Thursday, March 31, 2011

Working out while working

Well, not exactly working out but giving myself a kind of leg massage before a relatively tough workout at lunchtime. The best thing about the Compex is that you can be doing something else while using it. I find it helps me recover after workouts and helps when my muscles get overloaded from a build up of training. I rarely use it to develop strength although, given that the contractions go up to 999 (at the moment I have it on about 30!), it is certainly powerful enough. This will definitely be going in my hand luggage on the way back from Brazil (assuming they don't think it is some kind of detonator). I'll need it to recover from the Ironman and to keep the blood moving on the long flight home.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Desk fit

If you are an office worker serious about triathlon then you should consider getting your desk set up properly.

A triathlete never misses a training opportunity...

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I didn't just choose to do the Ironman in Brazil because it is one of the relatively "easy" ones or because I have some friends also competing - Brazil has for a long time had a special place in my heart. Back in my deejay years, I built up quite a collection of rare Brazilian records which I used to play out in clubs now and again (I wonder whether I'll manage to unearth some quality vinyl in Florianópolis...). I even did a remix of an old Brazilian tune ("Futebol de bar") which ended up on a compilation by my hero of the music world, Gilles Peterson.

The other day I was listening to my brand new iPhone (what a gadget!!) and a Brazilian mix came up that I did years ago for the CD that came free with a Spanish magazine called Enlace Funk. I thought I'd put a link up to the mix to get in the mood... Enjoy!! It's a shame you can't listen to music during the Ironman competition but I'm hoping there will be some kicking batucada bands to keep up our energy levels.

Don't be mental

The problem with cutting down on training is that the energy that was being put into exercise has to be invested in something else and that, typically, is in worrying obsessively (at least in my case) about getting fat and unfit. It's totally illogical, of course. It has only been a few days - less of a taper than I would do before a big event anyway - and yet, I am convinced that I am running less efficiently and piling on the kilos. The latter may well be true as my parents are here and we are going from one slap up meal to another (I'm fully to blame here but my parents make a good excuse). On the other hand, it's probably not a bad idea to fatten up a tiny bit so that I am better prepared for the final 2 month push to the end. That is plenty of time to get lean and mean. Writing this down helps to convince me!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Week 11 / 20

Spot the difference: before...
...and after
You must be all on the edge of your seats wondering, how is Rob's training going, what has happened to him after his last post about hitting the limit? Actually, it's more likely that you are here because you searched for "rare Scottish whelks" in Google and found that this was the top hit.

Jonathan was very positive when I told him about the problems I was having with my back. He immediately sent me back a revised training plan (which may still need to be re-revised) with the comment that "this goes to mass" (meaning: no mucking about, this is a mandatory reduction in training load). You can see the difference between what I had programmed and what I am to do now in the graphs above. Now he's worried that, once the back pain subsides, I'll have a kind of training "high" from the sudden reduction, as if I were tapering in order to peak for the competition already. It's a delicate business this, getting the load right, and it is very difficult to be objective about it when you are immersed in the middle - again, this is why I think it is fundamental to have a trainer, just like it is fundamental to have a doctor, however much you have read up about your ailments on the internet. The great temptation will be, once my back is back (sorry) to normal, to rush back into training at the level I was before. It's very important to ease back in carefully, to avoid provoking the problem again. Now that I know that one of my "failure modes" is for my back to seize up, it is a useful indicator for the weeks of training that are yet to come.

In the meantime, with the sudden reduction in daily calorie burning I have had to be careful about what I eat. On a day with no training I have about 2,100 calories to "spend" and it is quite amazing how little that buys you. I miss my 1/2 kilo of sirloin steak.

By Thursday, the pain in my back had completely subsided and was a relief in more ways than one. I don't know whether this was due to being "manipulated" by Paloma two days in a row or just due to rest - I suspect a combination of the two. I actually noticed in the middle of the night that it was much better - at first it would still hurt to shift position but, by the morning, I had no more discomfort. The idea had been to take Thursday and Friday off work simply to be able to fit in the hours of training I had planned; in the end, in spite of having nothing more than a light swim to do, I decided to take the Friday off anyway. It's been a harder slog to get here than perhaps I had let myself realize so I think a little break from everything is a good thing. Now to attack that second "hump" of training with renewed vigour and the confidence of having been there and done that!

