If you are anything like me, you have probably browsed for and downloaded a few different training plans in your time.
Whether you are trying to run a fast 5km, thinking about your first half marathon, or considering a marathon or beyond, the internet is awash with articles and information about how to train.
Also, if you are anything like me, you download these plans, make a nice spreadsheet, plan all of your runs, then something happens and the plan gets derailed. In my case, I usually ditch that plan, spend ages finding a new one and then go again, only to repeat the same old thing.
Training plans that you find online also tend to be fairly generic. If you want to run faster, you include a lot of tempo and interval work into the plan. If you want to run long, you include a lot of long runs. This is perfectly logical, but does not suit everybody. Also, by the nature of generic training plans, they are geneneric. Sounds like an obvious thing to say, but if you really think about it, are any of us actually generic?
You may have a background in swimming, or cycling, or have run when you were younger but not for years. You may have never run at all, or be a seasoned runner looking for that extra edge. You may be overweight, underweight, tall, short, wide, narrow. You may be an over-pronator or an under-pronator. You may run in trainers, or perhaps running sandals, or barefoot. You may prefer trails, or like the road. You may recover fast from training, or slowly. You may want to run 2 times a week, 3 times a week, 4 times a week (you get the idea). More than likely you are a combination of these things, meaning that no two runners are alike. So why do we all follow similar training regimes? It doesn’t make sense.
I recently read a book that totally changed my thoughts on run training. Admittedly it is aimed at ultra running, but I think that the principles apply to all run training. The book (in case you are interested) is Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop
What is most interesting about the book is that there are no training plans included in it, for the reasons I have set out above. We are all different, so Koop gives you his opinion on how to train and then you make your own plan.
Essentially it is split into three main components. These are: 1) VO2 max training 2) Tempo training 3) Endurance training (long runs)
The logic is that you work on the thing you are worst at first, so if you are not quick (like me) you work on your VO2 max to help you run faster. This then means that when you perform your Tempo runs, you are running further at a faster pace. This then has a knock on effect on the long runs (which are slower runs by nature), as you are reaping the benefits from a higher VO2 max and you can run further at a faster pace with the same effort, due to the increase in the volume of oxygen you can process in a given time-frame.
So I built my own training plan. 3 weeks of VO2 max training (flat out hill interval work) followed by a easier week then 5 weeks of tempo work, then about 4 weeks of endurance training. Then repeat.
Now admittedly I am only a few weeks into this plan, but as you can see from my previous post, I am running better than I ever have already. I have no doubt this is down to the interval work that I have been doing, meaning that I can run further and faster on less effort, making the runs more enjoyable and making me want to train more.
The other massive benefit is that because I have written this plan myself, I feel that I am letting myself down if I do not stick with it. When I am following a plan written by somebody else, I don’t seem to have the same emotional investment in it. But I haven’t missed a single session in 3 weeks so far (despite them being very hard) and I am improving fast, so there must be something in it.
So why not give writing your own plan a try. Or (if you like), send me some details about your goals and what your current strenghts/weaknesses are and I will write one for you. Don’t worry though, I do appreciate the irony in me writing a post about you writing your own plan, then offering to write one for you.
Hope you are all enjoying the heat, and if anybody is at Queen Elizabeth Park this evening and sees a fella in a Chestnut Tree House vest running what looks like horrible hill intervals, that’s me, so stop and say hi.
Hello all, It’s been rather a long time since my last blog update. In all honesty, I’ve been busy and haven’t been competing at all so there has been little to blog about. That is until now. Over the last few months I have been contemplating what to do for my next fundraising challenge. The Ironman, which was now over a year ago, was a big deal. No doubt about it, taking myself from couch potato to Ironman was one hell of a journey. Thanks to the incredible generosity of my friends, family, and some complete strangers we managed to raise enough money to pay for a day at Chestnut Tree House, over £7,300. This was a while ago now, so it’s time for the next challenge. “What challenge have you chosen”, I can almost hear you shouting at your screens. Well as the blog title implies, I have decided to run 13 marathons in 12 months. Starting at Brighton Marathon 2017, I will complete a marathon every month, ending at Brighton Marathon 2018. Brighton Marathon is a big event for Chestnut, so it seemed the right place to start and end the challenge.
