Thursday, 19 August 2010

Germany 70.3 Race Report

Wiesbaden, Germany

My second 70.3 of the season, and ever for that matter felt like a long time coming. The memories of pain and achievement from Austria in May had long since faded and I was really excited about making this trip (on my own this time) to Germany to test myself over what looked to be a much more challenging course than previous effort at this distance.

The last month of training prior to this race was pretty solid. I think I managed to hit all my sessions bar one swim day when an extra couple of hours just seemed like it would do me more good that 3km in the pool, and my last OD training race had gone fairly well. I had also been paying attention to my diet, with some focus on the idea of ‘racing weight’, a concept and goal that requires some deep thinking and effort (see forthcoming post on this topic) and went into this race at 177lbs at last weigh in, feeling quite trim.

Arriving in Wiesbaden after a great journey (blown away with HRW T5 – drop off to departure gate in about 15 minutes!) I walked the 2km from my pretty decent and inexpensive hotel to the centre of town where the Expo and registration was. Given this area was in the town square it was quite compact but had a good vibe already with lots of athletes milling around, loads of different languages being spoken and despite a forecast to the contrary, sun shining. Registering on the Friday is always a good idea, as no que’s or commotion make it pain free and it’s always a bit exciting to see what swag is given out – for this race a rather fetching black and orange duffle bag which I’m sure was made just for me in Dundee United colours. And checking in early means that the helpers have a bit more time for you so I was able to properly get the lie of the land which was important as the swim start/T1 and the finish line were about 7 km apart so it was good to understand the bike check in and very efficient bus shuttle system that was in place.

On Friday evening I took full advantage of the Pasta Party (I may even have eaten a bit too much) before heading back to the hotel to rest up, where I met a very friendly German couple, Frank & Kat and we arranged to share a list to the start in the morning.

Usual rules applied to sleep ie: it seemed short and restless. I tend to toss and turn from excitement, which then turns to worry about not getting enough sleep post-midnight. But as always, the alarm is always a shock for a few minutes before excitement and a coffee kick in.

After arriving at the swim start with my new friends Frank & Kat we walked the length of the Schiersteiner Hafen towards T1 to check over the bikes etc which had been racked and serviced the previous day. Our timing was great, and we watched the pro’s and elite’s start their wave. This is always exciting and impressive and made me super buzzed about my own start at 08:55. A check over the bike (all fine and ready to roll), adding my drinks and food, clipping my shoes into the pedals, toilet stop and wetsuit on and it was time to get the game face on!

Schiersteiner Hafen (harbour) is a long, thin man-made lake which runs off the Rhein and is used for boating etc. As such, the swim course was a dead straight out and back meaning sighting would not be a problem. Standing in the holding pen watching the wave ahead enter the water and start seemed like forever, but was only 10 minutes. As my wave walked down the ramp into the water I got a great vies of al the yellow markers laid out dead ahead and at that the skies opened and the rain came down in sheets. I could see the dread this caused some of those around me, but it really made me smile and I was happy to embrace the elements.

I had a fairly central position in the water and despite over 500 athletes in my wave the start didn’t seem like the usual washing machine car crash. For he first 10 minutes or so I struggled to get a rhythm, and it was harder work than I wanted at that stage. I think this led to a drop in focus and I realised I wasn’t heading in quite the right direction and was pulling to the right. It wasn’t quite a Def Con 1 situation though and I corrected and seemed to settle down a bit, finding clear water and starting to pass a few swimmers. I have never managed to get a draft in the swim, so made a mental note to self to work on that over the winter. The rest passed uneventfully and I felt like I’d had a decent swim, managing a PB of 00:33:52.

The rain wasn’t a surprise (forecast for days) and I had decided to pack a cycling top in my bike bag, with waterproof gillet and arm warmers already in the pockets in anticipation of things getting chilly on the bike. This proved to be a wise move later but certainly cost a little time as I struggled a little to get it on over my wet kit.

I love the bike, and always feel good when that part of the race starts. A slight wobble when I couldn’t get my foot into one shoe straight away soon passed and the first couple of km’s were flat and fast but it wasn’t long before the climbing started, and that was definitely the theme of the bike leg with around 1500m of climbing overall, hitting 12 degrees at one point. With the rain battering down it definitely made for a tough day but I felt pretty good throughout the 90km’s and found that elusive sweet spot for much of the bike. I find that singing helps, and a selection of Dundee United FC , Stone Roses and The Alarm songs were the choice de jour. It also draws looks of incredulity from other athletes as I go past which I like. The flipside of climbing is that you get some great descents and this proved to be the case in Germany. At times the rain was coming down so hard that I could barely see at it felt more like hail than rain but I didn’t let that slow me down and with some great local support in many of the really pretty little villages up in the hills, I was happy enough with my bike time of 2:58:40.

