Arundel Castle Triathlon – Olympic Distance

It’s 3am…….yes that’s right, 3am on Sunday 26th June.  My alarm has just gone off.  This can only mean one thing.  Time for the Arundel Castle Triathlon.

As regular blog readers will know, triathlon involves a lot of getting up early in the morning.  I have complained vociferously about this in the past; however on this occasion I didn’t mind getting up early.  It has been over 9 months since I last competed in a triathlon and I was keen to dust off the cobwebs and get out on the course.

Breaking with tradition, I had actually packed up my gear and put it all in the car the night before, so a quick breakfast and it was out the door and on the way to Arundel.

In 2015 and 2014 I competed in the Arundel Lido Triathlon, which is a pool swim of 800m, then a 40k bike and a 10k run.  Having not enjoyed the pool element of the swim, I was pleased that the same organisers also run Arundel Castle Triathlon, which is a river swim of 1500m, a 40k bike and then a 10k run.

The bike course is different from Arundel Lido.  Flatter and faster.  The run is still super hilly, although rather than undulating hills it is one big drag uphill and then a fast downhill after, although you do this twice as it is two 5k laps.  As for the swim, this is in the river Arun, one of the fastest flowing rivers in the country.  The fast flowing nature of the river is the reason we had to start so early.  The triathlon kicked of at 5:15am, which was “slack water”.  In other words, there would be little to no flow at that point, as the river is tidal.

Arriving in Arundel I parked in transition and quickly got my stuff organised.  I spotted Curry on the way in, and also quickly met up with Dempo, who were both competing with me at this event.  Curry is a Grazing Saddles teammate, but this would be the first ever triathlon for Dempo.

Fielding a whole bunch of “rookie” questions from Dempo, such as “which part of the bike is the front” and “is it OK to swim backstroke”, we were all into our wetsuits and then off to the rivers edge.

This is Dempo

Dempo was swimming in the first wave, due to the fact that he is actually part fish.  Have you seen that film Waterworld?  Well if you have, then that is Dempo.  He has competed in numerous endurance open water swims and his place in the fastest wave of swimmers was well deserved.

Curry and I were swimming in the second wave, so as soon as the first had gone off we were into the water and strategically made our way to the back of the bunch.  I had completed a grand total of 1 swim training session in the preceding 9 months, so was not too confident of a good swim time. 

We had been warned that there was a lot of “debris” in the river, such as seaweed, bits of floating wood etc so as soon as the klaxon sounded and the thrashing upstream began, we quickly swam into a good old bunch of seaweed.

Unfortunately this slowed down those in front, and I found myself swimming into the back of a lot of people.  I probably should have started a bit closer to the front of the pack, but in all honesty I wasn’t bothered.  The group soon thinned out and I was into a rhythm, swimming as fast as I dared on the back of almost no training.  

The floating seaweed rafts continued as we went upriver.  It seemed like forever to get up to the buoy, turn around, and head back to the swim start where we would exit.  As soon as we turned downstream I realised why.  Whilst this was supposed to be “slack water”, there was still a bit of current and it was a joy to swim back to the start with this helping me.

Exiting the water post swim

Hauling myself out of the water it was a quick jog into transition to jump onto the bike.  I had managed the swim in around 34 minutes, which is way off pace for 1500m, but as I had done almost no swim training I couldn’t really complain.

Just out of T1.  Feet still not in shoes!

Entering transition my triathlon pedigree showed through, as in less than a minute I was out of my wetsuit, helmet on and jogging towards the bike mount area.  As soon as I reached this, I jumped on my bike and started pedaling away.  My shoes were already clipped into my pedals so it was just a simple task of slipping my feet into the shoes and off I went.  Well I say simple task.  Due to the shoes deciding to velcro themselves shut it took me about 2 minutes of messing about at a very slow speed to actually get my feet in.  So much for a speedy transition.

Due to all this messing about Curry slid past me on the bike, with a hearty “come on Snooky”.  I thought he was probably in front of me after the swim but it was good to see him as we cycled out of Arundel and up our first little hill towards Crossbush.  I was determined to put in a good bike time so as Curry started to slow up the hill I overtook him and concentrated on a good strong start to the bike leg.

As the bike leg continued onwards I felt good.  My legs felt powerful, my heart rate was in check and I was overtaking quite a few people.  This was a new experience for me, as usually I am the one being overtaken.  My main aim was to try and keep a steady pace and leave enough in the tank for what I knew was a hilly run.  

On top of a hill, with people actually behind me!

During any bike leg of a triathlon, when things are going well my mind always wanders.  On the same day as my triathlon, my friend Mick was competing in his first Ironman event in Bucklers Hard.  I was thinking of him, and his extremely long, tough day ahead.  At the same time I was remembering my Ironman, how it felt and the elation of crossing the line.  Triathlon is a strange world.  Unless you have done one it is very hard to explain, but you feel a connection with every triathlete worldwide.  I was wishing Mick every luck as I sped through the Sussex countryside.

As the kilometres clicked by I made sure to keep hydrated and took on board a couple of energy gels to make sure I had a bit in the tank for the run.  In just over 1hr 20 minutes the 40k was up and I was back off the bike running into transition for the second and final time.  Again I managed a super fast transition, and in less than a minute I was running out of the transition area and off on a 2 lap 5k run around Swanbourne lake.  

Yes that’s right, I run in sandals

I knew this run would have one very sizeable hill in it, but only when I got to the hill for the first time did I appreciate its relentless nature.  Running is not my strong point, and my legs felt a bit crampy as I started to climb the very steep hill.  I was determined not to walk, but inevitably my pace slowed and I was overtaken.  I managed to keep up a slow jog and made it to the top of the hill on lap 1.  It was at this point, about 15 minutes into my run that I started to feel really good.  I knew I had a long downhill before making my way round the lake for lap 2.  Upping my cadence (steps per minute for the uninitiated) I flew down the hill for the first time and overtook somebody.  Yes readers, that’s right, I actually overtook somebody on the run leg of a triathlon.