Beautiful Winchester Cathedral
On top of that, just to make things a little more difficult, I have decided to throw a 55 mile Ultramarathon into the mix. This will be in June 2017. I have chosen the Race to the King. I will be competing in the 1 day option at this race, quite literally running 55 miles non stop. The race takes place across the South Downs, from near Arundel to Winchester Cathedral. It is going to be hilly. VERY hilly. So that’s the challenge. Simple really. 12 marathons at 26.2 miles each plus a 55 mile Ultra equals 369.4 miles of running if I just account for the racing. Obviously there will be miles and miles of training too, so it is likely that I will probably run around 1500 miles throughout this challenge. To put this into perspective, that is from London to Moscow. As any of you who have regularly followed my blog will know, running is by far my weakest discipline when it comes to triathlon. This is why I have chosen this challenge. If I am ever going to become a better triathlete I have to get my running times down. 13 marathons in 12 months should help me to do that! I also wanted to do something big. Something that would inspire people to donate to the charity that I care so much about. I feel this challenge is a fairly big one. Over the next few months I will be altering the blog site and relevant Facebook accounts to reflect this move away from triathlon towards running. I will still be going out on the bike, though not half as much as before. I might even go for an occasional swim. But what I will mostly be doing is running. A LOT of running. It is also my plan to keep you all up to date as I book up events for this challenge. So far I have booked the following. April 2017 – Brighton Marathon May 2017 – Three Forts Challenge – a 27 mile race across the South Downs taking in 3 Iron Age forts (this one is going to hurt). Nothing else booked yet, as the Race to the King doesn’t open until the end of September. Just to get me warmed up, I am also racing at Beachy Head Marathon at the end of October (but this was pre-booked and is nothing to do with the challenge). That is really all I have to say for myself right now. I will sign off with a few pictures of me running in a snowman costume at the recent Chestnut Tree House Littlehampton 10k. The two guys you can see next to me (also in fancy dress) are Mark Ward and Dave Chapman. Both very dedicated Chestnut fundraisers in their own right, and jolly nice chaps to boot. Both will be with me at the Brighton Marathons, and I am hoping to talk them into one or two of the others. TTFN. Snooky
So last week marked exactly 7 months since I competed at Challenge Weymouth Ironman. It seems a lot longer ago than that. On Sunday 13th April I should have run the Brighton Marathon, which I trained for over the winter. Sadly I did not run. I have had a cough now for at least the last 9 weeks (perhaps longer) and decided to pull out of the marathon last week. It was a very hard decision, but I wasn’t getting enough training in and to be honest my chest hurt when I simply breathed in, let alone ran. So whilst the decision not to run was a tough one, it was most probably the right one.
What I was not prepared for was the sense of utter disappointment I felt in myself for not being able to run. As any regular blog readers will know, I compete in major events to raise money for Chestnut Tree House and the fact I was letting down the charity that I care for so deeply affected me a lot more than I thought. Luckily, my grumpiness about not being able to run was fairly short lived. Mostly this is because my wife does not tolerate any self-loathing behaviour (thank you for that Doc), but also because there are plenty more races and plenty more chances to raise money for Chestnut. It is just deciding exactly what to do. Once again, as luck would have it (and as Baldrick would say), I have a cunning plan. Part 1 of this plan is simply to sign up again for Brighton Marathon. I have already done this. Because I enjoy a challenge and because my catch phrase is “how hard can it be”, I have decided to run the marathon next year barefooted. More to come on this in future updates. Part 2 of my plan is to get organised for a big event again. I have done an Ironman and whilst I would love to do another one one day, I am fancying something a bit different. Enter onto the radar Ride 24, a 24 hour non stop bike ride from Newcastle to London. This is 310 miles in total, takes on over 6,000ft of climbing on the bike and is a hell of a thing to do. Doing anything for 24 hours is tough, but riding a bike for 24 hours non-stop is a fairly decent challenge. As usual, my Triathlon buddies have rallied around and Bushy, Neil, Mike and Curry are all making noises like they might join in with me. It’s not until August 2017 and after all, how hard can it be? I am going to try and update the blog more regularly (for those of you who care), so keep your eyes peeled for future updates. TTFN. Snooky
It’s 04:30am on Sunday 13th September and my alarm has just gone off. Must be time for Challenge Weymouth! Warning – this blog post is quite lengthy. You might want to get a cuppa before reading! Bushy, Mike, Curry and I had traveled down to Weymouth on the Friday to register and collect our gear for the Sunday. Bushy, Mike and I were competing in the full event, with Curry competing in the half distance event. By way of a reminder, the full event was a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on the bike then at 26.2 mile run. An Ironman triathlon that very few attempt. In Weymouth there would be 500 full distance athletes, and 700 taking part in the half.
Arriving at the Weymouth Pavilion to register on Friday Bushy and I were asked our first question of the weekend “are you doing the full or the half?” “Full”, we replied in unison. The guy smiled, said well done and advised us to go upstairs to register. I couldn’t help but notice that his smile was a rather wry one. Did he know something I didn’t?
Weymouth bay from Pavilion balcony
We soon had out timing chips, transition bags and complimentary Challenge Weymouth backpack and we were out on the balcony where we caught our first glimpse of the finish line. I must admit there was a lump in my throat. It was becoming very apparent that at this point there was no going back. I was going to compete in the ultimate endurance events. I had never felt less ready.
