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………………


Bonking in the Wind – The Wiggle Isle of Wight Sportive

It’s 4.30am on Sunday 6th July, my alarm has just gone off, it must be time for the Wiggle Isle of Wight Sportive.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I am not a morning person.  That being said I do seem to be getting the hang of rising at the crack of dawn for these events.  I was well prepared too.  I had already packed my stuff, my bike was already loaded into Neil’s van, and all I had to do was have a quick shower and then head up the road to meet him.

Mikes new bike – NICE!

Soon we had Neil, Andy, Curry, Bushy and I on board the van and we were heading to Lee-on-Solent to pick up Michael, and then we were off.  Mike has just built himself a new bike, and I was very keen to see it, and also to get a sense of just how fast he might be on it.  Mike is a monster on the bike, and a true testament to how important putting in the hours in the saddle is.  I am only too aware that if I am to complete the Ironman the bike leg is all important, so I am always very jealous of the effortless way that Mike seems to ride up hills, down hills and everything else in between. 

Anyhow, Mike was picked up, and we made our way to somewhere in the New Forest to start this bike ride.  The route was simple.  10 miles on the mainland, then ferry over to the Isle of Wight, then about 70 miles there, then ferry back and a final 15 on the mainland, for 95 miles in total.  This would be the furthest I have ever ridden, and I was a little bit nervous about it.  Luckily I have recently had my bike properly fitted to me by Garth at Vankru, so was confident in the machine.  It was just the engine that I had my doubts about.

Think Pink!

So we arrived at the start in a bit of a rush, and quickly got changed and headed to registration. Once this was completed we headed to the start line, and just made the last group that were allowed out on the course to ride the Epic route (the full 95 miles).  It was an easy initial 10 miles through the New Forest, and although a few of us got lost due to my inability to follow the signs properly, we arrived at the ferry in plenty of time and regrouped.

The last time I went on a long bike ride I very much ran out of energy after a few hours.  This is known as “bonking” (no sniggering in the back) and as best I understand it bonking seems to occur once you have used up all the available energy stores that your body can easily access (usually in the form of glycogen) and you have to start burning fat for energy.  This is not as efficient as using glycogen, and whilst you can train your body to get better at using fat as an energy source, for us amateur athletes when this feeling hits it is a remarkable experience.  You feel like you have absolutely nothing in the tank.  Just turning the pedals is a huge effort, let alone doing so with any speed, and climbing a hill seems impossible.  

To avoid bonking the solution is to eat, and to eat quite a bit.  At least something major (like an cereal bar or a flapjack) every hour, and sometimes more.  I had made some flapjacks, and Wiggle kindly provide food stops on the rides so you can stock up.  There was one of these at the ferry, so I loaded all manner of foodstuffs into my pockets (fig rolls, flapjacks, Oreos, jellybeans) and then boarded the ferry with my fellow Grazing Saddles members.  Soon we were on the Isle of Wight, and headed into the first stage of this ride, approximately 30 miles to the next feed station.

The first part of the ride was very congested, with a lot of riders hammering down fairly narrow lanes.  This was fun, and riding in a pack makes you ride a lot faster.  The downside of riding with a lot of others in close proximity is it makes me a bit nervous. Years of riding a motorbike have made me expect every other road user to do something monumentally stupid at any second, and having all of these other cyclists around me was unnerving.  After a while it all thinned out, and we settled into a good pace.  Well I say we.  What I mean is that Andy, Mike, Neil and Bushy usually hammered off in front, leaving me and Curry to plod along behind.  I put this down to the fact that the 4 of them probably weight about 10 stone between them (giving them an excellent power to weight ratio), whereas Curry and I are real men and therefore prefer a more gentle pace.  Let’s leave it there I think.

Anyway the ride wound on through beautiful countryside, and I felt good.  The bike felt excellent, and every once in a while the speedier guys would wait for us to catch up and we would head off again.  The second food stop came up fairly fast (even though we had been riding well over 2 hours by then) and we assembled.  All of us except Curry, who was somewhere behind me.  He arrived at the food stop looking a bit tired, and loudly announced “I have bonked”.  Usually this would be the cause for a high 5, but knowing well that his wife was safely at his house I knew what he meant.  Still a stop is just what he needed, and he proceeded to eat everything he could see, much like I was.