On another note, I booked my accommodation in Florianópolis - or, I should say, Cassia, the wife of Carlos who is also doing the Brazil Ironman with me, booked it for me (thanks!). It's not cheap - but then, the words "Triathlon" and "cheap" are very rarely seen in close proximity to each other. It includes an "Ironman package" which covers all the transportation to and from the airport and the event (with bike) and breakfast at whatever insane hour I'll have to have it on the day of the race itself. It looks like a lovely place so at least the family should enjoy it while I am biting my nails down to my knuckles. Cassia is Brazilian and has family from Florianópolis and is as good as being an Ironman herself in that she is married to one and knows all too well what it is all about. So I am in good hands as an Ironman virgin...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hitting the limit

It seems like I have hit my physical limit in the training. I hadn't expected it to be like this - I thought I would suffer the dreaded overtraining syndrome of demotivation, sickness and injury. Of course it is important to have rest days in your training program so that your body can recover and make the necessary adjustments to be able to tackle an increasing load; the thing about triathlon training is that the bike is a rest from running as swimming is from the bike. To give you some idea, yesterday I found myself considering that it was a "day off" in that I only had to run an hour and a half.

Since Saturday I have noticed that my lower back has been getting painful. It's not a sharp pain like you get from contractions (for example, in my shoulder) but rather a dull pain which you associate more with general fatigue. It can be an almost pleasant sensation of feeling that you have done a good workout with the proviso that, as soon as you lie down and rest, the ache goes away. Well, that's the problem - it doesn't go away, it keeps nagging all day long and is starting to interfere with my sleep. Yesterday, after the run (and running usually calms any back pain I might have) it got particularly bad. I went to see Paloma, the physio at work and even she was only able to slightly alleviate the pain and discomfort. Some Ibuprofen also helped. Paloma said that it was not a problem with the muscles but with the joints as a result of fatigue from training.

So it seems like the common denominator in the three sports is the back and that it simply does not get a chance to rest. Today I am having to skip my training for the first time since I broke my elbow in June last year. I think what I do now is what makes the difference between the kind of "boom bust" athletes (of which I was one) and the steady improvers. It's always very difficult to break the training schedule because of the fear of losing fitness, the fear of breaking the habit or even the fear of being a "wuss" - and having a incessant pain in your back doesn't put you in the best mood for taking these kind of decisions. This was the main reason I got in touch with my trainer, Jonathan, in the first place: to be able to charge him with the responsibility of me having to "slack off" every now and again. It's funny, my trainers in my rowing years in the late 80's and early 90's were there for the opposite reason, to make sure we didn't slack off. I'll send an email to Jonathan shortly and see what he says. Hopefully a couple of days rest will be enough, followed by a few days to build back up to the volume and intensity I have been training at. It's a shame that it should happen in this important peak week that I have been building up to for a month now, but it's also not surprising that it should happen now.

Taking this break will probably have no effect on my performance in the Ironman - just as well that it happened now and not in two month's time - but, suppose that it results in my time being 10 minutes slower than it would have been. It's still my best possible time. Had I sustained an injury from falling off my bike or overdoing it generally, not only would the effect be greater (most probably), but it would be something avoidable. That I am physically unable (at this point) to complete 100% of the training program Jonathan has set out for me is as much a real limitation as the fact that I couldn't run a Marathon in 2 hours and 4 minutes even if my life depended on it. This is my way of rationalising this little setback, and I hope it will be little.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Week 10 / 20

Half way there!!!

The weather was so much better this week and that makes such a difference. I think that if you have to do your Ironman training in the UK, you should get a headstart in the race to make up for the bad conditions you had to suffer in training. The long rides on Saturday and Sunday were actually a pleasure (once my shoulder had settled down) - not too hot (only needed less than half a litre of water per hour and no sunblock), not too cold (shorts and t-shirt) and lovely clear blue skies. Only got one puncture on the road bike but I managed to (calmly) fix it without any problems.

My shoulder is a lot better thanks to Marta - it's still not perfect, though. I can almost set my watch by it - it starts to hurt about 30 minutes into a ride and then stops again after about an hour. Even though I am coming to expect that the pain will subside, it severely effects my mood and makes the ride seem daunting at first.

I did my long run on Friday on the way to work (2 hours) and I am noticing that I am a lot fitter (which is just as well) but I am getting a bit lazy, I have to say. I am running at about the same speed as I would have done some months ago but my pulse rate is much lower (133bpm versus 147bpm). What I should be doing is running faster but, although the cardiovascular load seems less, the muscular load does not and, after a week of heavy training, my legs feel like lead.

