Racing in 2015

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.

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Paratriathlon & guiding

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. 

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This triathlon thing has been a bit all consuming this year. I’m a natural obsessive but this year it’s been a huge topic. More people have been going hard to qualify for a spot at the home World Champs in London, everybody has been upping their games, the races have been bigger, faster, and as a result harder, and as much as people are doing triathlon everyone has been talking triathlon.

I love talking the talk, analysing and planning as much as anyone else, catching up with the guys and girls in the club (who have been kicking me hard this year & showing what they can do with focus and work) and finding out what the pros are up to, but right now I’m feeling the need for distraction. I guess it’s partly because there’s a big race coming up. I’m nearly ready (er, my bike is nearly kinda ready too), stuff is booked and it’s costing an arm and a leg. It’s London, so it’s expensive, and I’m taking the whole family up for an extended weekend. I have to register on Friday, race on Sunday, will watch the uber-fast pro’s race on Saturday and Sunday, and on Tuesday evening my book, Embryology at a Glance, is up for a British Medical Association (BMA) medicine book of the year award so we’re staying through until Wednesday. Monday is booked up for dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum as my daughter is really, really (really) into dinosaurs. I’m possibly more excited about that than I am about the World Champs.

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Gower Sprint Triathlon 2013

(The photo isn't from the race - it's an example of getting  held up on the Gower!)
I raced yesterday morning at Port Eynon in one of the few races I’ve managed to get to the start line of every year of my short triathlon *career* so far. It’s a local race, and even though the start is just down the road it’s always a very early morning even for me, the local. It’s worth getting up in the dark to see the dawn gradually appearing and the deep blue sky’s gradient filter change as you drive over the Gower by the sea. The sun came out from behind the early clouds as I was warming up for the swim and made me briefly reconsider my goggle choice. The sea was warm (by British standards) and the blue sky was out for most of the rest of the day.

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Summer’s here, and for us in medical education it’s a surprisingly busy time. The academic year is too long, and the gap in between is too short to run all the re-sit exam papers, prepare properly for the next year and take a holiday. I managed a week away in Pembrokeshire last week with lots of steep hill training, which seems to have dulled my legs this week but was a good period of strengthening and whatnot. It’s always nice to train somewhere different and I spent a fair bit of time in the sea with the kids, and seeing how my stroke changes transfer to open water (very well, and I see/feel the advantages now). I rode and ran on parts of the Ironman Wales course. I know the course pretty well, but every time I get back on those roads I fancy that race less and less. What a tough bugger it must be.

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Up and away

Day 248
I’m off to Turkey tomorrow for the European Triathlon AG Championships in Alanya. I’ll be racing in the standard distance event on Friday morning, and I’m looking forward to having a good crack at it. I think my form is coming around, and Friday will be a test of my training over the last x months since breaking my clavicle last year. I think my training has gone well, so with some luck I might be able to squeeze out a good effort and a respectable performance to go with it.

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Finishing my (winter?) base training

This week I’m coming to the end of my base block of training. For nearly 3 months I’ve been building my training load by increasing volume and workout intensity bit by bit, with an easier week every 4 weeks to allow myself to recover. Most of that work has been aerobic, but more recently some faster paced stuff has been added. My fitness has been building nicely, I’m feeling strong, movement in the water feels good, running is going well (touch wood, cross fingers) and the biking seems to be going well with a higher functional threshold power output than last year.

I am tired. That’s normal right now and a good sign, but I’m looking forward to some easy days and some more testing next week. And a lie in or two.

This week has been a bit nuts with a lot of work, blocks of my timetable taken up by various things and training getting squeezed out into early mornings as the sessions have been a bit longer. I swam a 5km session this week too which is the biggest single swim I’ve done, and swimming makes me sleepy. Up early and in the gym this morning I was already tired, and I had more than 4km to swim later in the morning with a bunch of 400m reps at threshold pace. It went rather well though. A good sign!

My right calf has been a little tight this week, so I skipped the box jumps to help everything recover a little for tomorrow’s long run. I’m running 5 days a week so I need to be a bit careful.