This didn’t go a smoothly as planned. First slight hitch was on dismount of the bike, one shoe came unclipped from the pedal so I had to stop and retrieve that. In this race, one great feature was that athletes don’t rack their won bikes – a helper takes it and does it for you. However, as I handed my helper my unclipped shoe I saw him throw it in a box of random shoes which made me think I would never see it again, so that was a bit of added stress. And for the first time ever, I had to stop for a pee during the race. Of course, with a one piece tri-suit on, this is not convenient, but when you’ve gotta go….

The run was 4 loops around what looked like a nature trail/walk within a local park and was mostly gravel footpath with a couple of sections on the road, before arriving back in the central town square where the expo was for a lap before repeating. It was fairly flat, but definitely uphill for the first 2km, then slight decline before levelling out a little near the end. These very mellow inclines didn’t feel so mellow to me, as the effort on the bike really hit home on lap 3. My split times went up by about 4 minutes at that point and I was starting to hurt. I had told myself the 3rd lap would be the hardest and embraced the pain as much as possible and it was a great boost when my new friend Kat gave me an unexpected cheer from the sideline. Different coloured bands were being handed out on each lap, and I was deeply envious of those athletes around me with 3 and 4 bands but just kept telling myself that it would be me soon and sure enough, eventually I collected my 4th band with about 500m to go. A slight downhill, then flat before funnelling off onto the blue carpet and into the square which was filled with spectators in a grandstand and by the road side who were great at cheering every athlete over the line. I think I managed a fairly nippy last 500m and was delighted to cross the line at which point the ‘central governor’ kicked in and the legs decided it was sit down or fall down.

I had hoped to post a better run time than in Austria but could only manage a disappointing 01:45:20. Looking at my splits on the run, I went from 00:24;50 on the first two laps to 00:26:10 on the third and 00:29:46 on the last so it’s clear I need to work on aerobic and muscular endurance on the run. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll compete on many courses with as much bike climbing and my overall run performance might even have been a bit stronger than before, bearing that in mind.

A final time of 05:24:46 feels like an under-performance but I probably would have taken it before the race, and even managed to bring me in (just!) within the magical 120% of age group winner.

Finally, I have to mention that the organization and service to the athletes at this event were great. Lots of personal help, brilliant and plentiful nutrition and a tough but well thought out course, so props to the organisers.

Friday, 30 July 2010

ITU Hyde Park Triathlon Race Report

ITU series Olympic Distance Triathlon
Hyde Park, London

Having competed in this event in 2010, I was quick to register when 2011 entry opened. Although my focus this year has switched to 70.3 the location, the chance to better my time over the same course and the fact that this is a great event for supporters meant I was quite excited about taking part.

With my next 70.3 in mid August in mind, I viewed this as a great chance for a competitive, race scenario training session. I didn’t really break my training stride, just having slightly easier days on Friday and Saturday before the event. When I checked out the course, I realised that the swim, bike and run all followed slightly different paths from last year (with the bike coming up a few km’s short of 40km) meaning I wasn’t going to have comparable times, but in fact all the changes were for the better and I’m sure someone else will be writing about the changes so I won’t bother with the detail but the jist is: faster & less confusing.

Now, while having friends and family there to support you at events is great, I learnt the hard way that the competitor (me) should avoid being the one responsible for getting the supporters (my mother and sister) to the venue. Their sense of urgency is unlikely to match yours and the concept of adequate prep time doesn’t seem as important to them. The result of this pissing about was that I had to run to the swim start and arrived mid-briefing (which to be fair I wouldn’t have heard anyway due to the excellent but really loud Mars Volta track that was booming out of the speaker right next to us) and slightly sweaty from the 200m jog. Not the best prep to say the least, and an annoyance turned into a disaster when I was pulling my wetsuit on and the seams on one sleeve split right up both sides from wrist to elbow. “Shit!” pretty much sums it up.

I got into the water and soon realised that doing nothing was going to mean swimming with a small parachute attached to my arm – not good. I figured I had 2 options:
1. Get out, ditch the wetsuit and swim without it. The water was certainly warm enough and I wasn’t to daunted by a non-wetsuit swim.
2: Roll the sleeve up and tuck it out of the way.
The decision was made for me when the starter announced that we were 15 seconds from the gun, so I quickly rolled it up and tucked the flappy bits under as best I could.