What about swimming? I hardly ever mention it, partly because I do much less of it than the other two sports (it is a relatively small part of the Ironman) and partly because it is what I am worst at. Still, that means that the improvements I am making are all the more dramatic. When I can, I have a private swimming lesson with Luis from the gym at work. The good thing is that he has done the Total Immersion course so at least he knows what I am trying to do and can help me develop a style that includes the best of all worlds, hopefully. There are times when it "clicks" and I feel like I am swimming on top of the water - it is a very rewarding sensation when you get it right, but it is also very demoralising when you are slugging it through the water. At one point I started to worry that I was getting one of those dreaded swimming related injuries like Swimmer's Shoulder - it turned out that that the burning sensation I was feeling in my shoulder came from my beard rubbing against it every time I turned to breathe!

Anyway, all this to say, so far so good. Next week I have the mother of all weeks as far as volume goes. I've decided to take a couple of days holiday to be able to train without getting unduly stressed about it: I have been building up to being able to handle this volume for the last couple of months so I really want to be able to tackle it head on. After next week there will be a relatively light week and then a build towards the Half Ironman in Lisbon at the end of April and, after that, a final build towards the Ironman in Brazil itself. That's not to say it's going to get any easier but I'm hoping that it will be easier to keep motivated.

From my commute: Some of these olive trees are over 1,000 years old!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shouldering the pain

The pain in my shoulder has been getting too much lately so I decided to get some help. I normally see a physio at work, Paloma, who is brilliant but the other 6,500 employees seem to think so to, so it is often difficult to get an appointment, unless it is in the middle of the work day which I am reluctant to do. Instead, I called A Mano Fisios who are able to come to my house at whatever antisocial time best suits me. Marta turned up with a foldable massage bed and, despite her unassuming size, she gave me a very tough massage which was just the right side of being intollerably painful. I'd rather have to put up with a lot of pain during a concentrated and controlled period of time than have it creep up on me during an otherwise taxing training session (or competition, for that matter). It made me realize, though, how serious the problem was - the muscles in my shoulder blade were knotted like an old sailor's rope. I find it curious how much pain you can tollerate by breathing heavily - I wonder, where does this link come from? Is it an evolutionary trait inherited from the labour of childbirth?

Marta prescribed me some exercises to do with one of those big rubber bands to strengthen the muscles but, what was most helpful, was that she pointed out something that was probably obvious to anyone but myself. The shoulder separation I have not only means my shoulder hangs down slightly lower, but my shoulder blade itself tends to stick out the back - something I wasn't aware of as I can't see it myself. She showed me how, by bringing my shoulder back slightly, I could reposition it and she told me that this is what I should aim to do while on the bike. It makes perfect sense: when I am doing active work with my shoulder it tends to position itself correctly - swimming and running are not a problem, for example - but on the bike, the work is more passive, the arms and shoulders have to balance the work of the legs and respond to shocks in the road. As a result, I tend to have a "lazy" posture, one which means that the muscles are at a disadvantage when responding to what is required of them. I have to make a conscious effort to position the shoulder correctly when I am on the bike, without tensing it up, of course. I also have to be aware of my posture while I am at my desk at work for the very same reasons.

I also bought some bar ends for my mountain bike, which give me an alternative (and more comfortable) hand position. Its too early to say whether all these measures are enough to tide me over until the Ironman, but I had no shoulder pain this morning during the two hour ride I did before work, so the early indications are good.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Its a privilege

I was reading a book of accounts of Ironman Finishers and DNF'ers (Did Not Finishers) when I was struck by a comment of one of the authors. She said that we were privileged to be able to enjoy the level of fitness that training for an Ironman gives you. I had never thought of it like that; I had previously thought that my fitness was my right and what I got in return for the price I paid in training. I don't have to go so far as to compare myself to people with physical discapacities. Firstly, the "price" is not something only I am paying for, it is something that my family is also paying for. But not only that, the fact is that I have the room for maneouvre to be able to dedicate lot's of time (and money) to something which is for a purely selfish benefit - there are many people who are already under too much stress just to be able to make ends meet, to think of doing something like this on top of it all. Of course, there are some side benefits - I'm sure I am better able to handle stress at work, better at managing my time and generally more alert as a result of the training I am doing - but, let's not kid ourselves, I would have those benefits with a third of the training volume I am currently doing.

