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.