I was staying in a nearby village (massive thanks to Giles’ folks for the house) so I said goodbye to the others and went off to find the house I was staying in. We met up again later that evening for the pasta party. Put on by the organisers, this was an opportunity to eat as much pasta as you can stuff in, check out some of the other competitors and be introduced to a few of the pros who would also be competing.
Pasta Party selfie
In 2015, Challenge Weymouth was also doubling as the ETU Long Distance Championships, meaning that there would be athletes representing their countries at various age groups. There were also the usual elite amateurs and professional athletes competing at this Challenge event. The pasta party was again in the Pavilion, and I think it is fair to say that the building could do with a bit of an update. I described the inside decor as being like “the worst wedding you have even been to.” You can see for yourself what you think from my lovely selfie I took. Following some brief interviews with some of the better known pros, we stayed for a bit to listen to the strangest band I have every heard, eventually parting ways and agreeing to meet up again in the morning to rack our bikes and drop off our transition bags. This was new territory to me. On Saturday we had to leave our bikes in transition, along with 2 bags. These are the bag to take you from swim to bike, then another bag for bike to run. My usual style is to do all of my preparation at the eleventh hour; however on this occasion I was forced to be organised and have all my stuff prepared to rack on Saturday.
Meeting up with the others on Saturday I had packed my bags and was confident everything was in place as I had double and triple checked. The bike was popped onto the rack, the bags put in place and then the rest of the afternoon was free to meet up with some of my gang of supporters and relax as much as possible ahead of the race on Sunday. Relaxing with my wife in our accommodation the night before the race I was feeling good. As usual, I was convinced I had done nowhere near enough training. I am fairly sure that 99% of triathletes feel exactly the same way, especially before an Ironman race. Other than this niggling doubts about my training, I was extremely excited for the race and genuinely looking forward to it. My wife Cat had clearly gotten all the nerves that I should have had, as she was very worried about the race and mostly my welfare during the race. An Ironman is not to be taken lightly. Waking up at 04:30am I felt sick. This was nerves and I knew it. Forcing down a cup of tea and a bagel we gathered the final bits and bobs I would need and headed down into Weymouth. Arriving in transition it was dark. I checked my bike to make sure the tyres hadn’t mysteriously deflated in the night, added some rice cakes into my transition bag for eating on the ride and then met up with Bushy, Mike and Curry. Soon it was time to put my wetsuit on and join the other athletes in the “holding pens”. Before I did that I wanted to make sure I said hello to Rooke, Louise, Mr Palmer, Nicola and my Mum and Dad who had all come down to support. Dashing around at the last minute I managed to see them all and get a big hug from everybody. My wife had been with me all morning and she gave me a final hug and I was off with Bushy and Mike to await our turn to swim. Curry would go later on in the half distance race. For some bizarre reason they were playing extremely ominous music at the start. The sort of music you would get if you were waiting for a ride at Alton Towers. It did little to calm my nerves, but luckily I was not really feeling that nervous. All the hard work was behind me. The 100’s of hours of training was done. All I had left to do now was 140.6 miles in less than 16 hours and I would be an official finisher. I would also be an Ironman. Just writing these words brings a grin to my face. Little did I know at the time what sort of journey I would have over the remainder of the day. At this point I was still unsure I would even finish. So much can go wrong and up to 10% of Ironman entrants can fail to finish on a bad day. As usual with my triathlon races that have open water starts, I chose to keep to the back and the side during the first part of the swim. Positioning myself alongside Bushy and Mike I turned to both of them and had a final hug and words of good luck. The starting horn sounded and I waded into Weymouth Bay to start my swim. When you are my level of fitness, the name of the game in Ironman is to take things nice and slow. I settled into my swimming beautifully and was glad I spent so much time training in the Solent over the summer. I got one elbow the ribs and kicked in the face as the bunch thinned out, but this was nothing to worry about and I felt relaxed and was swimming well. Overtaking quite a few people I was constantly telling myself to slow down; however I was not swimming particularly quickly and felt great as I slowly moved my way up through the pack. The swim was out for 700 metres, along the coast for 500 metres and then back to the beach to complete the first lap. There would be two laps to total 3.8km (2.4 miles). Rounding the first buoy I was swimming strong and feeling great. Round the second buoy I was on my first trip back towards the beach. 1200 metres swum, only 2600 metres to go. Arriving at the beach I stumbled out of the water only to hear a shout of “Snooky!” Bushy has swum his first lap at almost exactly the same speed as me and as we made our way along the beach to start the second lap we exchanged some words. We were both so pleased to be one lap done and started on our Ironman journey. Into the water for the second lap, I was presented with considerably larger waves on the way out. The weather was closing in and the swimming was becoming much more challenging. Never the less I swam on. Round the first buoy, underneath me I saw an absolute whopper of a jellyfish. It was about 10 feet below me, but the crystal clear water of Weymouth Bay meant I could see it in all its glory. Hoping not to bump into one of these beauties, I swam on through the choppy conditions. Round the final buoy and back towards the shore I felt my left calf start to cramp. This is standard for me during long swims. I almost always get calf cramp. I tried my best to keep breathing and not to tense up and managed (by swimming more slowly) to get to the shore without the calf properly cramping. As I climbed onto the stony beach I saw my wife and the support crew shouting and hollering at me. It was great to see them and I gave them my biggest smile as I made my way up the beach and across the road into transition. Into transition, I grabbed my T1 bag and made my way into the changing tent. Presented with all manor or semi naked men, I spotted a clear changing bench near the exit of the tent and made my way towards it. Once again I head a shout of “Snooky”. Turning in the direction of the shout I saw Bushy, one leg raised onto the bench towelling himself dry, as naked as the day he was born. Now Bushy is called Bushy because of his extremely hairy nature. Not a single inch of his body is hair free. Seeing him in all his hairy glory was hardly what I needed; however I took a spot on the next bench and started chatting to him about what was to come. 112 miles of cycling. I couldn’t wait.