No, reading that comment has really made me think. I am very fortunate to be able to do this "experiment" of seeing what happens to my body if I subject it to all this training. Every week it seems like a new vein has popped up - even my weedy arms are starting to look a little bit more muscley - and, most importantly, it is a great feeling to be able to run fast and long almost effortlessly. Its a shame, of course, that as soon as I drop down to a reasonable amount of training, the veins will go back into hiding below a layer of subcutaneous fat, the muscles on my arms will drip off like melting wax and the long runs will go back to huffing and puffing. Although I am going to do everything in my power to not do another Ironman (for the time being), I would like to keep things ticking over so that when the kids are off to university I can take it up again, this time as a 50-something age grouper (with the best tri bike that money can buy in 2022!).

Week 9 / 20

As usual, not much to say about the training during the week which was pretty uneventful - most of the "action" was at the weekend, when we went to Ciudad Real (home of Don Quioxote). I drew up a couple of routes on bikeroutetoaster and sent them to my Garmin in preparation. The weather promised rain so I reluctantly decided to take the mountain bike with me - in any case I like to avoid sticking my road bike on the roof of the car as much as possible. The idea was that the mountain bike would be more robust, especially on roads that I didn't know - ha ha, the irony!

On Saturday I got a puncture at the furthest point from "home". Not to worry, I had a spare tube, patches and a top of the range pump that had hardly been used. I connect the pump to the valve and all the remaining air comes scooting out; this is when I find that the pump doesn't actually work. I call my wife - this is the first time I have had to play this card because there were no other cyclists out to help me. Its a real hassle for her to come because she is supposed to be working - of all the weekends, what bad luck! I start to get quite cold waiting for her to come but thankfully I spot another cyclist - Manolo - passing by. He very kindly stopped and helped me get going again, and was also good company on the ride until he himself got a puncture! It seems like I am jinxed by the Puncture Demon: everyone who stops to help me seems to end up falling foul of it too. My shoulder was extremely painful during the first half of the ride - so much so that it made me shout out in pain a couple of times. This, coupled with getting the first puncture on the mountain bike in about 9 months and the fact that I had an hour and a half run to do immediately after, put me in a very dark mood. It doesn't take too much imagination to guess what I was calling the company that made the pump that let me (and my tyre) down - Crank Brothers. At least the run was very good quality - the last 20 minutes at medium heart rate I completed at 15km/h, after three hours riding and an hour running. I worked out my run in such a way that I could pick up a new pump and inner tube from Eroski on the way for my long ride the next day.

The ride on Sunday was supposed to be 5 and a half hours long. In the end it was 6 hours of pedalling and more than 7 hours of elapsed time. During the ride I didn't get just one puncture or two, no, I got FIVE punctures! I checked very carefully each time inside the tyre to see whether there was something lodged in there but the answer was much simpler than that - the tyre was wearing out and it chose this weekend to make its last stand. Not to worry, I had a spare tube, patches and a brand new pump. Now, the Chinese can make good quality items if they put their mind to it but they are the experts at making disposable plastic crap. Normally you can expect to get at least a couple of goes out of something "Made in China" but the pump (9€) turned out to be utterly useless (worse than the W*nk Brothers one) and the spare tube - get this - split immediately as soon as I pumped it up the first time! I needn't have run 10km the day before clutching a pump and a spare tube after all, not to mention the waste of money. Anyway, I had learnt an important lesson from Manlolo: instead of trying to pump up the tyre with the hand pump and risking being left with completely flat tyres, better to soldier on to the nearest petrol station and pump up the tyres with the machines they have there. It meant that I ended up cycling about a third of the 140 kilometers I managed to cover on a partially flat tyre, with that annoying growl it makes rubbing against the road and with the seat bouncing up and down, making fun of all the energy I was putting in to moving forward. On top of that I made the classic mistake of not noticing that I had the wind with me on the outbound leg; the return journey was into a headwind most of the way. At one point, the road I was riding along petered out and turned to mud. I had the mountain bike so I decided to plow on regardless. Actually "plow" is exactly the right word for it - this wasn't mud but some kind of sticky red clay - I'd never seen anything like it before. Soon my wheels had an extra 5cm diameter and were so clogged up they wouldn't move. Amazingly I managed not to gunk up the gears or the disc brakes so I was able to pull most of the stuff off and carry on.

