It’s almost the end of August, the end of the summer holidays, the kids are back to school next week and we get our new first year medical students too. It’s also my final (3rd?) attempt to peak my fitness for triathlon in 2015, which is probably tougher mentally than physically. I got it right the first time for the Welsh Champs, and felt like I did a pretty good job of recovering, training hard, and recovering again in the 3 week period between that race and the European Champs in Geneva. My performance there was pretty good, coming out of the swim with the winner in my age group, and biking a pretty good effort. I had a strategy to try to slow the raising of my core body temperature which turned out to be important as I picked up a bunch of places on the run. Ultimately the heat got to me and I went bang on the run with about 800m to go, but I’ve got some ideas of how I can prepare myself physiologically for future hot races. I wonder if I could have pushed the middle lap of the run harder, after hurting a lot on the first lap. Statistically the best part of my race was the swim. That’s never happened before. Maybe I’m getting somewhere in the water at last!
Tomorrow we’re off to XTERRA England in the Vachery Estate in Surrey for another camping weekend. I fixed the tent poles last night and bought some huge pegs after getting battered by winds in North Wales. XTERRA was great fun last year, for me and the family. The course is great, and it has a more relaxed feel with a big emphasis on fun. And beer. I wonder if it will be different this year, with a stronger field as it’s also the European XTERRA Champs this year. My biking legs have been good, I’ve done hardly any swimming, and my running legs are falling off but I’ll give it a good crack!
I think most athletes that have been competing at their sport for a number of years feel like they’re struggling to continue to progress. You can measure progression in some areas, you feel like you’re improving, but results often don’t match up. Competition is like that – if we’re all improving and comparing ourselves with each other, how can we really see improvement?
This year, probably for a number of reasons, most notably avoiding injury for a long period of time, my fitness and ability seem to have kicked on to another level at long last. I’m able to get skinny & still train strongly, and my running has become better than ever. My cycling seems to have followed, at least on courses that test your power to weight ratio, and even though I’m swimming less, I’m swimming better. (I still don’t understand swimming). I lost the TTG Gloucester Triathlon in May by only 4 seconds to Richard Wilder (again), but I ran and swam really well. I won the Welsh Triathlon Standard Distance Championships in June with a performance that surprised me.
I spent a damp morning taking photos at the Cardiff Triathletes’ Try-a-Tri event today. I’ve been doing this for years and it never gets old. Even on an unusually rainy race day everyone seemed to be having a great time and overheard snippets of conversation at the finish line told of fun, a challenge, and personal competition. I wonder how many of these novice athletes will move on to more races, triathlon or otherwise.
Photos are up on Flickr, here.
This is a very late race report. One of the things about the last triathlon of the year is that you look forward to the season ending and the start of doughnuts, lying in bed in the morning, and shifts in routine. I’ve also been lazy about writing up my last race of the season: the Bala standard distance triathlon and the last European Champs 2015 qualifier. For a flattish out and back race it was somewhat eventful.
I wasn’t feeling too sharp before the race and looking at the data afterwards I can see that my fitness has been gradually declining during the season because of all the racing I’ve been doing. You rest for some races, it takes a while to recover before you can really train properly again, and then you’re straight back into the next race. Although racing regularly sounds good for race fitness, it’s not. It may be more effective for shorter races but for 2 hours of triathlon the recovery is too hard.
I’ve had a bunch of favourite races this year and it’s difficult to pick out a number 1, but as a whole experience XTERRA is right up there and I can’t wait to do another one. What’s XTERRA? It’s a triathlon with a 1500m swim, a 30km (ish) mountain bike and a 10km (ish) cross country run. In XTERRA obstacles are put in your way, and your race is made as difficult as possible. Something that summed up the mindset of the organisers for me was a big branch that had been part sawn through so that it crossed the bike trail at head height. Love it.
XTERRA England was held in the Vachery Estate near Cranleigh, Surrey; not a particularly hilly place. The course was created from a lake swim, grassy fields, and copses that were hacked, cleared, and filled with logs and fallen trees. The bike course had alternating twisty sections of technical wooded single track and fields, and the run course matched this with 6ft ditches and a huge fallen oak to jump/climb over and a long path on the back section. I think the course had been put together by Sam Gardner and Richard Stannard, and when Richard passed me on the run he seemed to have been enjoying himself.
As a triathlete I’m selfish. I’m well organised, manage my time well, train hard, get the hours in, do lots of stuff with my family and work hard (at work). But nonetheless to do what I do I have to focus this stuff around me. Racing is about me and my performance. Training is about preparing myself for race day. The idea of doing all this for another person is a bit of a weird idea for many triathletes, but when the idea of guiding a visually impaired triathlete was mooted it sounded like a challenge. At the base of it, what I do is about challenge so why not make it harder and do something new: try to guide another athlete to his best performance? I find it difficult to say “no” when someone suggests something new, difficult and interesting.
As I turned 40 this year one of my aims was to race in all of the Welsh Triathlon Championship events this year and have a crack at some medals. I’ve failed, missing the duathlon champs with a small gastrocnemius tear, and I’ll miss the sprint triathlon champs because I’ve elected to race in XTERRA England instead and give myself a new challenge. I did make it to the Welsh Standard Distance Triathlon Championships at Llandudno a week after the Euros and then to the Welsh Aquathlon Championships the following week in Poppit Sands. Those races were rather good.
It’s been a busy few weeks, which, with some prolonged work stress in combination with the training and racing stress (physical stuff, don’t be a salmon, etc) has left me a bit knackered. The Ffit Conwy Llandudno Sea Triathlon has a cracking course. I was much better off swimming in a sea with a bit of swell than in a calm alpine lake, and the 2 lap course helped with pacing and tactics. I was having a chat with the starter in a kayak when she sounded the horn and started the race, so it was a low stress start too. Parp and we got going, failing to even start my watch and getting into a pairing chasing the leader around the buoys.
I raced at the European Triathlon Championships a week or so ago in Kitzbuhel, Austria. It’s getting easier to prepare for logistically each year, and this time I travelled with a group of team mates from Cardiff Triathletes. We drove, with trailer, bikes on the roof (careful now) and a ton of camping stuff and had a great week in the Tyrolean Alps.
Kitzbuhel is a great location for summer racing; triathlon, biking or running. Big hills, warm lakes, winding roads and paths. The swim route in the Schwarzsee was pretty (and flat), the bike course was narrow, hilly, winding (maybe optimistically so) and superbly steep in places, and the rolling run course used a mix of narrow trails and tarmac around the lake. With 4 laps of the bike course and 2 laps of the run course in the standard distance race we got to go up and down a lot.
I haven’t raced any of the Parc Bryn Bach aquathlons, but I know that they’re a popular weekly summer series. It’s almost impossible for me to get to after work. I asked the family as it was a half-term holiday this week and they fancied going up on Thursday evening, and as I need to get some open water racing practice I thought I’d pop up and have a crack. The sun was out and it wasn’t raining. Apparently this was unusual.
I like aquathlons. I’m not very good at them because I’m not a quick swimmer, but I like not having to pack very much. My entire transition set up is a pair of shoes.