This was the first ever time this has happened, and to say I was pleased was an understatement.  I knew I would be at least 55 minutes on my 10k, which is hardly Mo Farah pace, but to overtake somebody was sublime.  Most importantly I still felt good, so made the conscious decision to up my pace for the second lap.  This increase in pace felt OK, so as I got to the hill for the second time I powered my way up and felt much stronger than the first lap.  Throwing everything into it I flew down the hill into Arundel, then ran the final kilometre of the run in under 5 minutes (good pace for me) and was absolutely delighted to cross the finish line in 2:57:50, under 3 hours and almost 30 minutes faster than my previous Olympic Distance best.

Needless to say I was more than pleased.  Dempo was finished well before me (no huge surprise there) and Curry crossed the line shortly after I did.  I also bumped into an old friend from a previous job, who had finished in the top 20.  Superb result Andrew!

Almost over the line

So all in all a good day of competing.  Not bad for an old man who had only done 5 weeks training.  Having had a chance to reflect on this triathlon it is now clear to me that I must be fairly fit.  For those of you who have read my blog from the start, you will be aware what a great feeling this is for me.  I went through injury, self-doubt and sheer panic as I blundered my way towards Challenge Weymouth last year.  9 months on from that my fitness has stayed with me enough to be able to do a sub 3 hour Olympic Distance triathlon on very little training.  To say I am chuffed would be about right. 

Spurred on by this success, I have booked a half Ironman in September.  Only 11 weeks to go till that event, so as soon as this is published it is time to write a training plan.I’m really looking forward to the race and hopefully beating my previous half Ironman best time.



16 days to go – now to get rid of my cold!

I have a cold.  I have had a cold for over a week now .  It just doesn’t seem to be going away.  I caught this cold off of my kids and we have a whole household of coughing, spluttering, snotty people.  Nobody has escaped.

All logic says that when you have a cold you shouldn’t train.  You should give your body time to recover from it’s illness and then resume training once you feel better.  Quality, after all, is better than quantity.

Ignoring my own advice, on Sunday 24th August Bushy and I went down to Weymouth to ride the Ironman bike course, all 112 miles of it.  I felt less than brilliant when he picked me up just before 6am on the Sunday.  My cold was in full effect, energy levels were very low and I had slept appallingly.  Usually Bushy and I will banter away with each other constantly when we meet up, but on this morning he commented that I seemed to have nothing to say for myself.  Clearly I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

Arriving at Weymouth

The weather forecast for Sunday morning in Weymouth was bad.  Not light rain, but heavy rain and wind.  Regular blog readers will know how much I love riding in the wind.  Unperturbed, Bushy and I trundled along down the south coast towards Weymouth.  As we got closer and closer the weather closed in and by the time we arrived it was like a monsoon.  We parked in the car park that will be the transition area on the day of the race.  As you can see from the picture, the weather was not the best.

Following a brief discussion, mostly consisting of “are we really going to do this” we got out of the car and started to get ready.  The plan was to create an aid station in the boot of Bushy’s car.  We would carry enough food and water to get us round one lap of the 56 mile course, stopping halfway to resupply and then go around again.  Neither of us are particularly quick on the bike, so we were aiming for 4 hours for each lap. This is an average speed of 14mph, which is by no means fast but about right for our Ironman bike pace.  Remember that we have to run a marathon after cycling 112 miles so we need to leave something in the tank!

You can just make out our
new friend and his bike

Getting ready to ride at the same time was a very nice chap who told us he was there to ride the bike course in preparation for his first ever Ironman.  He was older than us, but whippet thin and one of those people who just looked fit.  Tall and lean with a very nice beard, he clearly knew he was a better triathlete than us and we clearly knew it too.  I remarked to Bushy that I often wonder what other triathletes think of us when we meet them.  We looked like two blokes who woke up one day and said “lets do an Ironman”.  He looked like a seasoned and well prepared campaigner.  It is funny how accurate looks can be at times.

Chatting further with our new friend, it turned out he was going for one lap round the course as he was in his “taper”.  A taper is when you reduce your training load to allow your body to maximise its strength and endurance ahead of your race. Made popular by top flight endurance athletes who train really hard and then back down to allow their body to reach peak fitness, it has slipped into the amateur ranks and many triathletes spend as much time talking about tapering as they do talking about how light their bikes are.  Anyway, he was tapering 3 weeks out from the event, which is a fairly long taper.  Each to their own I suppose, plus only an Ironman triathlete would consider a 56 mile bike ride to be “reducing their training”.  Soon we finished chatting and he was off into the gloom and rain on his very nice looking bike.  

Not long after this, after a considerable bit of messing about (I am the master of messing about), we headed off into the gloom ourselves.  It was raining…….hard.  The first part of the bike course is a climb up onto the “Ridgeway” and then you have about 35 miles of rolling Dorset countryside before another long gentle climb and then a drop back down into Weymouth.

One lap of the bike course

We made sure to stick to our nutrition plan (something to eat every 30 minutes) and cycled along, sticking fairly closely to our target average speed.  It was very very wet and we rode through numerous puddles and areas of standing water.  Within about 20 minutes we were both soaked…….and we stayed that way.

In nice weather I imagine the bike course would be absolutely beautiful, but in the rain and gloom it was hard to see where you were going, let alone any sort of view.

Cool map showing the topography of the course

Towards the end of the ride I started to feel bad.  Just lacking in energy.  Slow and lethargic. It was obvious that my cold had caught up to me.  I was pleased to have gotten as far as I had before feeling poor. Bushy whizzed off into the distance and I was playing catch up.  I had very little in the tank, was freezing cold and my wet clothing had rubbed my skin in a few places that you don’t want rubbed. Approaching the end of the first lap there was no way I was going out for a second. Competing in weather like this is fair enough. Riding for “fun” in awful conditions is something quite different.  

When we got back to the car for the end of lap one I told Bushy that I was done.  When it came to calling it a day, he didn’t take much convincing and soon we were into our dry clothes and on the way home to Pompey.

Despite not making the full 112 miles, 56 miles had been ridden in awful conditions.  The best part about it is that we had completed one lap of the course in just over 3hrs 35mins, which was 25 minutes faster than planned.  We had also averaged 15mph, 1mph faster than planned and allowing for the awful weather this was a great result.