Amongst the usual roadkill - rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, etc - I saw a dead dog lying in a field and it made me realize how far away I was from anything and anyone: I didn't see a single cyclist in the 7 hours I was out. If my tyre had deflated completely then I really would have been screwed and my wife would not have been amused to have to do a two hour round trip just to avoid her husband joining the dog in the field. The amazing thing is - and I am rather proud of this - I didn't lose my temper once! I was a bit nervous that I would end up getting lost as my Garmin ran out of batteries after 90 kilometers and I had opted for a circular route rather than my usual out and back style. I started to go off the beaten track as far as nutrition went and, instead of my usual Mule bars, started to eat Snickers, M&Ms and drink Red Bull. Perhaps this was why I started to "bonk" (run out of energy stored as glycogen) in the last 8 kilometers or so. I was so happy to see Ciudad Real looming before me - I felt nearly as elated as I have done to see the finish line of a Triathlon. Food was waiting for me when I got back and I gratefully wolfed it down. Meanwhile, my back tyre sighed as it let out its last breath.

Tonight I will be buying some new tyres and a new pump, made anywhere but in China.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Painting the town red

This shows where I have been in and around Madrid on my bike and running; it by no means is comprehensive - I've lost data here and there or I've just simply forgotten to take my trusty Garmin with me. It's actually quite useful, now that I can see where I have been, to help me find new routes as I am getting quite bored of the tried and tested ones.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stretching a point

I was gratified to see that the media is starting to report the results of a scientific study which claims that stretching before a run has no positive (or, for that matter, negative effect) on the prevalence of injuries. I already mentioned some time ago, in a review I did of the book "The Runner's Body", the most convincing reason I have seen for not stretching: that, if you subscribe to the school of stretching, the one single adaption that the body makes in response to running that is detrimental, is that the tendons become stiffer. I prefer to believe in the wisdom of evolution. I'd be interested to see someone take the study one step further and to study the impact of stretching on performance. Apart from being boring and annoying, stretching has always seemed to me to be a kind of barbaric thing to do to your muscles, especially when they are either cold or just after exercising. Anecdotally, I have had no injuries since I completely stopped stretching (touch wood!) and I also feel that my running is "stiffer" and more springy (whether as a result of not stretching, it's impossible to say). Personally, I believe that the emphasis should be on warming up and warming down and, once you are sure that you are doing that properly, think about including some stretching. The new trend towards dynamic stretching seems to back up this idea, whereby the stretches are performed as part of a warm up routine.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Unsung heroes: Pertti Karpinnen

Check out the legs on this guy! Bear in mind that he is over 2 metres tall (6" 7) and, when he was competing, he weighed over a 100 kilos, so he is hardly what you would call of a stocky build.

The holy grail of the rowing world is the single scull: it is just you and your boat, noone else in the crew, not even a cox to steer you (you have to steer with your foot which is connected to the rudder, looking over your shoulder from time to time). Even the mighty Steve Redgrave "only" managed to get a gold in the single scull in the Commonwealth Games. (What a wonderfully British euphemism the word "Commonwealth" is.). As you are moving much more slowly than a rowing 8, your oars spend more time in the water and technique is much more of a factor: how quickly you "catch" the water, how smoothly you accelerate without ripping through the water, how good your rhythm is, how explosively you coordinate all the muscle groups (we're going to assume that balancing the boat is not an issue!).

So how come you haven't heard of arguably the most successful single sculler of all time? He won three Olympic gold medals at three consecutive Olympics, a feat only equalled by Vyacheslav Nikolayevich Ivanov. Maybe its due to the fact that it is impossible to remember where to put the double letters in his name (unless you are Finnish, of course) which makes it is harder to find him on the internet. I read that at the age of 52 he was able to row 2000 metres on the Concept II Rowing ergometer (typically found in most gyms) in 5 minutes and 52 seconds - that means pulling at a 500m split of 1:28 for 6 minutes! Try it sometime.

A week in the life of...

