefully, despite having had these events on our doorstep since moving to the Derby/Nottingham area nearly nine years ago, we'd never managed to make it to either one (quite often due to actually being away somewhere) .  In an effort to rectify this situation, I'd signed us up for this year's event over Christmas (with Sarah five months pregnant).  The original plan was that - baby Toby having arrived in the meantime - we'd use this as a test run for family camping somewhere where we could easily bail out for home at any time of the day or night.  In the end, we decided we weren't quite ready to share a tent with an eight-week-old baby, and just made day-trips to the site from home on Thursday and Saturday.

 A few of our favourite speakers:

  • Ian MacNab, on lightweight cycle touring and racing the Tour Divide.
  • Helen Lloyd, on cycle (and horse!) touring in Asia, including Siberia in winter.
  • Simon Jarratt, on Australia and New Zealand in a VW T4 Transporter.
  • And of course, Grant and Susan Johnson, on the trip that started it all (at least as far as Horizons Unlimited is concerned).

And of course there is the fun of wandering around the site and taking a look at everyone's camping and travelling setups.

A herd of vintage Carawagon Land Rovers:

There were some very expensive and shiny demountable camper setups there, but I liked this one best.  This actually belongs to a guy from my local TRF group.  He reckons he can get the caravan off the back in under an hour to return it to a normal dropside LT35.

The cutest Kawasaki minibike and trailer combination:

RallyRaidProducts LC4-50, as raced by Jenny Morgan in the Hellas Rally (and to be raced by her in next years Dakar).

And where else would you find a C90 that's been ridden back from Mongolia parked next to an ex-California Highway Patrol Kawasaki cruiser?

By late afternoon on Saturday, Sarah was about ready to head home, while I was keen to see the inimitable Ed March talk about leading a group of complete strangers on Honda C90s (including the one above) on a ride from Ulaanbaatar to the UK.  Fine, said Sarah, as long as I dropped her home first, I could even camp overnight.  There was just one problem in my head - I could justify to myself turning up in the car with Toby, but doing so on my own to an "adventure travel" event would be a bit lame.  Even taking the Tenere seemed like overkill when the destination was only five miles down the road.

There was only one possible solution:

Tent strapped to the bars of the trusty Tricross, sleeping bag, mat, and a few other essentials stuffed into my Kriega R35.  The ride back would be about 90% off-road, including fighting through some somewhat overgrown bridleways:

Back at the event site, I tracked down rally-buddy Tony and set up camp opposite him.  Satisfyingly, the bike also fitted nicely inside the tipi with me.

Accommodation for the night sorted, Tony and I headed to the bar for a couple of beers before sitting down to watch Ed's (extremely funny presentation).

New Wheels

(just not of the sort you might be expecting - well it does say 'mostly' motorcycles at the top, not 'only')

Strangely, having spent eight weeks in the US, travelling by motorcycle, truck, train, and car, I returned home really fired up about cycling.  The fact my last few days were spent in Portland, the self proclaimed "America's bicycle capital" contributed somewhat, but the thought actually originated somewhere back on the East Coast in the first week of the trip.

After a couple of weeks getting back into the swing of things, I dug out my ancient Claude Butler rigid mountain bike (which I've had since I was 16) from the back of the shed, stuck some slick tyres on it, and started riding the 15 miles (each way) to work and back as often as my legs and motivation could manage - which typically turned out to be twice a week.  I persisted until mid-September when it started getting a bit gloomy at 7:30am - I feel a bit too vulnerable on some of the country roads around here in the dark - then went back to using the Tenere every day.

The hybridised (bastardised?) MTB worked pretty well, but I had the yearning for something a bit faster - I could just about get the average speed into the mid-16s (mph), and thus the time down to about 55 minutes, but wasn't getting any further on MTB gearing and fat tyres.

I started looking at cyclocross bikes after a friend of mine got really into CX racing.  The idea appeals to the same part of me that thinks racing the Tenere is a good idea - it's not really made for serious dirt-riding compared to a smaller enduro bike, but it can cope with a lot, while being a lot better between the trails or for riding to work on.  A CX bike appears to me to have exactly the same attributes compared to a mountain bike.

The downside is that, while there are some very cheap new road bikes out there, the bottom end of the more niche CX market is about twice the price, and not really something I was going to be able to afford for a while after emptying my bank account into the US trip.  So I didn't really have any serious intentions of buying one. Then I happened to mention this to the aforementioned friend, who in turn happened to mention that, having upgraded to a more 'serious' bike for racing, his old Specialized Tricross had been relegated to winter hack duty, but that he would be prepared to part with it for a decent price.

A few weeks later, last weekend, I managed to pick it up, taking advantage of a weekend where we were visiting other friends to avoid making a special trip from Derby to South Wales.  I got it back home late on Sunday night, excited to have a new toy to play with, but with no opportunity to take it for a ride - at work all week, and dark in the evenings.  Then I noticed during the week that, with the clocks going back, it's now light again when I go to work.  That means it's pitch black when I normally leave, but I finish early on Fridays - and therefore could do both journeys in daylight.

So today I gave it its first outing, during which I mostly learnt that, while the bike may in theory be faster, the loss of fitness from not cycling for seven weeks more than cancels it out.  I also learnt that not eating enough lunch because the sandwich van didn't turn up to the office is A Bad Thing when you have to cycle 15 miles home in driving rain - I was even slower than on the outward leg, then completely ran out of energy about three miles from home.  Fortunately, there was cake when I eventually wobbled through the front door.

Better get some weekend winter training routes planned out.

"Why does it always rain on me, is it because I've gone out in public wearing man-tights?"

Some Nerdiness:

As of today, I have been to work 90 times since I got back from the US.  That breaks down as 18 times by bicycle, 71 times by motorcycle, and once in the truck.  The latter was in my first week back, and was such a good reminder of why commuting into a city on four wheels is stupid that I have not repeated it.  

My cycling frequency therefore stands at exactly 20%, or once a week on average.  It reached a high of 33% some time in September before it started getting dark at either end of the day.  It will decline further over the winter, but I'm interested to see how high I can get the whole-year average (to the end of June 2014).