Then we were off.

I would have thought that the problem with the suit would be a real head-messer, but I found that I embraced the challenge. I was treating this race as a training session, and I also thought that it was a good opportunity to cope with something unexpected – this was bound to happen eventually so now was as good a time as any.
The roll/tuck plan proved to be a ‘fail’ and after a few minutes, I was flapping like a hen at the knackers yard. “Fuck it” I thought, “Just get on with it”. So I did.
I felt like I was going OK – pretty strong and nearer the front of my wave than the back. The suit probably cost me a little bit of time, but I posted a good time for me – the lessons have definitely paid of so far.
Time: 25:50 (207th overall)

A long (350m) transition was made eventful by the sigh of my cheer squad holding a massive banner – “Go Paul Go!!” which really made me smile and was very much appreciated.
Time: 3:08

I love being on the bike, probably because it’s my strongest event. Plus I have a pretty frickin’ cool bike. I had the shoes already on the bike and it was a very smooth bike mount which was good – the last race I did wasn’t so smooth so that felt like an improvement. The course was 5 laps and technical in that there were 2 x 90 degree turns, and 2 very tight u-turns around traffic cones. But I spend the whole bike leg picking of people ahead of me and passing which is a feel good thing. I think I was only passed once, so not bad.
Time: 0:59:26 (42nd overall)

Time: 01:50

In 2010, the run was always a struggle and a disappointment. This season though, I’ve been working on this myself, and with The Running School and it seems to be working.
A completely different and less dull run course from last year, this was 4 laps around the Serpantine Lake which meant that the finish line was in sight for most of the run. Splits for laps 1-3 varied by about 40 seconds, but the last lap was almost 30 seconds quicker than any of the others and I definitely felt like I had left a bit of energy on the course, so I need to work on pacing a bit more. Still, a decent time posted and it was the run that brought me closest to my supporters, now joined by a few wives of friends who were also competing. They were about 300m from the finish so I got a really good boost and lots of nose as I came home.
Time: 42:17 (193rd overall)

Overall: 02:12:29

My final time put me 12th in my age group and 79th overall which I have to be happy with. PB’s in overall, swim and run were good too but I have to admit to being a little disappointed as I think if I had really gone for it I could have ended a few places up and well in the top 10 in cat. Looking at the splits, it’s clear that working on my run and swim times is important but I’m doing that and definitely improving, so heading in the right direction. I’ll just keep working and with luck, improving.

One other good thing was that my recovery was quick and with an easy day following the race I’ve gone straight back into my training schedule with no problems – in fact, I feel great.

Roll on 70.3 Germany!


Swim Finish 00:25:50 25:50
After Bike Start 00:28:58 03:08
Bike Check Lap1 00:30:48 01:50
Bike Check Lap2 00:42:13 11:25
Bike Check Lap3 00:53:43 11:30
Bike Check Lap4 01:05:12 11:29
Bike Check Lap5 01:16:32 11:20
After Bike Finish 01:28:23 11:51
After Run Start 01:30:12 01:49
Run Check Lap1 01:40:46 10:34
Run Check Lap2 01:51:33 10:47
Run Check Lap3 02:02:25 10:52

Finish 02:12:29 10:04

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Thinking Big - Setting a Goal.

I was lucky enough to have an email exchamge with Chrissie Wellington recently. I know....that's a bit mental. In the course of this I disclosed for the first time that my blue, blue, blue sky goal would be to qualify for the GB age group team at half/70.3 distance. This was her response:

"My blue blue blue sky goal was to wear the GBR vest as an age grouper. and look where i am now. Dare to dream BIG Paul, and you never know what photos you will be showing your child(ren) in a few years time. And , if nothing else, you will have an awesome time trying - not to mention some chafing, tan lines and a supersized appetite. all the good things to come from this obsession we called triathlon!"

How inspring is that? Pretty inspiring as it turns out. It prompted me to get in touch with British Triathlon and get some info on what is required and where to start. I was extremely impressed to get a reply within a couple of hours from Adam Elliot, Performance Age Group Administrator at Brisitsh Triathlon. He explained:

"As British Triathlon we look after Age Group events that are run by the ITU. These events are not 70.3 as that is a brand term used by Ironman but are of similar length. There are 2 Long Distance championships in the calendar, the ETU European and ITU World championships. These events alternate (in theory) between being o2 (double Olympic), and o3 (triple Olympic) distance.

The process for gaining a place on one of these teams is similar to standard distance racing but without qualifying events.