This is a fairly typical week - not a recovery week nor a peak week. The training time adds up to about 22 and a half hours (funny how only a couple of weeks ago that seemed like an insane amount). So here's how I fit it in:

- early morning swim before work
- half an hour run at lunchtime followed by 3 weights circuits and another half an hour run
- swimming lesson after work

- 50 minute commute to work on the bike
- spinning class at lunchtime where I ignore the instructor (sorry) and do 10 minutes warmup, 10 series of 4 minutes at high intensity and a 10 minute cooldown
- 50 minute commute back home on the bike

I'm supposed to do two and a half hours on the bike but as its an easy workout and I have the important long bike sessions at the weekend to build endurance, its OK to split
- 50 minute commute to work on the bike
- 1 hour "spinning" at lunchtime
- 50 minute commute back home on the bike

- run to work in a roundabout way so that it takes 1 hour and 50 minutes to get there
- swim at lunchtime
- run / metro back home

- 60 minute extended commute to work on the bike
- swim at lunchtime
- 60 minute extended commute back home on the bike

- 3 hours on the bike followed by progressively harder run of 1 hour and 20 minutes

- 5 and a half hour ride with some medium intensity permitted

At the weekend, a friend asked me a very strange question: "how did I keep going?". At first I didn't understand him but then I realized, that this is a very good question that most people probably consider to be quite a normal one. The answer is that, most of the time, I don't think about it and the fact that I do most of my runs and rides as an out-and-back course or on the way to and from work means that the main motivation is simply to get back home or not be late for work. There are times when I think about my friend, Neil, and how I am doing this for his memory but, thankfully, those times are very few and I will save them for the competition itself. There are other times when I think of my family and the price they are paying for me to be doing all this training away from them, so I think that I should make the most of all that time and not waste a single minute. Funnily enough, I haven't yet resorted to thinking the obvious "I am doing this so that I can be an Ironman!" but I expect that will come as I get nearer to the date.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rowing in the 90's

I've been wondering for some time now, how my training now compares with the training I did back in the days when I was rowing. I dug up some old documents I had stored away in a file in the 90s. I was surprised to see that the philosophy wasn't so different from now. This is an example of how the British rowing squad / hopefuls were training back then: the training we did in the Oxford University squad was similar given that there were several Olympic gold medalists in the team and we all had to do the same training because we were literally in the same boat. I find it funny to see that we were supposed to be doing most of our training at some kind of aerobic pulse rate because none of us actually had pulse meters back in those days, and there was definitely a kind of macho culture in which you had to be seen to be pulling hard all the time, even when we were doing so-called "half-pressure". We would be videoed from time to time and you could more or less gauge who was pulling the hardest by the relative size of the puddles that would well up around the "blade" (oar). Even if we had stuck to the program below, there were three sessions of series a week, two of them back-to-back, and at Oxford we weren't such "wusses" to take a day off, the only exception being if we had done a test or a race the day before.

I also found some stuff from the Oxford University Boat Club. According to the program, we were doing 5 two hour rowing sessions during the week plus two "double outings" of 3 hours on Saturday and Sunday, plus 3 weights / circuit training sessions in the mornings. That adds up to about 18 hours of training time a week, so it is fairly comparable to the sort of load I am under now - the difference is that I was only 18 years old back then and didn't have the kind of experience or one-to-one guidance to be able to assimilate that kind of load. On top of that was the pressure the hours of training + travelling + faffing about put on my academic work and my (then non-existent) student social life. I would do my "homework" in the van going back from the river in Wallingford, squashed up against the other rowers.

I was amused last night to read the following "recommendations for a healthy diet" - remember, we are talking about an 18 year old kid, away from home for the first time. My problem was that I just couldn't keep my weight up - in rowing, as your weight is supported by the water, there is much less penalty to being bulky than in running, say. Especially as the most objective tests we did were on a rowing ergometer where you weight is fully supported, bulkier was better. The recommendations for a healthy diet say that there are "no limits" on carbohydrates such as bread. Well, I used to sit in my college room and work my way through a loaf of bread with the aid of a toaster and a pot of marmite to make it more palatable. My rowing training coincided exactly with the time when lunch was available at college, so we managed to convince the staff to let us eat with them, at the slightly earlier time. Dinner was served in a hall and we had to wear - get this - a shirt, a suit jacket and a gown(!) - many times I would have to slip these items on over my all-in-one lycra rowing suit if I were to make it in time. We perfected a little trick whereby we would eat the main course or pudding so quickly that we could jump to another table and get served again: sometimes we would eat 3 main courses and 3 puddings. What an incredible metabolism I had at that age! Still, now knowing that "you are what you eat" and that, had I been eating properly, I might have been able to tolerate the training better, it makes me slightly sad. I hated the training - it was boring and hard and seemed pointless. Pointless because there were times when we would train more and more only to get more sluggish. I vividly remember one day our coach asking us whether we thought we were training too much - after a few nervous glances someone said (I even remember who was first to say it) "No, of course not". The fact was that I got ill very often, missing days of training and damaging the confidence the other members of the crew had in me. One time I got so ill and depressed that I must have scared the hell out of my dad on the phone because he turned up on my doorstep a few hours later after catching the first train from Cambridge. The final straw was when I managed to inflame a tendon in my wrist from the boat overbalancing and catching my oar in an awkward position. This was after 5 months of the 6 months of training before the Oxford Cambridge Boatrace (I had been selected for the Isis - Goldie race between the second boats). So you can imagine I was very pissed off and upset when I got "binned" - as they so tenderly called it - by Rupert Obholzer, but I was also incredibly relieved.


