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.



Waiting…………..and why I am bad at it

As I sit in my house writing this, there are numerous things that I am waiting for.  What I have realised (which is what I have probably always known) is that I hate waiting for things.

Firstly I have busted my ankle and I am waiting for it to heal.  Just a sprain, but bad enough to stop me from running.  I can still cycle (all be it very gently), but running is absolutely out of the question.  As every good triathlete knows, when you get injured you have to rest.  Sadly, every good triathlete (and also the bad ones) are terrible at resting.

Resting is just dead time.  Every moment you are not following your training plan is a moment wasted.  “Rest day” seems a nonsense.  There is no time to rest in triathlon!  The truth is that resting is important.  Whilst our bodies are excellent at adapting to whatever we throw at them, we need time for those adaptations to take place.  This is how a totally unfit lump of lard like me managed to complete an Ironman. As it says in the picture, lots of small efforts repeated day in day out equals success.

This why having to rest is so tough.  The whole time you are resting you cannot help but feel you are going backwards.  Getting “less fit”.  Of course this is true if you do nothing for large periods of time; however occasionally having some time off and letting your body recover is not a bad thing.  My busted ankle has forced me to do this, so I am channelling my efforts elsewhere.

I have been doing some weight training, which I love.  In fact I was at the gym at 4.45am this morning.  Don’t worry, I have not turned over a new leaf.  I don’t suddenly love getting up early.  My littlest little one is running a high temperature and couldn’t sleep.  After my wife trying for ages to settle her it was my turn.  I managed to get her off to sleep but then was awake myself, so off to the gym I went.  

To be fair the weight training is just what my ankle needs to recover.  It needs to get stronger and putting your body under load with weight training makes you stronger, so it seemed a logical thing to do.  I am following a Stronglifts 5×5 weight training regime which I have used before (a long time ago) and is great for adding strength without too much “bulk”. Will keep it going through the summer as weight training has numerous other benefits, especially as you get older.

Also tomorrow night Bush and I are back off to Trevor’s Wednesday night Triathlon club.  This consists of a spinning session, followed by a stretching session (think pilates on steroids) and then a swim.  I am going to duck the swim, but will go for the spinning and stretching.  I haven’t seen Trevor since I completed the Ironman, but owe a huge amount to his coaching hints and tips and generosity.  Bushy and I both agree we would not have completed the Ironman without his help, so it will be great to see him again and say hello to some of the old gang from his sessions.  As a totally shameless plug, if you are a Triathlon buddy of mine and are looking for some simply superb coaching then you cannot get better than Trevor.  Check out his website for more info.

I am also going to go back to swimming, though I am yet to work out when.  Probably do a couple of early morning sessions, although my local 50metre pool doesn’t open until 7am weekdays and that would only really leave me about 30mins to swim before I had to head into work.  Luckily the open water swimming with the Pompey Triathletes starts this weekend, with the Wednesday evening sessions to start soon after to perhaps I can just concentrate on going to that.  Will have to work out what is best.  Bit more research needed I feel.

Anyway that’s about that for this blog update.  Probably not the most exciting thing you will ever read, but it is too late now, you cannot “un-read” it.



PS – The other thing I should mention we are waiting for is to move house.  Almost up to 11 weeks since offers were accepted the entire way up and down our chain (which is only 3 houses anyway).  A cynical person would say that conveyancing solicitors slow things down on purpose to make their ridiculous fees seem more reasonable.  And a cynical person would be quite right.

The big one, Challenge Weymouth 2015

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.

Bike racked

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.



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?



Sometimes you have to look backwards to go forwards

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.



Is Insanity during Ironman training absolute insanity?

Bit of a cryptic blog title I agree, but all will make sense I trust you.

At work we have a gym.  It is a nice little gym with bike, rower, X-trainer and a pulley weight stack.  We also have a TV and on this TV I have gotten into the habit of working out with Shaun T at lunchtimes.

Shaun T
Mr Motivator

For the uninitiated, Shaun T is a muscle bound motivational guru who makes Mr Motivator look like a bit of a wally (lets be honest, he was a bit of a wally anyway).

If you are a fan of late night television, you may well have seen Shaun T advertising one of his workout series. In his catalogue he has Insanity, T-25, Insanity Max 30 and others.