As there are no set qualification races, athletes are required to submit their own performances from any race within 18 months of the qualification process at longer than Olympic distance. So Ironman, 03, Half Ironman, 02 etc. To qualify, this performance must rank you within 115% (Worlds), and 120% (Europeans) of the winner of your Age Groups time in the race you use. You put these races in the space provided on the registration form (online – log in to membership page and select ‘Age Group Team Application’ from the left hand side)."

So, unlike at sprint and olympic distance, there are no specific qualifying events. So, I thought I would calculate my time from Austria 70.3 as a % of the winner in my age group to see if I was even anywhere near the level of performance required. And shit the bed - my time put me within the 120% required for consideration for the 2011 Europeans. Now, there are other criterea to fill, and a very limited number of places available so I'd say it's highly unlikely I will get in for 2011, but I will apply and this news combined with the amazing pep email from Chrissie Wellington has given me a huge boost and led me to officially declare my intent: I WILL ONE DAY REPRESENT GB AT AGE GROUP LEVEL.

There. I've said it. It's out there. I'll look a twat now if I don't give it my very best shot. And as a dad, I would love to be able to tell my son that his old man did what he set out to do - that is motiviation enough!

There is loads of work to do, and in a funny way I'm slightly looking forward to the end of this season so I can really start planning my attack. But the journey starts here, and I'll blog about it, warts and all.

By the way - I don't have any warts.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Getting Stronger.

I've been doing some realyl good coached running sessons at Running School in Chiswick, London under the guidance of Mike Antoniades. He and his team made some immediate changes to my technique that have resulted in improvements already. One of the key topics we work on is engaging and strengthening the glutes and core - soemthing often overlook by triathletes and runners. Here are some great med ball drills that are easy to do at home and seem well worth the time investment.

Monday, 28 June 2010

@rocknrolltri likes Hornet Juice.

Austria 70.3 Race Report

After last summer’s debut in Triathlon, taking in sprint and Olympic distance and becoming well and truly hooked on the sport, I decided that this year I would step up to 70.3 distance. So not only was this my first race of the season, it was my first ever at this distance and I chose a great location to compete – St Polten, Austria.

Travelling with 5 other guys including ProVo2’s Bruno Morelli, we arrived in Austria on Friday afternoon for the race on Sunday and went straight to the race venue in order to have a quick look round and beat the registration rush. It was immediately clear that this was not just a step up in distance but in style and atmosphere too. The Iron Village was already busy with athletes, and there was plenty to see and spend money on. Without any lines to wait in, registration was easy and it was a nice surprise to be given a Zoot rucksack as an athlete gift.

After a bit of a sleepless night at a very decent hotel and, we were up early to get back to the race site and get the bikes a quick tune and later attend the race briefing in English which was really helpful and is not something you would want to miss. We also had a walk around the swim course and transition areas by which time excitement levels were steadily rising. With more athletes on site and lots of bikes appearing too, it was a really buzzing environment to be part of. Bikes were checked in, and run and bike bags left in T1 and T2.

The course in St Polten is pretty amazing. The first striking feature is that the swim is not a continuous 1900m. The first 900m is on one lake, before athletes exit and run 200m to a different lake to complete the last kilometre. The bike leg is the highlight though – with roads closed to traffic for 90km, and the first 18km being on closed motorway, it’s a real treat. Although mostly flat, there are two big climbs, some really fast descents and a few technical moments so overall it has a bit of everything, including some stunning scenery and views of the Danube.

Race day arrived and we were on site at 6am to make final checks on the bike. The vibe at this point was brilliant – 3000 athletes all completely focused on their race. Some amazing bikes in T1 and last minute tinkering and prep happening all around.

I was in wave 5 (35-40) with a 7.55 start. Getting to the swim start took a while due to access being by a narrow bridge which was split down the middle - lots of athletes and supporters heading one way with the Pro’s and early waves racing between the two lakes going the other. I managed to catch the pro’s at this point, and seeing Chris McCormack et al in action was a great inspiration.

I was on my own at this point as the rest of the guys were in different waves but I prefer a bit of alone time with the ipod anyway, and The Stone Roses seemed to be ticking the boxes. I was doing a light jog when another ProVo2 ‘er (Nathan) spotted my team top and stopped me to say hello which was nice and we wished each other luck before I got into my wetsuit and into the water about 10 mins before start. With over 500 people in my wave it was crowded but electric and before I knew it we were off.