All this happened exactly 20 years ago and yet it is still like a little splinter under my skin that, however much I pick and hack away, I can't dig it out. It was my first real experience of failure and of being rejected by "the group". I think it is one of the reasons I have chosen such a solitary sport as triathlon and decided to train in such a lonely way. I don't want to depend on anyone else or on anyone else's opinion: this is my personal test and noone can say whether or not I get to take part or not. It has occurred to me that crossing the line at the Ironman in Brazil can, in my mind, be equated to competing in the Boatrace and will hopefully allow me to dig out that annoying little splinter at last.

That's me, just behind Olympic gold medalist Sir Matthew Pinsent (really!)

Week 8 / 20

This was an "easy" week in terms of training (except for a tough BRick = Bike+Run workout on Sunday) but it was a hard week in terms of dealing with obsessions - perhaps the surplus energy I had was translated into excess brain activity... I finally admitted to myself that I was unable to maintain the aero position as I had it set up for more than a few minutes - let alone the 5 hours plus that the Ironman would entail. I started to convince myself that the only solution would be to buy a Triathlon specific bike, which has a geometry that allows you to get down low but, at the same time, be relatively comfortable. I went as far as going to a bike shop and getting a quote for a Cervélo P2 (which, by the way, in Spanish is pronounced "pedos" which means "farts"). I felt like I was cheating on my bike. I'm sure it was already getting suspicious after I washed it the other day for the first time in ages, as if to make up for my wayward thoughts, and it has been acting very sensitively lately. Luckily the bike shop attendant had more sense than I did and certainly more than his desire to sell bikes. He said I should get properly measured up before taking the plunge (again) and that, in the process, they could set up my road bike properly. Once I realized that it wasn't so simple as just walking out of the shop with the perfect bike and that I would have to wait (something I am very bad at), I decided to fiddle about with my bike some more and see how long I could tolerate the aero position on the turbo trainer. I found it helped to separate the elbow pads a little and to angle the bars up slightly. It looks less like I am fighting against the geometry of the bike and instead accepting the slight upwards slope it enforces. Although the main objective was to get more comfortable, I think I end up hunkering down slightly more than before and the straw of my drinking bottle is now in the perfect position to take a sip from. I've seen even top Ironman athletes with a position as "upright" as mine so, as long as I can hold it, it should be fine. I really probably should do a bike fit at some point but I am worried they are going to convince me I need to buy some ridiculously expensive orthotics for my bike shoes - I have no problems with my legs on the bike (touch wood) and I have a prejudice about orthotics from running, although this is a different thing altogether I suppose.

The Sunday session was just what I needed to restore my motivation: a challenging but mostly enjoyable outing of 4 hours on the bike at easy pace followed by an hour and 20 minutes mostly running at around half marathon intensity. Although I don't seem to be able to find a decent bike route that doesn't take me through the fugly town of Brunete, I did manage to find a fairly flat route where I could practice my aero position. At least, I thought it was flat until it was time to turn around - it was too good to be true to be able to hit a steady 40kp/h at easy intensity! In the end, what was supposed to be a 3 and a half hour ride turned into a four hour ride but my legs were still fresh enough off the bike to hit my first 20 minute medium intensity run at 15kp/h (the second and third were quite a bit slower...).

I almost forgot that I started the week off with a bit of a cold, presumably from my "controlled over-training" from the week before: my coach had warned me about this. I followed his advice and started taking Inmunoferón, Echinacea + Propóleo and Vitamin C pills. I'm now taking 15 pills every morning (one of which is over 2 grammes - not milligrammes!) and it feels like I am trying to take an overdose. But the extra measures seemed to help and the cold lasted little more than a day or two.

I've got a harder week ahead, building up to another peak in a couple of weeks, so I think I'll plug myself into the Compex tonight to try to shake out my muscles and ready myself for what's to come.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lisbon International Triathlon, here I come!