Again, if you haven’t heard of any of these let me explain.  Insanity (my favourite) is 40-60 minutes of interval based workouts with long intervals of exercise combined with short periods of rest.  It has at least 10 minutes of stretching in each session and a long warm up (which is tough in its own right) and is a great workout which only uses body weight as resistance.  There is a hell of a lot of jumping up and down involved, plenty of press ups and plyometric movements.  

I first had a go at Insanity before I ever started this triathlon business and it was very hard indeed.  In fact, I didn’t even make it through the warm up the first time round.  You work out 6 days a week and it batters your body if you start from almost zero fitness base (which is where I was at the time).

Now I am a lot fitter, I really enjoy these Shaun T lunchtime workouts.  Sometimes we do T-25 (25 min workouts) and today we tried the Max 30 for the first time (30 minutes of non stop effort and very tough). I am joined every day by my colleague Sarah (who is some sort of fitness monster) and we have other colleagues who join in occasionally.  When I don’t feel like working out at lunchtime I don’t and skip these days.  Essentially I pick it up and leave it whenever I want.

People who have done Insanity seem surprised that I am doing it on top of my usual triathlon training, but I must admit I feel good.  It is something to do at lunchtime, I enjoy the workouts and there is no doubt it must be good for my overall fitness.  I seem to be able to do the workouts without any hint of injury (other than a minor elbow issue today) and can’t really see any reason to stop.

Perhaps in the long run these lunchtimes would have been better spent going for a run, but there is only so much running I want to do (as it does tend to injure me) and I would have thought the cardio workout you get from Shaun T is as good as the same amount of time running.

So is it insane to do Insanity at the same time as Ironman training?  The answer to that is almost certainly YES if you plan to do the full 6 day a week Insanity, but as I pick it up and leave it when I like and only train when I am feeling good I can’t see it doing any harm.

Besides, I get to spend lunchtime with this bunch of lookers!



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………………


Arundel Lido Triathlon – 1 good, 2 not so good

It’s 04:10am on Sunday 24th May and my alarm has just gone off, must be time for the Arundel Lido Triathlon.

Yes, you have read that right, 04:10am.  Bloody early.  I had awoken off of the back of 4 hours sleep.  Normally I would blame a lack of sleep on the kids keeping me awake; however The Noodle was at Grannies and Mia had not woken me in the night.  My lack of sleep only had one person to blame……….me.

Unlike my usual triathlon preparation (of doing everything at the very last minute) I had decided to organise my gear the day before.  The problem was, I only finished doing this at about midnight.  I had planned to organise everything during the day on Saturday.  All was going well until my wife and I decided to buy The Noodle a trampoline.  She was staying at Grannies on the Saturday night as we didn’t want to take her to the triathlon on Sunday morning because she would just be bored.  She had been such a good girl recently, the trampoline was a little present.  Well I say little.  It’s actually pretty big and takes up a good chunk of the garden.  Anyway, we bought it on Saturday and wanted to build it before she came home on Sunday after the triathlon.  How hard can building a trampoline be?  Turns out not very, but quite time consuming.  The 2 hours I had set aside for triathlon prep was eaten up by trampoline building; hence why I found myself still organising my gear at midnight.

L-R Mike, Me and Bushy

Never mind the 4 hours sleep, today was a big day.  Other than Curry (who didn’t want to take part in the triathlon due to being ill a few weeks before) the whole of the Grazing Saddles Triathlon Team were competing.  This was exciting.  I had also competed in Arundel the year before (as my first ever Triathlon, read all about it here), so had a benchmark to beat and to see if I have gotten fitter over the last 12 months.

As my wife got our baby Mia ready to go, I ate some delicious porridge, made myself a peanut butter and jam sandwich (to eat 90 minutes before my start time), loaded the gear in the car and just after 5am we were off to Arundel.  Arriving just before 6am, I saw my friend Neil’s van, parked next to him and unloaded my gear.

Then I was straight into the routine I know only too well know.  Off to the registration tent to get your competitors pack.  Number for your helmet, number for your bike, timing tag around your ankle and then into transition to rack the bike, assemble your cycling shoes, running shoes, sunglasses etc under the bike and you are ready to race.