On the day, in decent weather and when I do not have a cold (hopefully) then I think the bike course will be great.  112 miles is a very different beast than 56; however as soon as I start lap 2 of my bike ride on the 13th September I will know that all I have left is 56 miles of cycling and a marathon.

Whilst to most this sounds like a lot, to me I am half way done and only have half way to go. I will be half way to being an Ironman!

Before I go, a very quick update on my fundraising. I am absolutely delighted to say that I am 60% of my way towards my fundraising target of paying for a day’s care at Chestnut Tree House.  The generosity that people have shown towards my endeavour is astounding, with well over £4000 raised so far.  A brilliant total, so to those of you reading this who have donated thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You have been with me every step of the way during my training.  Every time I go for a swim, ride or run I think about those kids at Chestnut and all of the kind people who have donated to my cause.

It sounds like a cliche, but at some of my lowest points during training the kind words and donations that my supporters have given me have picked me back up again.  I cannot lie about it, training for this Ironman has been tough, but it has also been the greatest journey of my life so far.  In 16 days time that journey comes to its end.  I will have covered 10’s of 1000’s of miles in training.  I will have only 140.6 miles to go.  Nothing to it……………….right?



Injuries, Jellyfish and bloody bumpy roads

As I sit and write this it is 75 days until Challenge Weymouth.  75 days until I don my wetsuit with 2000 other masochists and stride into the surf of Weymouth bay.  This brings me onto one of the things I would like to talk about…….jellyfish.

All along the south coast of England we have record numbers of Barrel jellyfish appearing just off of our shoreline.  Juvenile Barrel jellyfish are normally predated on by fish, keeping the numbers of adults in check.  Over-fishing has caused less juveniles to be predated, meaning that there are literally 1000’s of these jellyfish growing into adulthood.

A barrel jellyfish photographed off the Dorset coast

Adult Barrel jellyfish can get big.  I mean really big.  Up to 6ft wide and weighing in at up to 35kg (77lbs, or 5 stone 7 lbs).  Articles from marine experts are saying that there may be 10’s of 1000’s of these aquatic fellas off of the Dorset coast.

Now not all of them are going to be as big as the one on the left, but there are jellyfish the size of bin bags washing up on the coast all over the place.  Portsmouth has had a few and over the weekend there were large numbers washed up in Swanage.

I don’t want to come across as a big girls blouse, but I am less than happy at the thought of sharing my swim at Weymouth with these underwater whoppers.  Their sting is only as strong as a stinging nettle and poses no threat to humans; however I imagine that swimming into a 35kg jellyfish will be more of a shock than anything.  My toddler only weighs 15kg and I wouldn’t want to swim into her.  Plus she doesn’t sting.

Spotted off coast of Boscombe at weekend.

Made slightly worse is the fact that the swim at Weymouth is in September, when the sea is at its warmest.  If we have any sort of onshore breeze or current there is going to be a fair few jellies sharing the water with me.  

Just the thought of this makes me very nervous.  I am not exactly sure why.  They pose no threat to me; however there is something primordial and spooky about jellyfish.  There are beautiful sea creatures and I would never harm one, but also I am happy never to get that close to one.  I feel the same way about tarantulas (and I wouldn’t want to swim with any of those either).

My wife is convinced that if there are loads of jellyfish about at race weekend then the organisers of the race will do something about it.  I am not so sure, but we will have to wait and see.

I also seem to have picked up a little niggling injury.  Well I say little, we will have to see how much worse it gets, but I am definitely officially injured.  Self-diagnosis has led me to believe that I am suffering with a form of Plantar Fasciitis 

As you can see from the picture on the left, this is a strain in the fascia just after the heel bone.  A very common running injury, which manifests itself in pain in the arch of your foot.  I only have it in my right foot and bizarrely it goes away whilst exercising and comes on at periods of rest.    Recommendations on how to fix this vary hugely.  Some say to rest, ice etc; however there is a large movement away from icing injuries like this, as it may slow healing.

Others say to keep exercising but at a lesser level.  It is a bit of a mine field and hard to work out what I should do.  Luckily I have a bio-mechanical coach who I trust 100% who is going to take a look at me and hopefully give me some exercises to help this go away.  He is a former professional Ironman and will understand that I cannot just stop training with only 75 days to go.  Fingers crossed Trevor can get me sorted out and I will be on the way to recovery soon.  In the meantime I am going to back down on my running, but keep the bike work up and increase my swimming.  I have hardly been swimming at all if I am honest, so this little injury is probably a blessing in disguise.

Lastly I want to have a moan up.  A good old fashioned complaining session.  What us in Pompey would refer to as a “squinny”.  The more I spend time on my bike, the more I love it.  You start to feel at one with your machine, instinctively knowing when to change gear, when to stand on the pedals to finish that final hill, when to push on the flat etc.  The only thing that affects my enjoyment of my cycling time is the road quality (or should I say total lack of quality).

Broken tarmac – easy in a car.  Horrible on a bike

When you cycle you keep to the left of the road so cars and other faster road users can overtake.  This is just good etiquette.  The problem with doing this is that the shoddy road surface is even more shoddy the closer you get to the verge.  There are potholes that are actually small caves and endless miles of broken tarmac (an example of the sort of thing I mean is on the right).

When you are in a car this broken tarmac is nothing.  You just smooth straight over it.  On a super stiff road bike with very narrow tyres this is not a comfortable surface to ride on.  You can hack it for a while, but after a few hours of constantly bumping over this sort of stuff it starts to wear very thin.

Occasionally you can find some stretches of road that are blissfully smooth.  Mostly it is this bumpy crap.  So my moan up is this.  Hampshire is one of the most affluent counties in the UK.  We all pay a tonne of council tax to live in such a beautiful county.  Take some of that council tax and fix the roads up a bit.  I am fed up of jolting along on tarmac that should be in much much better condition.  That is not to mention the cycle paths, which seem to have a special sort of tarmac that breaks up even more than the roads do.  Just bloody well sort it out.

The roads in Surrey are much nicer.  That’s probably why everybody who lives in Surrey thinks they are better than everybody else.  🙂

Anyway that’s it from me.  Big week of training this week, injuries, jellyfish and crap road surfaces not withstanding.