Past my support crew
Changing into my cycling gear we were on our way to grab our bikes. Bikes collected we were soon out of transition and off on the bike leg. There are strict “anti-drafting” rules in place at most triathlons, so I settled into my riding with Bushy about 15 metres in front of me so I could not be accused of any cheating. Once again, the name of the game was to take it very very slowly. There was a long way to ride and Ironman competitions are full of stories of people going too fast on the first part of the bike leg and suffering for it later on. All I had to do was eat and drink on schedule and keep the pedals turning round. At some point into the first lap (around 20km in I think) I overtook Bushy going up a hill. He hates hills so this was not a surprise. Onwards on the first lap of the bike course every time I needed to stop for a wee, or went through an aide station to top up my drink Bushy was behind me. I later found out that his entire tactic on the bike leg was just to keep me in view and he knew he would be doing OK. We had a target time for the bike leg of less than 8 hours. Having completed the swim in 1.5 hours, this would leave us 6 hours for the marathon (when you allow time for transiton).
Awesome banner my wife had made
100’s of speedier riders were flying past me but I didn’t care. This was my race and I was racing it on my terms. It was not a case of finishing fast, just a case of finishing. Ironman is tough and must be respected. There was nothing to be gained by riding quickly and then being unable to finish the race. At the end of the first lap (90km, or 56 miles if you prefer) I was feeling strong and gave a huge smile to my wife and others as I turned the cone near transition to start the second lap. There were a lot fewer riders on the second lap. Most of the full distance athletes were ahead of me. Also all athletes who were competing in the half Ironman had gotten off their bikes after one lap to start their running, so the course was nice and empty. Soon after starting our second lap Bushy rode up alongside me and we started chatting. There was no risk of being in trouble for drafting with us riding side-by-side, plus I don’t think that anybody really cared about us as we were so far towards the back. As we rode on chatting I was loving my Ironman bike ride. I was riding in beautiful scenery with one of my best mates by my side and best of all, I was competing in an Ironman. I felt superb. Mostly this was down to me getting my eating and drinking regime just right. I knew how much food I could tolerate from all my practice rides and just meant sure to keep on eating on schedule. A rice cake ever 30 minutes, followed by a gel every other 30 minutes. 1 bottle of drink per hour to wash it all down. Plus we both had our secret weapon, a couple of brioche each. These are delicious when you get fed up of gels and rice cakes. Bushy and I also started to overtake a few people as we approached the 80 mile mark. Clearly our “slow at the start” tactic was working and some of our fellow athletes were struggling. On and on we cycled. We discussed that at the pace we were going at we were looking at around 7.5 hours on the bike. Not bad at all. At around the 100 mile mark I could sense that Bushy was starting to struggle. We had been cycling for over 6.5 hours and had a long uphill drag to go before a quick descent into Weymouth. Keeping my pace going, I knew he would stick behind me and not let me get too far into the distance. He is a competitive sod and wouldn’t let me get away that easily. I too was starting to struggle a bit, but I knew that I was almost there on the bike. 100 miles done. 12 to go. Seems amazing even writing this now, but I was really feeling OK. Up the final drag and then a quick downhill into Weymouth we were then riding the final straight along the bay into transition. We could see all the runners plodding along the seafront and would soon be joining them. Little did I know how tough this run would be. Into transition we grabbed our T2 bags and then back into the changing tent. Unfortunately it had been raining a bit and when I got my running gear out of my bag it was all soaking wet. Putting on wet gear is never the nicest. I must admit I was not happy with the organisers for leaving everybody’s gear outside in the rain to just get wet. Surely they would have a contingency planned for rain. We were competing in England after all.