During this time I had been chatting to my fellow Grazing Saddles team members and to a few other people I knew from the Pompey Triathletes who were also competing that day.  The buzz was great.  Andy was swimming first and I gave him a huge cheer as he got out of the pool and made his way to transition.  Quickly running round to the bike exit we saw him come out and immediately proceed to cycle the wrong way.  Fortunately we shouted at him, he turned around and was on his way onto the bike course.  Neil was next to swim; however I didn’t see him get out of the pool as I was already queuing up for my swim start time.

Me and Bush waiting to swim

Making the triathlon even more interesting than normal was that Bushy and I had exactly the same swim start time.  With us being fairly evenly matched on the bike and Bushy being a bit better on the run it was set to be a straight race to the finish for us two.  We had spiced things up with a little wager.  Whomever out of us finished last has to wear a ballerina costume (complete with tutu) along to our next triathlon club training session.  The stakes could hardly be higher!!!!

Chatting away to Bushy as we waited he was telling me he was a bit nervous, but surprisingly I was calm.  Having raced at Arundel the year before I knew exactly what to expect and was really looking forward to seeing what I could do.  Arundel Lido Triathlon breaks down like this.

800m swim – unsurprisingly this is in the Lido and consists of 32 laps of 25metres each.

40km bike – 25 miles in old money, the bike course is two laps consisting of one long climb, a fast downhill and then a quick rolling section of the A27 before you start the second lap

10k run – the run is very hilly, taking on a steep offroad uphill section before dropping back into some rolling hills then a final fast 2km downhill to the finish.

Soon Bushy was called forward for his swim and a few moments after I was invited into lane 5 to get prepped.  Swim hat and goggles on, the marshals count your laps and tap you on the head when you have two to go, saving me having to count them myself, which I am absolutely awful at.  With 3 to 4 other swimmers per lane it can get congested, so to make things easier for the faster swimmers if you get tapped on the foot you have to wait at the end of the next length, let them past and then carry on.

I was counted down by the starter and then my swim had begun.  Despite the fact that I enjoy swimming, in all my previous triathlons the swim leg has never gone well.  I have either failed to get into a rhythm, gone out too fast, or otherwise gotten it wrong.  At Arundel, I was determined to swim smoothly and put in a good performance.  One lap done, on the return lap my left hand kept colliding into the wall.  The lanes were narrow and to avoid a collision with the swimmer coming the other way I had to keep left.  Sadly there was a wall there and I just kept hitting it.  To avoid this I had to shorten my left arm stroke, which threw me way off.  So much for a smooth swim.

Just about to High 5
my wife

Due to the problems with the wall I was not making good progress.  This resulted in me getting tapped on the foot a few times, causing me to have to stop at the end of the lap.  I knew the swim was going to be slow, AGAIN.  In my head I just kept trying to relax and not worry about it.  A couple of minutes lost on the swim could easily be regained on the bike if I rode well.  Failing to get into any sort of rhythm with my swimming I eventually was tapped on the head and two more lengths done I was out of the pool.  Hoorah.  Seeing my every supportive wife at the pool exit and giving her our now customary high 5, I ran into transition.

It was no surprise to see that Bushy’s bike was already gone.  He clearly had a better swim than me and was already out on the bike course.  There was only one thing for it, I had to catch him up.  Helmet, cycling shoes and sunnies on I was quickly out of transition and on the open road.  “Here we go” I thought to myself, mentally preparing for the first long climb of the bike course.

Into the climb I was almost immediately overtaken by number 25, who set off up the hill like he was being chased by something nasty.  I rode the hill as quickly as I dared, mindful of the fact that expending too much energy early in the ride is not a good idea.  40km is far enough that you cannot afford to go flat out from the start.  It requires a bit of pacing.  Up the hill, down the other side then onto the rolling section of A27 I was feeling great.  I even manged to catch up number 25 (who must have been quite some distance ahead). Keeping the water consumption up to try and avoid the dreaded cramps that I sometimes suffer with, I was through my first lap in good time and ready to tackle that climb again.