My back had started to ache just before the stop, so I decided to munch down 3 Ibuprofen.  This would prove to be a mistake.  More on this later.  After a quick stop we carried on, and upon jumping back on the bike I had no energy at all.  Perhaps it was my turn for a bonk? God only knows why this should be.  I had eaten plenty, and tried hard not to over exert myself in the early stages. Never the less I watched as the others set off ahead of me and disappear, knowing that I had a long long way to go.  I powered on, eventually started to feel better and then we got to a hill.  A proper hill.  A properly steep hill.

Finally arriving at the
top of the hill

My bike is geared up for the flat, and as such is not ideal for climbing.  Newer bikes tend to have compact gears, meaning that they have smaller front cogs and larger rear.  This gives you a wide choice of gear ratios.  Small on the front and big on the back makes hills easier.  This is affectionately known in cycling circles as the “Granny Gear”.  Very useful for very steep hills, and even more useful if you are either not that strong on the bike, or new to cycling.  I am both of those things; however my “Granny Gear” is not as Granny as I would like.  Slipping into my easiest to pedal gear I started up this monster of a hill.  I could not keep the pedals turning whilst seated, so had to stand up and grind out the rotations one at a time.  The hill was never ending, and standing on the pedals places strain on your back, biceps and core much more than a seated riding position.  It took me 20 minutes to make it to the top, but I never got off the bike once, and there were more than a few others who had to push their bikes to the top.

Arriving at the summit I caught up with the lads (Curry was still behind me, recovering from all his bonking I expect) and they could not believe I had managed to ride up the hill.  It is a running joke that my bike is not geared up well for anything other than a billiard table flat surface, so there was much respect to be had that I had stayed on the bike for the climb.  Curry soon caught up and we were off again, into the 3rd feed station.  

Stocked up on munchies we were off towards the coast.  The wind started to pick up, then it picked up some more, then it really did pick up.  On the south coast of the Isle of Wight there was a very strong breeze blowing, and I knew it would be straight into our faces for at least 20km.  Riding in the wind is awful.  It saps the life out of you, and you put in twice as much effort to go half as fast.  Combined with the fact that once again I had lost the others and was at the back of the bunch, my heart sank.  I cannot quite put into words how much I hate riding in the wind.  I would rather have rain, freezing cold, fog, hail or even a monsoon ahead of windy conditions.

I could see Bushy some way ahead, and bust my arse to catch him up.  If you can slip stream behind somebody it makes a huge difference, and it was my intention to catch him and do just that.  After a monumental effort I caught him, slipped in behind and had a little bit of a respite.  The wind was howling, and way ahead I could see Curry nicely tucked in behind Mike.  I couldn’t help but smile to myself.  He had done well to catch a tow from Mike.  

Eventually we turned inland and had one final hill to conquer, and it was a whopper.  Curry had dropped back to join Bushy and I, and we started the ascent together.  I tend to climb quite well on the bike (despite my lack of gears) and felt OK going up this final ascent.  We climbed and climbed, dropped down a bit then had one final monster hill to go.  I pushed hard and was relieved when I saw Mike sitting on a rock a the top of the hill giving us all a round of applause.  I dunno how long he had been sitting there, but he didn’t look very tired.

As we rode down towards the ferry back to the mainland I was experiencing very bad stomach cramps.  Remember I told you about the Ibuprofen earlier?  Well Ibuprofen always give me stomach issues, and it appeared today was no exception.  Let’s just say that I needed to visit the toilet with some urgency.  Mercifully I located a public convenience and was soon on my way again.  Curry had kindly waited with me, so we rode together to the ferry.

Me and Bushy

Back across to the mainland both Neil and I fell asleep on the ferry, and needless to say we were all feeling fairly tired (well other than Mike, who had only just warmed up).  I rode the 15 miles back to the finish nice and gently, and other than stopping to watch Mike change his inner tube for the second time due to a split in his rear tyre, and a brief rain storm at the end we were all done.  

Performance of the day has to go to Andy M though.  I haven’t mentioned him much in this blog update, and that is because I hardly saw him on the ride.  He may be the oldest member of our Tri Team, but my god he is good on the bike.  Him, Neil and Mike are a different class to the rest of us. Still it is something to aim for, and perhaps one day I will be able to keep up with them.

Mike, Bushy and Neil crossing the finish line