These were well earned
Anyway despite me grumbling about this, Bushy and I were soon out of transition and running together on our first of 4 laps. The plan was to collect an armband at the start of lap 1. Once you had collected all 4 armbands you only had that remaining lap and you were done and would forever be an Ironman. This sounds simple enough, except that the distance we had to cover was a full marathon and we had both already been exercising for over 9 hours. Marathons are hard when you are fresh. They are even harder when you have just finished a 2.4 mile swim and an 112 mile bike ride. Needing to be factored into this was the weather. It was incredibly overcast, very very windy and only looked like getting worse. As the wind whipped up it blew sand into our faces as we ran down the shore. At this point we hadn’t even collected our first armband. How ever were we going to get this run done? The support was excellent as we slowly jogged on, stopping at each feed station for a drink, some crisps, flat coke (nectar to a triathlete) or an energy gel. I was struggling to stomach anything but knew how important it was to stay hydrated. The marathon stage of an Ironman is where I was most likely to fail. Running is not my strength. I had suffered crippling cramp when I ran at Brighton Marathon in April and that wasn’t that long ago. What was going to happen?
I think we have one armband on here. Must be end of lap 2
We managed our first couple of laps with no major incidents and soon had two armbands. We were approximately half way done and then the weather turned on us. Severely turned on us. The wind remained, but it started to rain…….HARD. Quickly I was soaked through, having put on only a running vest to run in. The running conditions were awful and we had at least 2 hours of running still to do, if not more. Pushing ourselves through we got our third armband and were back along the shore into a hurricane on our next lap.
At this point Bushy really started to struggle. His head was down and his pace slowed hugely. We had been running non stop, so I suggested we started to adopt a walk/run strategy, walking for a bit to help recover and feel a bit better. This was working OK, but Bushy was still in big trouble. Remarkably I felt OK and he told me to push on so he could chase me. Once again his competitive nature meant he would not let me go so I pushed on, regularly calling back to him to make sure he was still with me. We had been side-by-side since the second lap of the bike race and there was no way I was going to leave him behind now. It was dark, raining like a monsoon, windy as you can imagine and we needed each other more than ever.
Between lap 3 and 4. Bushy starting to struggle at this point
As is the way with endurance racing, Bushy had hit “the wall”. This is notorious amongst distance athletes and all you need to do is push through it. Once you get to the other side you start to feel better and get a “second wind”. I knew if Bushy just kept going he would be OK, and sure enough he was. It was around this point that we worked out we had 10km to go and more than 2.5 hours left before the race cut off. I knew that we could run 10k in 2.5 hours. I just knew it. A huge rush of euphoria hit me as I started to genuinely believe I would complete the race. Sadly it was not much longer until I no longer felt this way. My main issue was that I was freezing. The wind and rain had not let up for hours and I was in a running vest and shorts. Luckily we were on our final lap with only 6km to go; however I felt absolutely awful. I couldn’t stop shaking and I was more cold than I had ever felt before. Chatting to Bushy, I said to him how I had read stories of people getting this close on and Ironman and then failing. Being unable to make the final few kilometres no matter how hard they pushed. I was terrified this would be me.
Start of the final lap
Luckily for me, Bushy was there to spur me on. He reminded me of how far I had come and why I was there. Thinking about my supporters and all of the families that Chestnut Tree House support I gave myself a good talking to, sucked it up and started running again. I had come too far, trained too hard. No way was I quitting. I owed it to my wife, my family, Steve and Lou and every single person who had sponsored me to get this race done. Even if I had to crawl I would get through this next 6km and finish. We plodded on, walking for a bit then running for a bit. With about 3km left we just ran. Not fast, but we kept running. As we rounded the final point and had only 400 metres to the finish, we started to get a bit emotional. We had done it. We would finish. Bushy and I both had a tear in our eye but as he quite rightly said “man up Snooky, we can’t go over the line crying, we are Ironmen”. I couldn’t have done it without him and told him so. He felt exactly the same way. We were so lucky to be similarly matched in fitness so we could bike the second lap and run the whole marathon together. Who knows what might have happened if we had to go it alone.
And across the line we go.
Through into the finishing chute and the music started blaring. I was going mental, shouting at the top of my lungs, hands in the air. We had done it. 140.6 miles (or 226km) of effort. 15 hours and 15 minutes. We were, and will always be known as Ironmen.