You’ve gotta have faith

Faith is an interesting thing.  Some people have an abundance of faith, be that religious faith, faith in humanity or simply faith in themselves.  Others have relatively little faith.  I definitely belong in the latter group.  I do not prescribe to any religion, tend to have a fairly negative outlook on humanity as a whole and can be very hard on myself and my own abilities.  “A man of faith” is not how I would be described.

L-R Bushy, Me, Mike and Bruce

Despite outward appearances, I have never really “believed” that the Ironman was possible for me.  It was a thing.  A thing that was a long way off.  A thing that I had signed up to do when I was blissfully naive of quite how hard it was going to be.  

After starting my training I very quickly realised just how hard any triathlon is, let alone an Ironman.  The realisation of what I had signed up for hit me like a tonne of bricks and I immediately doubted that I would ever get it completed.  I was convinced my body would break down, that I would be incapable of continuing, that I would have to give up at some point during the race.  This belief, or lack of belief if you prefer, has stayed with me for almost 18 months now.  I have tried to maintain a brave face and tried to stay confident in front of others, especially my wife who is naturally worried about what might happen to me during the Ironman.  Deep inside I just couldn’t shake it off.  I didn’t believe that I could actually make it round the course.

After all, an Ironman is a very long way.  2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and then a marathon (26.2 miles).  Legend has it that the first ever person to complete a marathon was a Greek soldier called Pheidippides.  He ran from Marathon to Athens to pass on word of the Greek victory over the Persians, then proceeded to drop down dead.  He hadn’t even ridden 112 miles and swum 2.4 miles beforehand!  What a wimp!

For me, people who complete Ironman triathlons are some sort of super humans.  They have no body fat.  They train for 5 hours a day and never get tired.  They are as far away from me as a person can get……………..or are they?

Finally I have started to believe.  Finally I have faith.  Finally I actually think that the Ironman might be within my grasp.

There is no single reason for this.  Like most things in life a combination of factors have come together to start a spring of faith bubbling up inside me.

This is most likely a culmination of increased training, better knowledge of how training affects my body, better knowledge about nutrition and that I just “feel” fitter.  This feeling is not quantifiable; however I just feel more fit than I ever have before.  I must admit it is a great feeling.

On Sunday I took part in a Sportive cycling event.  These Sportives are organised cycling events of set lengths.  Bushy, Bruce, Mike and I had a choice of either 44 or 100 miles.  Naturally we did the 100.  A year ago we cycled 100 miles on the Isle of Wight and it almost killed me.  I felt terrible afterwards and took days to recover.  It was awful.

Top of a huge Cat 3 climb

On Sunday we cycled 100 miles in just over 6.5 hours.  I made myself some rice cakes to eat on the way round, got my nutrition and my water intake almost spot on and other than constant hayfever and a bout of serious lower back cramp at about 75 miles I felt good throughout.  I had awarded myself a day off of training on Monday for my Sunday efforts, but I didn’t need it.  I felt great.

This is why I have started to believe.  This is where my faith is coming from.  There is no doubt I am creeping towards Ironman competence.  Can I swim 2.4 miles?  Yes I can.  Can I cycle 112?  Absolutely.  Can I run a marathon?  Yep.  Can I put all three of these things together, getting my nutrition and water consumption spot on, pacing out my effort and making it round in less than 16.5 hours?  You know what, for the first time ever I am going to say………………


Portsmouth Duathlon – 1 year on, am I any fitter?

It’s 6am on Sunday 15th March (Mother’s Day in the UK) and I have just woken up in a very uncomfortable position on my sofa.   It must be time for the Portsmouth Duathlon.

Before anybody jumps to any conclusions, I was on the sofa simply because I fell asleep watching TV and never moved.  Having a newborn means that wherever I fall asleep I tend to sleep much more soundly than usual.  I am assuming this is because I am generally knackered pretty much constantly.  It’s not bad sleeping on the sofa, except for the fact that it is cold not especially comfortable.  Still I had racked up at least 6 hours sleep and that’s pretty good in my book!

Breaking from tradition, I had done a little bit of preparation the night before this race, so my bike was ready to go.  I quickly checked the tire pressures and then set about eating breakfast and double checking my bag.

Half way through breakfast my oldest daughter Niamh woke up so I fished her out of bed, stuck her in with my wife and gave her the rest of my porridge to keep her entertained.  Having decided on wearing my tri suit with shorts and my Grazing Saddles cycling top I put my clothes on, gave the family a goodbye kiss and was on my way.

From my house it is a very short bike ride to the start, where I grabbed my race numbers and went about the now familiar process of attaching them to my bike, my helmet and myself.  I saw Anthony (who comes to my triathlon training sessions) and had a quick chat with him and Darby from the Pompey Triathletes before racking my bike, assembling my gear and then heading out for a quick warm up.

I bumped into a few more people from triathlon club (Simon, Andrew, Emma) and had a brief chat with each of them.  The overall consensus was that it seemed to be too early for the first race of the year and that people felt a little under prepared.  As far as I can tell, this is entirely standard for any sort of race.  Nobody gets to the morning of the race and thinks they have done enough training.  Everybody seems to doubt themselves.  Perhaps it is human nature.  Or just that everybody actually hasn’t done enough training. 🙂

Quick warm up completed, I joined the queue for a pre race wee with about 10 minutes left until the start, scheduled for 8.30am.  

One of the cardinal sins of competing is to do things differently on race day to what you would do in training.  Only stupid people will do this.  Things like wearing different clothes or shoes, eating or drinking differently etc.  Usually doing this will have negative effects on your performance as your body undergoes new experiences whilst at race pace.

Naturally, I had decided to ignore the above and made the decision to try a different energy gel product before this race.  I had brought  a ZipVit Nitrite Gel with me for pre race consumption.  The theory is that ingesting nitrites allows your blood vessels to open up more, getting the blood pumping round your body more easily.  The science behind this is fairly sound so I was keen to try a product that supposedly helps.  Ripping the gel open I slurped down the bright purple liquid inside.  It was the consistency of wallpaper paste and tasted like how I imaging licking a compost heap must taste.  