I was expecting a real washing machine but it wasn’t too bad and I managed to get a bit of rhythm before the first turn. Things were congested now, and with the 2nd turn about 50m later, it stayed that way until the first long portion of open water and I felt like I was going OK and crucially seemed to have my pacing right. Coming out of the water for the 200m run to swim part 2 was straight forward and not too crowded. I wondered if the run might leave me puggled for the next swim but actually it gave the arms a little rest and I felt the 2nd part of the swim went better than the first. Swim time (including the run 35:21)

A short run to T1, bike bag collected from my peg and into the tent to get the wetsuit off and into the empty bag. I had put my helmet in my bike bag too, so that was already on as I got to my bike before running about 100m with it to the exit. With lots of people around it was a bit congested, but I was less then impressed when the guy in front of me stopped dead before he got out of T1. I managed to avoid smashing into the back of him but evasive action meant I lost control of my bike and as I kept running I stumbled over it and ended up in a pile on the ground. I immediately panicked that the bike might be damaged but it luckily it was OK. I did loose most of the energy drink from my profile bottle though, and picked up a grazed elbow – overall, this might have cost me 30 seconds or so but I was soon on the saddle and starting the bike leg.

T1 time: 3:53

After a km or so through a residential area, we were on the open motorway which was incredible. I can’t imagine ever having closed roads like this in the UK and I quickly settled into the aero position and was klanging along quite comfortably, moving past lots of riders. My Specialized Transition expert, fitted with FFWD 240’s was really in it’s element, and the money I had spent on a thorough bike fit was well spent. Before I knew it we were off the motor way and onto ‘a’ roads and a slightly rolling terrain before the first climb which took us through several small hamlets. The local people were brilliant – out on the street cheering us all along with ‘hop, hop, hop”, ringing cowbells and adding to the atmosphere. With the first feed station at the top if the climb I grabbed a bottle of infinite drink and a water refill for my profile bottle before the fast and triacky decent. There were a few tight corners and at the first left hand 90 degree turn I saw at least one person on the ground, bike in the barrier. This made me extra glad I’d had a gears and brakes tune up. More winding and flat terrain took us along the banks of the Danube and I was steadily passing riders from my own wave as well those from the waves ahead of me. At about 55km I was passed by 2 leaders from the wave after me who were really moving and looked very strong although they were definitely drafting each other, against the rules. At about 60km the 2nd big climb started – 8km long and gaining about 330m. And right at that time the clouds opened for about 10 minutes of heavy rain. For some reason, this made me laugh and I was fairly happy grinding away and embracing the pain. About half way up I passed a rider who was working on a tubular puncture. I asked if he was OK and in broken English he said he had lost his gas nozzle. I figured it would be good triathlon karma to help him so I stopped for about a 90 seconds to assist. Another feed station at the top of that climb, followed soon after by ‘70km’ sprayed on the road gave me a boost, as did the long fast decent back to St Polten. The last 20km passed quickly, but now with a slight cross wind and a cheeky Italian who was drafting me.

Bike time: 2:34:53

Bike racked at T2 I grabbed my run bag, trainers and visor on, helmet and glasses into the empty bag and away on the run, which I wasn’t really looking forward to as it is my weakest area.

T2: 2:16

The venue had both a tennis arena and 400m athletics track and these were incorporated into the run. The arena was great – steep seating stands around 3 sides were filled with supporters so the noise and colour was impressive. Run feed stations provided water, coke, banana, energy gels and sponges and were every 3km so a grabbed coke, rounded the area for the first time before a lap of the 400m track, then another lap of the arena before heading out along the banks of the river for the first of 2 big laps. The legs felt surprisingly good at this point (thanks to the bike fit I think) and the first 10km went by in about 45 mins. The next 6 were tough and the last 5 horrible. Getting to the halfway stage was great, and meant I was on the home leg, the cheers from the arena proving a real encouragement. At about 17km things suddenly slowed down and got tougher but by this time I would hear the speaker announcements at the finish line and just nutted down to get on with it. At 1km to go the legs really felt heavy and the last lap of the athletics track seemed a lot longer than 400m. But as I rounded the corner, the marshal guided me into the finishers lane and as I took the last few steps up the ramp and over the line, the pain of the last half hour vanished and I was handed my medal and foil blanket. Looking back now I am disappointed with the run time and felt about 4 or 5km short.

Run time: 1:41:36
Overall time: 4:57:59

Getting in under 5hrs feels like a decent effort for my first 70.3, and the aim is to go back next year and try and bring that down to sub 4:45.
Overall, this was an amazing experience and I now can’t wait for Ironman Germany 70.3 in August.