The best hug EVER
L-R Mike, Bushy, Me, Curry
Collecting our medals it was straight over to say hello to and most importantly give massive hugs to our family and friends. I saw my wife and simply said to her “What a thing” as I leant forward for the best hug of my entire life. The emotion I felt was like nothing I had ever experienced before or since. Utter relief combined with a huge sense of accomplishment. I was so pleased to see her, my parents and my friends. Our friend Mike had already finished quite a bit before (he is a fit old chap) and we posed for a group photo along with Curry who had done the half earlier that day too. Challenge Weymouth was complete. Soon I was to be told that I had also hit my fundraising target. I was overjoyed. Not only was I an Ironman, but I had raised enough money to pay for a days care at Chestnut Tree House. Phenomenal. As this blog post has become rather lengthy, I will spare you all the details of how I felt afterwards and how long it took me to warm up (but it was quite a while). What I would like to do is say huge thanks to some very special people who came down on the day to support. To my Grazing Saddles buddies, their relevant WAGs, Palmer and Nicola, huge thanks for being there on the day to support me. It meant so much. To my parents, thank you for braving the freezing cold conditions to support your son. Next time I will make sure to compete somewhere a bit warmer! To Louise and Steve. From the bottom of my heart thank you for letting me compete in honour of your lovely daughter Amber. I hope that what I achieved in her memory lives long in yours. She may be gone but never forgotten. I shall continue to fundraise for her until I can no longer do so. Bushy, what can I say to you. We trained together, spent endless hours debating eating strategies and racing strategies. It was an absolute pleasure to have you by my side during the event and I really do hope that perhaps we can do it again one day. Finally, the biggest thanks and eternal love to my beautiful wife Cat. You suffered through my endless training, looking after our two girls on your own whilst I was cycling or swimming or running for hours on end. You put up with me talking incessantly about triathlon. You didn’t complain when I spent a fortune on triathlon gear. You were there to reassure me when I felt low and didn’t think I would ever be fit enough to become an Ironman. The biggest thing of all, you suffered emotionally more than I can imagine whilst I was out there on the course. The race was harder for you than it was for me. I am eternally grateful for the support that you gave me, for you allowing me to complete this huge challenge. I love you millions and trillions. That’s it folks, the story of Challenge Weymouth. Sorry it has taken me so long to post this. Hope you have enjoyed the read. Many people have asked me what’s next. Well keep your eyes on the blog for my future plans. Finally there is a video on YouTube of Bushy and I crossing the line. The look on my face when I hug my wife perfectly sums up what becoming an Ironman is all about. If you are reading this and thinking of doing it yourself, my advice would be to get one booked and get out training. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Never to be forgotten.
Click play to see us crossing the line. Thanks to Neil for the video. TTFN Snooky
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 dayand 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 somethingquite 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? TTFN Snooky
As a triathlete, or any sort of endurance sport enthusiast you are almost constantly looking forwards. You strive to beat previous times, run quicker, swim faster, cycle better. This is fueled by websites such as Strava or Garmin Connect, which allow you to record your workouts and then compare them to previous efforts or to other athletes. It is very easy to become obsessed with this. “Last time I rode up Portsdown hill in 5min 11 seconds and today it has taken me 6 minutes……..I must be getting slower” or “I am the 112th fastest person who has run along that section of road, but only 116 have ever run it. I am shockingly bad at running”.
Click on the link to the right of this post to follow me on Strava
Thoughts like these will often pass through my mind as I am reviewing my workouts. Of course I tell myself that this sort of analysis is essentially pointless. The only way you can really compare two workouts is if the conditions during those workouts are exactly identical. Same weather, same time of day, same amount of sleep the night before, same nutrition, same gear worn, same everything. Naturally some days you feel faster and some slower, depending on training load, nutrition and sleep. I know all of this, but never the less I still pour over the data and run myself down for not being quicker. Every once in a while somebody reminds me of where I have come from and why I should feel hugely proud of myself. Usually this is one of my mates who I regularly exercise with. I will moan and groan about how I am still slow or unfit, and the guys retort by reminding me of just how far I have come. In the constant pursuit of becoming fitter, leaner, more muscly or whatever else you might be training for it is only too easy to lose sight of where you came from. In August 2013 I couldn’t run to the end of my road. I would get out of breath walking up the stairs. In August 2015 I can cycle over 100 miles with relative ease, have completed a marathon and can swim for pretty much as long as I like. To be honest I am barely recognisable from the man I was two years ago. Broadly speaking I look the same on the outside (other than being bit thinner) but inside beats the heart of a proper endurance athlete. OK I’m not the fastest. Agreed, I may consistently finish in the bottom 3rd of my races, but who cares. It is an interesting feeling being only 29 days away from the Ironman, what will be without a doubt the biggest challenge of my life so far. I am hugely excited to be racing and massively proud to be representing and raising money for Chestnut Tree House. Coupled with that is the fear of what I have signed myself up for (as mentioned in the previous blog post). Fear of the unknown. One thing that I know for certain is the man I was in 2013 would have had absolutely no chance at all of finishing an Ironman. As for the man I am today, well I guess in 29 days we will find out. TTFN Snooky
As my wife posted on Facebook this morning, today marks one month until my Ironman race.