Having eaten my delicious nitrite gel I headed towards the start line, where I saw my friend Greg (another person I met through tri club).  Greg is almost always enthusiastic and smiling, so I wandered over to start next to him and absorb his positive vibes.  We had  a brief chat and just as Greg was starting a very promising little story with the words “I got completely hammered on Friday night” we were off.  Somehow we had missed the start.  The lady in front of me was tying her shoe and had also missed the start, so I deftly avoided clattering into her and set about the business of running the first leg of the race, totalling 5 kilometres.

Normally you will run more quickly than you should at the start of a race as the euphoria of running in a group sees everybody set out quickly.  Glancing at my watch I noticed we were at about 5min/km pace as the big pack proceeded down towards Southsea Castle.  5min/km would give me a 25 minute 5k time.  My personal best 5k is 24min 56sec, so I was thinking that this pace was probably a bit ambitious for me.  Never the less I carried on and surprisingly I felt good.  Sticking at around 5min/km pace I even started to overtake a few other runners.  I have never, ever overtaken somebody running before and I must admit it did feel quite good.

Soon the kilometres clicked by and I was almost back to the start with 4km run and 1km to go.  I still felt OK.  I was amazed.  A minor hamstring niggle was in the back of my mind, but I always have some sort of leg pain when running and have gotten used to ignoring it.  At this point in the race I couldn’t help but smile.  I was competing in my first event of the year.  In less than 6 months I would be in an entirely different race at Challenge Weymouth and it felt fantastic to get my event season off to a start.

Rounding the final corner back into transition I glanced at my watch which said 25 minutes.  I had a run a close to PB 5k on the first leg of the Duathlon and was feeling good.  Well in all honesty I was more shocked than anything.  Perhaps my watch was wrong?  Quickly putting on my cycling shoes, helmet and grabbing my bike I was out of transition and onto the road, where I set about the business of cycling 15 kilometres.

I really like cycling and I had a game plan.  Whoever was in front of me, the plan was to catch them, overtake and then chase down the next person.  Setting about this and quickly getting up to race speed I was battling into a strong headwind but consistently catching those in front of me.  After about 5 minutes I ended up riding with two other guys and we kept overtaking each other.  The great thing about this is that it inspires you all to go faster and in the back of my mind I knew that when we would soon turn around and head back the way we came.  This would mean the wind would be on our backs and it would be time to put the hammer down.

Sure enough turning around and no longer riding into a strong headwind was amazing.  I dropped a few gears, got myself as low as possible and pushed hard.  Quickly passing 40kph (25mph) I was flying past my fellow competitors and loving it.  As we rounded the end of Southsea common it was back into the headwind for a bit, then a lap of the common again and once more into the headwind towards transition to complete the 15k.  

Just as I had got close to transition I had heard my wife call out my name and was ecstatic to see that she had gotten Niamh and Mia into the double buggy to come down and support me.  Not a bad effort for a woman who had a C-Section less than 4 weeks before.  I was in and out of transition quickly, saw my girls standing by the exit and ran over to give them a kiss.  Niamh (my 2 year old) gave me a big smile then shouted at me “RUN”.  This was all the motivation I required and I headed off into the last leg of the race with a huge smile on my face.  Only a 5k run to go.

By this time the pack had thinned out a lot and I was running pretty much on my own.  Using the same method I had on the bike, I lined up the person in front of me and ran.  Usually as a race progresses you slow down a bit (or sometimes a lot), which is a real indicator of a lack of fitness.  Glancing at my watch I saw I was cruising at 5:15/km pace, only 15 seconds slower than my first 5k and pretty quick for me.  Soon I was overtaken by a much quicker runner; however I stayed about my task and slowly reeled in a few people in front of me.  I was amazed that I managed to maintain a reasonable pace and was still feeling good.  

Soon enough the 4km marker appeared and I knew I had only 1km to go.  There was a young lady who had been in front of me for a while but remained stubbornly difficult to catch.  I resolved to catch her and kicked hard.  She had also sped up for the final push and try as I might I just couldn’t catch her.  Following her over the line I checked my watch and it said 26 minutes.  I had just run around 26 minutes for a 5k, having already run one 5k and cycled 15km.  6 months ago I couldn’t even run 100metres.  I was feeling quite pleased with myself.

L-R Greg, Emma, Me, Stella, Simon

Reunited with the family I had a quick chat with some of the triathlete guys, my friend Rachel took an excellent photo of us and then it was time to go home, very happy with my performance and glad to be injury free.  

Once the results came out it was time to have a look at how I had done and compare this to last year.

In the 2014 Duathlon I ran my first 5k in 28:16, took 32:39 on the bike and then the second 5k was 31:38.  Total time (including transition) – 1:32:35

In 2015 I ran the first 5k in 25:19, took 31:32 on the bike and then ran the second 5k in 26:01, for a total time of 01:24:54.

Although my bike was only slightly quicker than the previous year, 2014 was much better conditions and the wind was not close to as strong.  The thing I am so pleased about is the improvement in my running.  Also I was competing at around 85% of capacity as I have the marathon in April and picking up an injury would not have been a good plan.

So all in all 1 year on from my first ever multi-sport race there is no doubt I am fitter.  I also ran a sensible race, got my preparation right and am slowly inching towards some sort of competence in this sport.

Next event, Brighton Marathon on 12th April.  GULP!



Ironman Training and young families…….can the two coexist harmoniously?

My newborn is 3 weeks old.  To say I am a bit tired is fair comment.  Newborn babies are nocturnal, or at least our one appears to be.

The Kraken / a 2 year old

We also have a two year old.  Two year old kids can be difficult customers at the best of times.  Throw having to compete for Mummies attention with a newborn baby into the mix and you unleash the Kraken slumbering inside any two year old.

I am also trying to fit my Ironman training around helping my wife with the kids as much as I can.  How she is coping with the demands of feeding the nocturnal newborn all night long and looking after both her and the two year old terrorist all day is beyond me.  I am constantly in awe of how she manages to hold it all together.

So far I have managed to stick fairly closely to my training plan.  I missed out on a bike ride over the weekend cause of family commitments but otherwise I have made all my other training sessions.  I can only put this down to the fact that my wife understands my motivation for wanting to go out training and is willing to stand by me whilst I do so.

