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.  

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.

Update: Racing, Not-racing, and more racing

It's been a while since I last sat down and worked up the motivation to write anything.  A six month old baby will do that for you.  I left off having just completed my first sprint triathlon, and entered my second.  Since then, I've done that second triathlon, a 50-mile cycle sportive (the 'not-racing' part), and as of last weekend, made my first foray into the world of cyclocross.

The triathlon was the PMA Racing Derby Sprint Triathlon, run out of the village of Etwall, out to the west of the city.  The swim was carnage - 25m pool and narrow lanes meant it was much more congested than at 33m Moorways two weeks earlier, especially since I seemed to have drawn a lane full of people who had massively over-estimated their ability when entering their predicted swim time (which determines the start order) on the entry form.  I had a couple of head-on collisions, which I'm pretty sure were with the same person from the next wave after mine.  Once my fault and once his, and probably both the result of frustration with the traffic.

Out of the pool (timestamps on Sarah's photos from poolside show I was within 15 seconds of my predicted time, just saying) and I think I was a bit more efficient through transition, aided by elastic laces and not bothering with either gloves or jersey, but hindered by getting a bit unsighted looking for my spot in the racks.  Unfortunately the timing mats were having a bit of a bad day, and a lot of us didn't get a full set of split times, so there's no definitive measure of how long it took.  I do know that I started the cycle leg a few seconds behind a female competitor who had been in my start wave and who I'd beaten out of the pool, so there's still work to do.

After the unwelcome shock of the first 500m or so being a reasonably steep uphill, I settled into the bike and my newly acquired aerobars.  In contrast to the City Tri's urban out-back-out-back course, here we had a single loop round quiet country roads to the west of Derby - well, quiet apart from the convoy of vintage tractors heading in the other direction half way round, which was a bit of a squeeze to get past on the narrow roads without giving up too much speed.

Through T2, and out onto the run - again with the not-entirely-welcome treat of two 45-degree grass slopes to climb to get off the playing fields and out onto the roads.  In the photo above I'm looking at the second of those climbs, hence the look of distress.  I did get into the swing of it, and was even able to smile for the finish line photo, but still too slow - the same lady from my start wave, who I'd repassed and gapped on the cycle, breezed past me a couple of minutes in to the run, and pulled a good five minutes on me by the finish line.  Some work to do over the winter.

(photos courtesy of the organisers and Sport Sunday photography)

The weekend after was the Cycle Derby Sportive - the 'not-racing' bit of the title, despite involving a marked course, a mass start, and timing chips.  I opted for the 50-mile variant, had a brief pang of regret at the start for not going for the 100-miler, but it was definitely the right call, as there was a lot of climbing involved.  Completed the course at an average of 15mph, including a few stops for food and for losing a contact lens half way round.  I carried a camera the whole way round without taking any pictures en-route, so here's one of the new Derby Velodrome at the start.

And finally, this weekend, I made my first foray into cyclocross with NDCXL at a very muddy Markeaton park.  Not terribly successfully - I fell off the back of the pack within about five minutes, then got passed by the under-23s and most of the ladies, and lapped twice by the leaders before the bell.  Then with the end in sight the rear-mech hanger snapped about a third of the way into the final lap, leaving me to carry back to the pits for a DNF.

I came home from my first triathlon, fired up the laptop and entered the second.  Having done the second, I've already got several pencilled into the diary for next year, and am currently trying to figure out a winter training routine to make myself faster.  Likewise, doing a 100-mile sportive is a definite goal for 2015.  As for 'cross, much as I wanted to like it, the jury's still out, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I expected it to be difficult, and to be at the back of the field, but thought there'd be enough spread to give me someone to race against - as was the case with enduro, rally, and triathlon.  As it turned out, I'd need to make a massive improvement to even be at the back of the field.

Secondly, I felt a bit out of place.  Judging by the pits, about two-thirds of the field had turned up with two bikes, a petrol-powered jet-washer, and a helper to wash and service the bike they weren't riding so they could swap bikes each lap.  Most of the remaining third was people who couldn't find a helper but had still brought two bikes.  Two people didn't have a spare bike, but had left a spare pair of wheels in the pits - and one of them had also DNF'd with a broken rear mech hanger.  I had a box with a couple of tubes and a pump.

A bit of a post-DNF grump? Possibly.  As it turns out, I can't do either of the rounds in December anyway due to other commitments, so I've got until mid-January to decide whether I want to have another go.