30 days to be precise. I have reacted to this information with abject terror. A chill ran down my spine when I read her post. It really actually is 30 days. There is no way around it. 30 days from now at 6.30am I will be dressed in a wetsuit, swim hat and goggles. Along with my friends Mike and Bushy I will run into the sea at Weymouth to start 16 hours of non stop exercising. I am genuinely shaking at the thought.
Yesterday I felt fine. My training has been going OK, I managed the Half Ironman reasonably well and my confidence was fairly high. Today I am panicking. I think that self doubt is inevitable when it comes to undertaking such a huge challenge; however I have never felt as nervous as this before. God only knows what I am going to be like in 30 days time.
Anyway enough of me being a Nervous Nigel. I have a some people to thank.
4 weeks ago now a group of people got together for a party. The party was a garden games party, hosted by Jean and Vince who are soon to become my sister’s in-laws. They have held summer games parties for a while; however this year they decided to raise some money for Chestnut Tree House.
They were inspired by the same thing I was, the story of Louise, Steve, their daughter Amber and the amazing support that Chestnut Tree House provided to them. If it hadn’t been for my sister telling Jean and Vince about the Ironman and Chestnut this fundraising event would not have happened, but boy am I glad it did.
It was an amazing sunny day in the simply beautiful gardens of Jean and Vince’s Sussex home. Their friends had come to play games and raffle off some amazingly generous prizes that had been donated. All proceeds to go to Chestnut Tree House.
Ball flinging game.
Jean and Vince were amazing hosts. Vince had done an amazing job building all the games and Jean was on simply superb form entertaining everybody. My parents were also on hand to help with the games, make a few sandwiches etc. Louise and Steve came along with their son Owen and Steve gave a simply beautiful speech about Amber, Chestnut Tree House and the wonderful work that they do. It brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it. If I can harness 1% of the strength that Steve and Louise have shown since the loss of their little daughter I will have no trouble at the Ironman at all.
Raffle – Jean and Vince standing up
The whole day was brilliant. Once the raffle was completed and the dust had settled, between everybody who attended we had raised £630 (or £787.50 if you include Gift Aid) which is simply phenomenal.
A massive and heart felt thank you to all those who attended and raised such a brilliant total for Chestnut Tree House. Especially big thank you to Jean and Vince and everybody who helped them out to make the day go so perfectly.
Chestnut Tree House is the ONLY children’s hospice in Sussex and South East Hampshire. Without the support of charity fundraisers and private donations they would not run. Without Chestnut, there would be NO help for life limited children and their families throughout the entire of Sussex and South East Hampshire. NONE!
My aim through these Ironman endeavours is to pay for a days care at Chestnut. It costs them £6850 to stay open for just one day. As I write this I have raised £3,381.80, which is 49% of my target. If you would like to donate please visit my Just Giving page and give what you can. It simply means the world to me and the families that Chestnut Tree House supports.
Last week has been a bit tough on Iron Snook! What started with a simple filling in my tooth ended up as me having 3 days off work and experiencing the most intense pain I have ever felt. I don’t want to go into massive detail, but lets just say I had an infected tooth which took 4 days of very strong antibiotics to get under control and the pain was so bad I was begging my wife to pull the tooth out with pliers at home. Luckily she said no, the infection seems to be better (though is still a bit painful today) and soon I can go back to the dentist and get it sorted once and for all.
Not a good picture, but left is Mike and right is Bruce
This infection has meant no training. I was in agony and in no condition to do anything. Because I felt better by Friday night, I agreed to meet the boys for a bike ride on Saturday morning. Following a week off of exercise and fighting an infection this bike ride was very tough going indeed. I felt extremely weak. I also tried a quick 5k run on Saturday evening which was equally tough. Waking up this morning I felt like I had been run over by a bus. Clearly I am not quite over this infection yet! On the positive front the scenery we saw as we wound our way around the Meon Valley was simply stunning. I feel genuinely privileged to live in such a beautiful part of the world and to be able to go and enjoy stunning summer mornings on my bike with my friends. This is a part of the Ironman training that was totally unexpected for me and is rapidly becoming the bit I am enjoying the most. If it hadn’t been for this little Ironman adventure I would never have learnt the peace and serenity you can get from running for hours on end, riding you bike for 100’s of miles or simply swimming along in the sea. Some people say to me “isn’t the training boring” or “I just couldn’t be bothered with cycling for hours on end”. Before I started my training I felt exactly the same. I also found the training such hard going to start with that it was never enjoyable, it was simply hard work. After exercising consistently for a few months you stop feeling awful every time you go out and you start to see and feel the beauty in exercise. I genuinely believe that our bodies are built for endurance activities. You start to unlock something primitive inside yourself. You feel the need to run. You feel more alive when your heart is pumping hard than you do when you are sitting still. It is a bizarre and wonderful feeling.