As I started the climb for the second time I still had not caught up Bushy.  Him and I are about even when it comes to bike riding.  I am probably a bit better up the hills, but he is faster on the flat and downhill due to his super duper aero triathlon bike.  The thoughts of the tutu were already going through my head.  If I couldn’t catch him on the bike I had no chance, as he was guaranteed to be quicker than me on the run.  Then, in the distance, slowly making his way up the hill I thought I might have spotted Bushy.  I have spent enough time following Bushy on the bike to recognise his unorthodox riding style; however I was still too far away to be sure.  Giving myself a little pep talk, I dropped my bike down a couple of gears, gritted my teeth and set about catching him.

To my delight my legs responded well to the extra pressure I put them under.  My quads were screaming, but I could push through the pain and was slowly reeling the rider in front in.  As I got closer I could see it was number 51.  That was Bushy.  I had caught him up.  We still had over 15km to go.  Perhaps that tutu would have his name on it not mine.

From this point I quickly caught him and overtook, pushing hard to the start of the downhill.  I knew that he would be quick downhill.  His triathlon specific bike has a much more aerodynamic riding position than my normal road bike.  Coupled with this, Bushy is fairly fearless.  An aero bike and a fearless rider tends to make for quick downhills.  Exactly as I thought, a couple of hundred metres into the downhill he overtook me.  I could see the grin on his face as he flew past.  In normal riding circumstances, I would quickly tuck in behind him and use the aerodynamic slip stream to keep up.  The effect of this slip steam is really quite pronounced and you can easily keep up with faster riders if you stay right on their back wheel.

Bottom of the downhill
on lap 1

Sadly for me, drafting (as this slip streaming is known) is not allowed in triathlon.  If you get caught drafting you could face disqualification.  With draft busting motorcyclists out on the course keeping an eye on things it just isn’t worth risking.  Plus it is cheating.  Bearing this in mind I decided all I needed to do was keep him in sight.  There was as short climb at the bottom of the downhill and I knew I could catch him up there.  

Down on the drops, pushing my biggest gear I managed to keep Bushy within about 25 metres of me as we started to approach the flat just ahead of the short climb.  I closed to within about 15 metres and then exactly as predicted Bushy started to slow on the uphill.  I pushed my bike and my legs as hard as I could and overtook him again.  Lactic acid building, my legs screaming I crested the short hill and pushed even harder on a brief downhill the  other side.  Quickly we were onto the A27 and as this section is flat and fast Bushy whizzed past yet again.  Keeping my eye on him I kicked one final time and overtook him just before a short sharp downhill run into transition.

At the bottom of this downhill there is a round-a-bout that you have to go straight on at.  Flying down the hill towards the round-a-bout I tipped my bike in and got a huge rear wheel slide.  I was clearly on the edge and extremely close to crashing.  Recovering from the slide sucked up a huge amount of momentum and once again Bushy went flying past and it was a short drag into transition.  I decided to just follow him into transition and rely on being faster changing from bike to run that he was.

Practically neck and neck into transition he racked his bike and then there was no room for mine.  Desperately trying to wedge my bike in between his bike and another competitors bike Bushy very kindly helped me.  Running shoes on I was out of transition in a very quick 45 seconds with Bushy hot on my heels.  At this point I felt I only had one chance.  Go out quickly at the start of the run and hope that he cannot stay with me, generating a gap which I can hold for the rest of the 10K.

I set off as quickly as I could, but could hear that he was only just behind.  Remarkably I actually felt OK and was hopeful that I might be able to maintain a quick pace for my 10K.  Less that 700 metres into the run, I knew those dreams were shattered.  My old friend cramp kicked in and my left calf locked.  Immediately my pace dropped considerably.  Bushy caught me up, gave me some encouraging words and then slowly ran off into the distance.  With my calf in absolute agony I knew there would be no way to catch him.  The tutu was mine.

At this point I stopped for a wee.  I needed a wee anyway, a bit of rest for the calf wouldn’t do any harm and the race against Bushy was already as good as lost.  Starting running again I was struggling to maintain any sort of pace at all.  Flashbacks to the Brighton Marathon were running through my mind, where quad cramp had caused me the huge problems.