Speaking of tomorrow’s run, here’s an example of fitting training in with working and family. I did a set of hill reps on the bike first thing in the morning yesterday and rode back past my house to pick up my bag on the way to work. I had planned to run in the afternoon and then ride home, but my last meeting was rather long so instead I ran home (with a little extra loop to make up the volume). Once home my day was done & I could eat with the family and put the kids to bed without having to go out again. But of course that left my bike in work and I needed to get into the gym early this morning. Drive? Nah. I rode another bike in this morning, gym, work, swim, work, cycle home, leaving some warm cycling kit in my office and a couple of quid. Why? Tomorrow I’ll do my long run from home, over about 20km by the sea to work. I’ll get rid of my wet kit, spend the cash in the vending machines and grab a snack, put on the warm cycling stuff and ride the other bike home. Job done!

Jack’s got a laser tag birthday party in the afternoon, so I can give myself plenty of time to help with that. Then all I’ll have left to do is a long, 5 hour(ish) ride on Sunday with a little bricked run off the bike. I hope it’s not too wet and cold – the weather has turned again. Wish me luck.

Gower Sprint Triathlon 2010

Gower Triathlon winners 2010
So this has been a challenging weekend so far. I’m not sure what the lesson is but it’s in there.
I invited a mate and his family to come and stay with us and to enter today’s Gower Triathlon. Garry and I used to bike race together when we were half our current ages and now we have somehow both drifted towards triathlon. I thought it might be a good battle as I guessed my swim would be better than his, his bike leg would be faster than mine and who knows what would happen then in the run?
I took him round the bike course yesterday and we had a swim in Port Eynon while the families played on the beach (we did too a little!) The weather ended up being a lot better than expected and I seemed to collect most of the sun on my head. Normally I have a cap with me, but I thought it was going to be rainy, not sunny. Later in the evening a stonking headache began, and when I looked in the mirror I realised that the cause was a red face, rather than a resurgence of the mild fever I had earlier in the week. I’d fried my brain.
Trying to get an early night and a good sleep before the 5am start paracetamol dulled the pain but I got little sleep and was up all night peeing. But not drinking anything. That can’t be good. At 5am I felt no better but drove to the race with Garry and a wet flannel on my head drinking as much as I could keep in my stomach to try and rehydrate. I didn’t think I’d start the race.
Registered, kit together, transition sorted, wetsuit half on and it was clear I was going to at least get in the water. Maybe the cold water would help. My wetsuit fits poorly and the cold water flowing down my neck probably alleviated my symptoms. What the hell, race on.
It was great to bump in to some of the club guys on the beach & I found one of my students (Alistair) – a good swimmer. I’d like to hold his feet in the swim. The race eventually started & I just hammered the swim, got some draft, was pretty straight to the buoys & came out right next to Alistair. Excellent. Good swim.
I’ve been poor at running to transition but ran faster today up the beach, feeling ok. Hammering the bike up the hill out of Port Eynon I picked up most of the places ahead of me, another before the climb, another on the climb and then belted the rest of the bike course on my own. Lots of rain to keep my poor head cool and a course I knew really well. Lovely. I took the descent back down to the beach a lot faster than I’d expected too so I must have been having fun. Another good effort.
Off the bike, out onto the beach for the run and I was clear behind and ahead. I had a big gap to pick up so I pushed hard for the first lap through soft sand, shallow dunes, huge muddy puddles and boardwalks. At the turn to lap 2 it was clear I wasn’t catching and no-one was catching me so I kept up a decent effort but took safer lines after nearly turning my ankle on a couple of hidden holes. Finish safe. I knew I was in 3rd or 4th place.
There was a good crowd at the finish and a nice finishing chute so I enjoyed that. As I was recovering Garry finished, way too close to me for comfort. Fit boy! Shortly after him Cardiff Tri jerseys started appearing, plus more students and friends. Great!
Waiting around for the prize giving my headache and sore neck started to reform & I started to feel like crap again. I don’t understand how I was able to race at that intensity feeling that bad before and after. Maybe it was the cold water. I still don’t feel any better now, writing this.
Officially 4th, Richard Jones was kind enough to stand aside for me to be awarded 3rd (open category age group) on account of him being an awesome ex-international triathlete. Thanks, Rich. A nice bit of glory for me, my face in the paper and a nice prize.
And my name next to Richard Jones’ on the results sheet. Just don’t look at the time difference.