The beautiful Meon Valley
Recently I have had this feeling almost every time I have gone out to do some training. Don’t get me wrong, training is always hard, but there are periods within the effort when you feel a real sense of inner peace, a kind of tranquility that is hard to describe. It is during these times that my thoughts almost always move back to my motivation for doing this Ironman race in the first place. Of course, this is the wonderful Chestnut Tree House, who (despite NO Government funding) manage to care for 300 life limited children and their families year after year. They rely on over £3,000,000 of charitable donations every year just to stay open. They are the ONLY children’s hospice in East Sussex, West Sussex and South East Hampshire. Without Chestnut, there would be no children’s hospice care in any of these areas. I am hugely grateful to all those who have sponsored me so far and genuinely feel like you are all with me every moment of my training. Chestnut Tree House means a huge amount to me personally and any support that people choose to give them is simply amazing. This is where my one “extremely good” from my blog title comes in.
One of Chestnut’s Charity Shops
My sister is marrying a splendid fella called Damian. Damian’s Mum and Step-Dad (henceforth known as Jean and Vince – because those are their names) have a games party every year at their house. Their friends and family come along, play garden games (largely devised and created by Vince), make merry and generally have a jolly good time. This year the party is extra special. I am hugely humbled and massively proud to say they have decided to make the party a fundraising event and are donating the money they raise to Chestnut Tree House. The huge effort that Jean and Vince are going through to host this party and raise money has been inspired by my efforts and also by the story of Louise and Steve (which you can read by selecting the “Motivation” tab above. This massive show of generosity from Jean and Vince and their friends who will attend the party almost brings me to tears. When I started on this road to the Ironman I never expected that I would receive so much great feedback about my blog and never expected that I would inspire others to raise money alongside me. It is truly humbling and makes me believe that perhaps one man can actually make a difference and help this truly amazing cause. Not on his own, but with the help and support of others WE really can make a difference. Every single penny that goes to Chestnut helps families who are in the most desperate of times, the most challenging of circumstances. Nobody ever expects to outlive their child, but knowing that Chestnut Tree House are there to care for children who’s lives are cut short and help them and their families make the most of the time they have together, is a comforting thought.
Sensory room at Chestnut Tree House
Chestnut Tree House is a wonderful place, filled with fun and laughter and if you ever get a chance to visit I would strongly recommend that you do so. I am immensely proud to be competing at Challenge Weymouth to raise money for Chestnut, massively humbled at the efforts of Jean and Vince to help support my cause and hugely looking forward to only 9 more weeks of training before the big event. Thank you all for reading my blog. The updates will be coming more regularly as we get closer to the big day. Only 2 weeks until my half Ironman race in Kent and then the big push towards Weymouth begins. As always, any and all support you would like to give to Chestnut Tree House and to me via my JustGiving page would be hugely appreciated.
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. TTFN Snooky
So, as I sit and write this it is 123 days until Challenge Weymouth. Not an especially significant number you might think. It is not so much the number of days left that is significant, but rather the phase of the training I am about to enter. The plan I am following is split out into distinct phases. These are the “Base” phase, followed by “Build 1”, “Build 2”, “Peak” and then finally the taper down to race day. Base phase is exactly what it says on the tin, designed to increase your base level of fitness. In all honesty I have not put quite as many hours in as I would have liked due to wanting to be at home and help my wife through a challenging time with our kiddies. That being said, I am fairly confident that my “base” level of fitness is not too bad and so missing some training sessions during this phase has not phased me (see what I did there). Next week starts the “Build 1” phase. This sees me increasing my training load, putting in extra time and distance in all three triathlon disciplines. I am aiming towards the following: Weekly training targets:
Cycling – 250 miles
Running – 50 miles
Swimming – 8 miles
If you prefer to think of this in time rather than distance, we are looking roughly like this
Cycling – 15 hours
Running – 8.5 hours
Swimming – 4 hours
You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that this is around 27 hours training per week, which is a lot. It’s more than an entire day every week devoted to training.
This leads us nicely to the $64,000 question, “How the hell are you going to fit all this training in?” Luckily there are a few things in my favour. It is only my intention to hit the mileage/distance targets about for the 3 or 4 weeks before tapering off ready for the event. This allows me to ramp up the training gradually. Also my wife is being amazingly supportive. Despite the fact that our lovely 2 year old daughter seems to have morphed into a terrorist and our 12 week old baby is permanently attached to her, she is happy for me to train almost as much as I like. Lastly I live a very convenient 20 miles away from work, meaning that I can cycle into and back from work fairly regularly. This is decent mileage and has relatively little impact on the family. So all in all things are looking good. I am feeling strong, the training is going well, I am blessedly injury free and am starting to really look forward to the big event in September. Below are a few pictures of Bushy and I on a recent bike ride just to prove that training is actually fun. TTFN Snooky
Just setting out.
An excellent demonstration on how not to change an inner tube