Concentrating on trying to maintain my running form, I ran up and up and up.  I was forced to walk briefly when the off road section got really steep.  Bushy passed me going the other way and I knew from experience he was about 2 minutes ahead of me.  That was a lot to catch up, but anything can happen.  Running back downhill from the highest point I started to feel a bit better.  Concentrating on my breathing and my running form seemed to be alleviating the cramp a bit.  My calf still hurt, but just a bit less than before.  Running through the rolling hill section I was managing to maintain around 6min/km pace.  I knew that Bushy would be quicker than that and once again when we passed (he was on the home stretch as I made my way to the turn around point) I calculated we were still 2-3 minutes apart.  As Bushy passed me he said “I tell you what Snooky, this is going to be fecking close”.  I wasn’t quite so sure but was determined to do as well as I could.  

Soon enough I was on the final 2k which is downhill and then flat to the finish.  I pushed as hard as my leg would let me.  Struggling to get any quicker than 5:20/km I had to dig very deep to keep going.  My left calf was absolutely screaming.  In the back of my mind I was genuinely nervous that I might be doing some serious damage to my muscle.  A year ago I would have stopped and walked, but this was not the Snooky of a year ago.  I am a new, fitter, leaner version of myself and I was not going to give in.

Mike and I across the line together

Just as I approached the finish I was caught up by Mike (Grazing Saddles teammate and superb triathlete).  I had seen him a few times on the run where it crossed and knew he wouldn’t be that far behind.  We crossed the line together and the race was done.  

I was in pain.  A lot of pain.  Limping around I was seriously concerned I had done some lasting damage.  Quickly comparing times with Bushy what I already knew was confirmed.  He had finished around 4 minutes faster than me.  His superior running had won through and the tutu would be mine.  I really didn’t mind about that.  He is a great mate, it had been a pleasure to race some of the bike leg against him and it was always a bit of a longshot for me to beat him.  I ran a 55 minute 10k which is only 3 minutes slower than my PB and he still beat me. Well done Bushy.  It will be a pleasure to race with you at the Ironman in September.

Bushy and I compare times.  He has won!

All of us were finished.  Neil had put in a superb time for his first ever triathlon and finished second out of our little gang.  Despite Mike being ill in the run up to the triathlon and unable to train he had still finished first out of us lot and an extremely impressive 22nd overall.  Bushy was third, I was fourth and Andy was 5th.  Everybody had performed well.  We were all tired but had given it everything.  Now it was time to go back to my place for a well deserved BBQ.

Initially, after the race, I was a little down heartened.  My swim had not gone well at all.  The bike ride was good.  In fact, I was second quickest out of our gang on the bike.  My run was hampered by cramp yet again.  If only I could just get one race where the whole thing goes to plan.  Having had a bit more time to think over my performance, I think there is a lot more to be positive about than I may have realised.

12 months ago I took 2 hrs 54 minutes to complete the course.  On Sunday it took me 2hrs 28 minutes.  That is almost 30 minutes quicker.   A massive improvement and something I should definitely be proud of.  Last year I finished 7th from last overall.  This year I finished 78th out of 105 competitors.  Again a huge improvement.   

There are a number of things to be learnt from the weekend.  Firstly, I definitely need to work on my swimming.  More time in the pool required.  Secondly my cycling has come on a long way, but there is still room for improvement, especially around those pesky hills.  And finally onto my running.  Neil constantly reminds me that a year ago I was struggling to run more than a mile and this is absolutely true.  Despite this I would like to do a bit better on the run, although I appreciate this is very unlikely to ever be a strong point of mine.

All in all a very successful event.  Was great to compete with the team and I am really looking forward to my half Ironman in a couple of months time.  8 weeks to the half Ironman, then only 8 more until the full distance.

There is a LOT of training to be done before then.



Chichester Corporate Challenge – Race 3

It’s 7pm on Wednesday 25th March and I am standing outside the West Cornwall Pasty shop in Chichester.  Must be time for the Chichester Corporate Challenge.

A pasty

Regular readers of my blog will be aware that my event write ups usually start with my alarm going off; however this was a very rare event indeed.  Rather than starting at silly-o-clock, the Chichester Corporate Challenge is run midweek after 7pm.  This was the third race of a three race series and I was representing my company, Moneybarn.  