Either it’s that, or she is so knackered that she doesn’t have the energy to object.  The more I think about it the more I think it is probably this; however I will make hay whilst the sun is shining and continue to train as often as possible.

So I guess the answer to the question “can Ironman training and raising a young family coexist harmoniously?” is yes, provided you have a supportive partner, or one that is so tired she will go along with anything.

Sunday 15th March is my first Multi-Sport event of the year, the Portsmouth Duathlon.  Curry and I competed in this last year and I am keen to see if I am faster one year on.  Fingers crossed for a good finishing time; however I do want to hold something in reserve as I am desperate not to do anything that may harm my Ironman training.

Competing at close to 100% capacity can result in injury as you push yourself.  A safer option would be to coast round at 85-90%.  I am hopeful that my 85% effort will be faster than my 100% effort from last year.

Looking back on my write up of last years event (click here to read it) I was suffering with shin splints at the time.  These devils are thankfully well in my past, so my running should be quicker purely because it is pain free.  I also have a nice shiny new bike to debut in it’s first ever race, which should be substantially quicker than the previous one.  I weigh less, should be more fit and am generally in better condition than I was a year ago.

“Surely he can’t go wrong” I hear you all thinking to yourselves.  Perhaps you are right.  Competing is a funny thing and as long as I prepare properly and keep my head there is no reason I won’t be able to improve on last years finishing time.

All I have to do before Sunday is a brick session tonight (bike then run), a swim and bike ride on Thursday, a long run on Friday (which will be at least 2.5 hours) and a long bike ride on Saturday.  Total amount of training ahead of me before Sunday’s race day is around 7.5 hours.

Nothing to it, or as Aleksandr would say…………………….Simples.  



The fear of getting hurt

So the 2015 training is well under way.  With almost 4 hours of training already logged this week and a further swim and bike and long run to go onto the list I am going to be somewhere near my target of 10 hours of training.  The big question is, can I sustain this level?

The simple answer is, I have no idea.  It would appear logical that the more you train the more likely you are to get injured; however this is not necessarily the case.  Injuries are most likely to occur when you either increase your intensity too fast, or increase your distances too quickly.

Also it is logical that if I am going to get injured it will be whilst running.  When you consider run training, swim training and bike training the running definitely places the largest strain on my body.  Because of this it is clear that the run training is the one thing that I have to be the most careful with when it comes to doing more of it.

QE Parkrun on New Years Day

As part of my marathon training (Brighton Marathon is on April 12th) I am slowly increasing the distance of my”long runs”.  My last one was 10 miles, so this Sunday I have to do 11 miles etc etc.  As long as I keep the pace slow I should be able to complete the mileage without picking up any major injuries.  That’s the plan anyway 🙂

It is unlikely I will pick up any serious injuries cycling.  Cycling is low impact and as long as I listen to my body and keep a very close eye on any potential niggles I should be OK with increasing the weekly bike mileage.

Swimming is a bit of an unknown quantity to me.  It tires me out like nothing else and I do tend to feel it in my upper back and triceps when I have done a hard training session.  Whether I am likely to pick up an injury I just don’t know.  Guess I will just have to be careful.

The long and short of this post is that I live in almost permanent fear that I will get injured and be unable to train enough.  I spent most of last year with one sort of injury or another (especially the ongoing shin splints issues which have finally gone away) and am desperate for 2015 to not be plagued by injury so I can get in some quality training and a few good competitions, culminating in the Ironman in September.

That’s really it for this post, other than this very cool video from Strava showing my stats for 2014.  Is very quick and worth a look.  



New Year – here we go!

So it’s the 1st January 2015, the first day of the year that I will become an Ironman.  In fact, it is a mere 254 days until the race, so it is time to get organised.

It is fairly self evident that to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then run a marathon you need to do a fair bit of training.  Pretty much everything I have read recommends trying to do about 10 hours training per week as a minimum.  This may sound fairly easy; however when you think about it 10 hours is more than an entire working day for most people.  It is a fair chunk of time to find and with a new baby Snook due in February it may prove tricky to fit the training in.

To combat against this as soon as I find a new job (I was made redundant on the 31st December 2014) I am going to hire myself a proper coach to help me along the way.  The man for the job is already lined up, all I need now is somebody to employ me.  I am open to any reasonable offers 🙂

So that takes care of the training part.  Next onto nutrition.  

There is no doubt in my mind that all the training in the world cannot fight against a poor diet.  I have never been one for dieting, in fact you could say that I have always been rather against the idea.  Food is delicious.  I eat almost everything (not keen on rice pudding or things like spotted dick, though I imagine I could eat them if forced).  Other than that I love it all.  

My wife and I are also partial to a take-a-way or 12 and I have always prided my self on being a good cook.  Nice tasting food is often not the most healthy (even when you cook it yourself) and for those reasons I have always pretty much eaten whatever I liked.

This has seen my weight rise from a svelt 13 stone (182 lbs – 83kg) when I was a teenager, to a much more portly 16 stone (224 lbs – 102kg) at the start of 2014.  Currently I weigh somewhere just over 14 stone (196lbs – 90kg), although I haven’t weighed myself post Christmas.

There is a lot of debate about what “race weight” people should compete at; however I have decided that whilst putting on my wetsuit in 254 days time I would like to weigh around 75kg (165lbs or just under 12 stone).  If I am being brutally honest I haven’t weighed this much since I was about 12.  That being said weight plays such a huge role in long distance triathlon that it is well worth my while to get the weight down and keep it down.

To do this, I am intending to follow a fairly simple mantra. 

Eat clean and make the right decisions 90% of the time.

“Eating clean” is a phrase that has been around in training for some time and simply refers to making sure that your diet does not have processed foods or an abundance of unhealthy fats or sugars in it.

I am also cutting out some things from my diet entirely.  This is going to be very tough for me, as the things I am cutting out are many of the things I simply love to eat/drink.  The list of these is below.

  • Alcohol
  • Take-a-way food
  • Crisps
  • Desserts
Some people might say that life without the above wouldn’t be worth living and in all honesty they may well be right.  As such I am not going to entirely deny myself the good things in life.  I still intend to eat an occasional bit of chocolate (especially when I have trained hard that day) and cake is a staple diet of most triathletes so will still have an odd bit of that when offered.  As my mantra says, I need to eat clean and make the right decisions on food 90% of the time.  If I have an occasional sausage roll or roast potato this is not going to kill me as long as I eat clean for the majority.