Most alarming about standing outside the pasty shop was that I was on my own (and not eating a pasty).  I was positive that I was at the right pasty shop; however I was due to meet my colleagues at 7pm and nobody was there.  My usual sense of direction at the front of my thoughts, I was fairly convinced I was at the wrong pasty shop and busied myself examining Google Maps trying to see if there was another one around.  A few minutes later I saw a bunch of my colleagues casually ambling towards me and knew that I was actually in the right place.  Perhaps I was a bit early?  Having never been early for anything before perhaps this is what being early feels like.  It’s lonely 🙂

Exchanging a bit of chit chat with my colleagues I felt nervous.  Much more nervous than I should have.  It’s a big deal for me to represent anybody other than myself whilst racing as I always want to put in a good performance and not let the side down.  

Soon it was time for the “A” race, which featured runners capable of running the 4.5km course in less than 18 minutes.  We had two representatives in this race (neither of which was me) and as they set off at lightening pace for their 4 laps of the course I set about a combination of warming up and cheering them on as they went past.

In what felt like a very short amount of time both of our runners from the “A” race were finished and it was time to make my way towards the start with my colleagues for the “B” race (featuring everybody else who wasn’t in the “A” race).  As is customary for my racing, I took a start position fairly close to the back and waited for the off.

In the back of my mind I had a target.  One of my colleagues had confessed earlier that she was looking at a time around 22 minutes.  I thought that if I kept up with her that would be an excellent result for me over 4.5km. My plan was formed. I would stick close behind her and if I felt good at the end try for a last minute overtake.  She was positioned just to my right, so I kept my eye on her I waited for the start. The start was announced and the group surged forward. Within 0.3 seconds I had lost sight of her and that was the end of that plan.  Hannibal would not have been impressed.

So without my master plan to follow I just ran.  Weaving through a few slower competitors eventually a couple of other Moneybarn runners overtook me so I tagged onto the back of them.

The short lap involved 4 left turns covering tarmac and cobbled streets.  Following the 4th left turn you were back where you started on the “start/finish” straight.  As I made it through the first lap the race organiser announced I was running with a group that were on for a 22 minute finish time.  Immediately I was concerned that the pace was too strong for me and I would fade.  Never the less my competitive nature kicked in and there was no chance of me slowing down.

Through the second lap in around 10 min 30 seconds if anything I was speeding up, but I felt good.  I hadn’t competed in an organised running race since the Stubbington Green 10k in January and the buzz of competition was probably delivering more adrenaline than I would have ideally liked.  Half way gone though, so might as well try to hold the pace.

Third lap done I was suddenly on for a finish around the 21 minute mark, which was beyond my wildest expectations.  I was also acutely aware that my breathing had become a lot more laboured.  Also my watch was reporting a heartrate of over 180bpm which is getting close to my running maximum of 192, so I clearly didn’t have a lot more in the tank.

The fourth lap was a bit more of a struggle; however I completed it in sub 5 minutes and crossed the line around the 21 minute mark (21:03 according to my Garmin).

Mentally scanning over my body I realised that I had not picked up an injury.  What a result!  Not only had I run at a reasonable average pace (the fastest I have ever managed) but I had done so without picking up a niggle.  This was especially important so close to the Marathon and was great news.

So all in all a successful event.  I put in a good running performance for my team, didn’t get injured and really enjoyed myself in the process.  The rest of the team had all done very well and everybody seemed pleased with their performances.  As they headed off to the pub to partake in a post race beverage I parted company with them to head home to see my wife and kids and try to lend a hand with the newborn.

During the ride home (motorbike not pedal – I’m not that keen) I had some time to reflect on how my race season is shaping up.  A 10k PB at Stubbington, a 5k Parkrun PB, an excellent run/bike/run at the Portsmouth Duathlon shaving 8 minutes off last years time and now a good performance at the Chichester Corporate Challenge.  Compared to last year, which was a series of errors and mistakes at almost every race, 2015 is looking a lot better than 2014.

Egotistically, I know this is down to the hard work I have been putting in during my training hours and it does feel good to be reaping the benefits.  Next event is the Brighton Marathon, a truly daunting thought.  26.2 miles is a very long way to run and I have never managed longer than 19 miles in training (which almost killed me).  Still only 11 days to go till we find out what “Iron” Snook is really made of.