Other than that I will be cooking my own meals a lot more, utilising my slow cooker to make some delicious healthy stews and currys and eating a lot of porridge for breakfast.

The porridge worked well for me todayas I recorded a PB at the Queen Elizabeth Parkrun this morning.  Proof I actually attended is below (in the form of some muddy trainers)

So I think that is about it for my first blog update of the year.  I will be better at keeping this blog up to date during 2015 and will try to post on a weekly basis.

Fingers crossed I will find something interesting to talk about. I am feeling very confident about 2015 and cannot wait to get stuck into plenty of training and a few events.

Happy New Year to you and your family.  James

1 year to go till I become an Ironman

As I sit and type this there are 100’s of athletes riding round the Dorset countryside on the bike leg of Challenge Weymouth 2014 Iron Distance Race.  They will have all already completed the 2.4 mile swim and the pros will soon be finished on the 112 mile bike leg.  Then it is just a marathon to go and the race is finished.  

The decent amateurs will finish in under 10 hours.  Others will be very close to the 16.5 hour cut off time; however every single one of them will be an Ironman and next year so will I.

In all honesty it is exciting and terrifying in equal measure to think that at this time in 365 days time I will be in the middle of my first Ironman race.  Exciting because I am hoping to raise a decent chunk of money for a very good cause and terrifying because an Ironman is not to be taken lightly.

If I can get my nutrition and hydration spot on, suffer no major mechanical failures on the bike, manage to run uninjured and everything goes perfectly I still have to be fit enough to cover the full distance.  This means training, a lot.

It is my intention to target around 10 hours training per week for the next 52 weeks.  Of course there will be some weeks when I manage more than this and others where I fall below the target.  This is especially likely around February time when my second baby will be born.  I also have to continue to work full-time, commute for 3-4 hours per day, spend time with my family and have a bit of leisure time every once in a while.  To be honest, fitting it all in could be a challenge.  Then again it’s nothing compared with the challenge of actually completing the race and pales into insignificance when I think of the challenges that my friends Steve and Louise (and 1000’s of other parents) face having a daughter with Neuroblastoma.

So the training starts in earnest tomorrow, with a 6am swim session.  Can’t wait 🙂



A test of man against nature – The Swanage Triathlon

It’s 5am on Sunday 10th August and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Swanage Triathlon.

The Swanage Triathlon has been considered by my family and friends to be my “A” race for this year.  My mother and father both grew up and met in Swanage.  My grandmother, auntie and uncle and both cousins (along with their families) all live in Swanage.  In fact, my grandmother has lived in Swanage her entire life, and has been living in her house for 70 years, so you could say that it has very close links to my family.

Swanage is a beautiful place, has a lovely natural bay surrounded by hills on both sides with calm waters for swimming and paddling.  It is an idillic spot for a good old British seaside holiday, and I have spent many weeks as both man and boy enjoying the beach, the lovely weather and in my older years the lively pub scene.  Of course I was hugely looking forward to this Triathlon.  I know the local roads well, have swam in the sea countless times, and knew my family would all be there to cheer me on.  

Swanage in August is usually lovely weather.  Like the rest of the UK it can be a bit rainy on occasion, but usually you will get better weather in Swanage than you will have in the surrounding areas.  It is like God himself smiles upon the town, and those who chose to spend their time in it.  Bearing all that in mind, the weather forecast for the Sunday of the triathlon was far from good.  Strong winds, with up to 50mph gusts, and rain.  A lot of rain.

Upon awakening at my uncle’s house it was clear that the weathermen had gotten this one right.  It was raining, and very windy.  My wife and I woke up our daughter Niamh, Cat got her ready to go and then we walked down to Sandpits field where I had pre-registered the day before.  I had a fairly good idea that the triathlon would be cancelled, and when I arrived at the transition area and caught a look at the sea I was even more sure it would be.  The waves were as big as I have seen them in Swanage, and the hills on both sides of the bay were shrouded in fog.  

Wetsuits are tight!

Never the less I proceeded to rack my bike, and put on my wetsuit.  I have been lent a wetsuit from my Grazing Saddles teammate Mike, and in all honesty it is a little bit on the small side.  As you can see from the picture, it requires my wife to help me hike it up, and Bushy to supervise from afar.  

There was a delay to the start as we were waiting for the lifeguards to arrive, so we proceeded to stand around in the cold getting wet.  Not ideal preparation for a triathlon, but at this point it was still unclear if the event would be going ahead or not.

Sprint athletes ready to go

After a 45 minute delay, the first group of competitors was off.  These were the sprint distance athletes, with Bushy and I starting in the second wave as we were competing at the standard distance.  Watching these guys swim off into the swell I must admit there was a lump in my throat.  I am a competent swimmer, but these waves were big and my open water swim experience had never put me up against waves like this before.

Bushy and I made our way down to the beach and got our briefing.  The swim would be shortened to 750m (should have been 1500m) due to safety concerns, and the bike leg was re-routed to avoid a steep climb and then downhill (although it remained at just under 40k).  The run was also shortened to 5k as we could not run on top of the hills (which was the original plan) as the hills were covered in fog.

Now before I describe the swim, my open water swimming has one major downfall.  I am not very good at “sighting”.  I have described this before, but as a reminder sighting is when you lift your head up during your swim stroke to make sure you are going the right way.  There is a knack to it, and it is definitely something I need to improve on.  Good sighting will make sure that you swim the shortest route possible around the buoys that mark the course.  Poor sighting can mean you swim an extra 100m, 200m or more as you zigzag around the course.  As you can see, getting this right is crucial to a good swim time.

Anyhow it was time for us to go.  I double checked my hat and goggles, got a position close to the back and the side of the pack (to avoid getting too many elbows in the face at the start) and then waited for the whistle.  Ready, steady, we were off.  Below is a picture taken by Curry soon after the start.  If you can make out a swimmer on the right of the bunch not going the right way, this is me.  I instantly swam pretty much, in totally the wrong direction, and found myself out of position.  Remember the sighting?  Prime example of how bad I am at it.

The swim was tough.  I was getting battered by large waves when I tried to breath, and twice got a very big lungful of sea water.  I was coughing and spluttering, kept having to swim breaststroke just to check I was going the right way, and I was struggling.  Still I pushed through, rounded the first buoy and headed towards the second.  I was dismayed to see many of my competitors missing the final buoy and heading straight towards the finish point. Thinking this was probably a mistake on their behalf I carried on round the final orange buoy, and pointed towards shore. 50 metres from shore my left calf cramped.  It has cramped during pretty much every sea swim I have ever done, and was far from ideal.  Knowing I could get to shore easily without kicking my legs, I dragged my feet behind me and eventually felt sand under my hands.  Standing up, I quickly realised that my calf was not good at all.  I limped up the beach, then up the set of steps that took us to transition.  It was hurting, a lot.  I saw my wife and parents on the way into transition and said a brief hello, followed by “my leg has cramped”.  I saw the look of worry on Cat’s face, and knew exactly what she was thinking.  Cramp this early in a triathlon was very bad news indeed.

Limping into Transition

I hobbled into transition, whipped off my wetsuit fairly easily, helmet on and I was off.  My bike shoes were already clipped onto my pedals, so I jumped on the bike, wrestled to get my very wet feet into my very wet shoes, and then started on my way.  25m into the bike, my calf cramped again and I fell off sideways.  It was blowing a gale, raining heavily, and I was lying at the side of the road rubbing my calf.  Bushy caught me up at this point and asked me if I was OK.  How he was behind me I had no idea, he must have been out of the water ahead of me in the swim as I was definitely one of the last out.  Anyhow seeing him spurred me on, I jumped on the bike and off we went.  Bushy had to stop to re-attach his race number properly, meaning I went ahead of him on the way out of Swanage.  

As regular blog readers will know, I enjoy the bike element of triathlons.  I feel comfortable on the bike, know I am strong enough to ride fairly quickly, and due to the fact that cycling is not load bearing I do not suffer from the cramps that can plague me during the run.  All that being said, on this occasion I felt terrible.  I could barely pedal, my calf had calmed down a bit but was still aching.  Bushy quickly caught me and overtook. I seemed to be pedalling through treacle.  Very soon after this I was sick.  It was pure sea water.  Clearly I had swallowed more than I thought.  As soon as this lovely experience was over I felt instantly better, had a quick energy gel and some water, then I was off.  Perversely I quite enjoy cycling in the bad weather as it forces you to focus and get on with things.  Arriving in the picturesque village of Corfe I caught Bushy up and overtook him.  I was desperate to make up for lost time on the swim and pushed hard through the awful weather.  Approaching a roundabout after a downhill section the competitor in front of me slid across the road and crashed into the roundabout.  There must have been a patch of oil on the road, as I almost lost control but managed to keep upright and push on.  Reaching the turning point at Wareham, where we started back the way we came, I felt very good indeed.  There was a nagging pain in both hamstrings, but this was due to pushing hard rather than anything else. As I sped back up the bypass road I went past Bushy going the other way.  We exchanged fist pumps and loud shouts, then head down, I pushed even harder.  I was over halfway and riding well.

The second half of the ride took us up onto the hills around Swanage and past the stunning Isle of Purbeck Golf Course, although there was not much of a view on the day.  Usually from this vantage point you can see the entire of Poole harbour, but today all you could see was grey clouds and rain.  Finally I finished on the hills and started the descent into Swanage.  I overtook quite a few people on the downhill section which I was pleased about.  Whether this is just down to me being a bit more fearless than most, or brilliant bike handling skills I do not know.  Let’s opt for the latter though hey 🙂

Heading out of T2

Into the second transition, I jumped off the bike and racked it, shoes on, helmet off and into the run.  Surprisingly I felt good and set off at a very respectable 5min/km pace.  This is quick for me; however I knew that the first 2k of the run was uphill after about 200m on the flat, so I wanted to get my legs loose before the climb.  Unlike most I do not seem to suffer from the “jelly legs” that people get swapping from the bike to the run and I really was feeling OK.  We then got to the climb, and almost instantly both of my quads locked.  This was yet more cramp, and it was crippling.  I had to stop and stretch and after a quick chat with some marshalls (mostly me assuring them I was OK), I carried on up the climb.  Sadly I was walking, but I was making progress.  After about 1km of walking the legs started to loosen and I managed a very slow jog.  Getting to the turning point I headed downhill.  Unfortunately running downhill is a killer on the quads, so I was slow.  Bushy caught me up and very kindly ran with me whilst giving me a bit of a pep talk.  I was obviously in pain and his kind words helped me to ignore this for a while.  Eventually he kicked on and left me to slowly jog the final 1.5km on my own.  I felt awful, but knew I could make the finish.

The look on my face says it all

After what seemed like an age I got back to Sandpits and crossed the line.  It had taken me almost 30 minutes to run 4.6km,this was not a good time at all.  Never the less I had done it.  Immediately my legs cramped.  Quads and Hamstrings killing me I was reduced to lying on the ground, moaning in pain.  

It was hardly the most gracious finish to a race; however my family around me offering support was a great comfort indeed. An especially lovely moment was when my beautiful daughter Niamh came over, in her all-in-one rain suit, to give me a well deserved cuddle. 

You gotta admit, my Dad has got some style

I would like to say a huge thank you to all those who came to support Bushy and I at this triathlon.  You stuck it out in appalling conditions and I am very grateful for the support.  Extra thanks to Curry for being official photographer on the day.

Finally an extra special thank you to my wife Cat.  She remains ever patient with all these triathlon antics and waking up a 16 month old at 5am, then entertaining her whilst her Dad messes about in a Triathlon is nothing short of a Herculean effort.  Cat, thank you for your ongoing support.  I really couldn’t do all this without you.

Chichester Olympic Distance Triathlon is next, with Curry and I competing together.  It’s also the debut of our Grazing Saddles teammate Andy Matthews in the Sprint distance.  Rumours are that perhaps Neil Perry could be persuaded into this event too, so it should be a great day.

Fingers crossed for dry weather, and a lot less cramp.