The next stop on the road to becoming an Ironman is the Lisbon Half Ironman distance Triathlon on the 30th of April. I did it last year and it was the first Triathlon I had ever done. To say that it is an "easy" Triathlon is like saying that my bike is a "cheap" road bike. It was the perfect venue to debut as a triathlete because the course is nice and flat, not too windy, not too hot - the water is salty (good for flotation) but not open sea, the race is organized to perfection and the hotel is within walking distance of the transition areas. The only problem with the event was that a large ash cloud from a volcanic eruption had lead to me (and thousands of others) being stranded in London. I managed to get back just in time to drive down to Lisbon with my bike in the back of the car. I bought a t-shirt from an entrepreneurial guy with the logo "2.4 - 90 - 21.1 - I made it!" and a graphic of a volcanic eruption.

In the race itself, I suffered from terrible cramps in the run (which took me the best part of two hours to complete) but was able to finish anyway - in a time just over 5 hours which wasn't too shabby - but as soon as I crossed the line I was whisked off by someone who took my pulse to check I wasn't about to expire because I must have looked pretty terrible (see photo below). I was in such bad shape that I couldn't even get on to the massage bed without cramping for another half an hour after the race, even though they shot me to the front of the queue. I remember how the masseurs freaked out when they saw my shoulder, thinking that I had sustained that injury during the race! I'm pretty confident that I have overcome the cramping problem (remedy: salt stick tablets and lots of them) so I'm hoping to break the 5 hour mark this year.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My fantasy bike collection

I'm sure that, if I were to see a psychiatrist, he'd suggest that my case of bike envy could be tempered by putting it all down on paper. If space, money and sense were of no importance then I would go out and buy

1. A triathlon bike

When you've got a budget in the 10s of thousands (euros, dollars, pounds - who cares), its probably quite difficult to choose between the top of the range triathlon bikes, unless you are a pro and get "lumped" with the one made by your sponsors. Choosing a bike is a bit like trying to choose a single malt: why choose between them when you should have one for each and every mood? The differences must be so tiny between the top bikes that it becomes a question of which one fits you best and which one has the best adverts in your favourite Triathlon magazine. For completely subjective reasons that I can't put my finger on, I would probably go for the Specialized Shiv Triathlon bike with Shimano Di2 electronic gears and a disc wheel thrown in (why not?). At least I already have the same water bottles as this chap, that's a start.

2. A full suspension Mountain Bike

I've never ridden on a "full susser" so I don't even know whether I would like it. After laughing at the other competitors for rocking up with full suspension bikes to a Duathlon Cross I did last year, I quickly realized why as I had to dismount for the steepest descents (and ascents, for that matter). On the trails that I go on to work, I think that a full susser would skip along even faster although I would lose the workout I get from the vibration on my single susser... There are so many different suspension systems and styles of Mountain Bike that I get lost. In a way, the sheer variety puts me off altogether because I know that I would only start coveting another slightly different Mountain Bike even if I satisfied my current desire. As I am pretty tall, I'm quite tempted by the so-called 29ers, which have 29" wheels. I suppose that the suspension is a bit more limited by the size of the wheel but I'd probably go for something like this (it would look nice sitting next to my current road bike):

You wouldn't be able to do anything crazy on it, like loony descents or stupendous stunts but, at my age, I think its best for me to avoid those kind of things anyway.

3. A fixie

Madrid isn't the best city in the world for a "fixie". For those of you who haven't been swept up by this strange cult, a fixie is a bike that not only doesn't have gears, but doesn't allow you to coast or freewheel either. The best thing about these bikes is their simplicity: you don't even need brakes (although at least one has to be fitted by law if you are going to ride on the roads) because, to stop, you simply stop pedalling. A slightly less extreme variant of the fixie bike are the single speed bikes which allow you to freewheel at least, but don't have any gears. Whether it is a fixie or a single speed is just a question of the back wheel - there are even "flip flop wheels" that have a freewheel cog on one side and a fixed cog on the other, so you can choose. In principle, many bikes can be converted into single speed or fixie bikes, but the trick is whether you can get the right tension in the chain: without the sprung derailleur thingy, you need to be able to set the back wheel at exactly the right distance from the chainstay and this requires a special kind of "drop out" (notch for attaching the wheel). The other way of going about it is by adding a chain tensioner but this seems totally pointless to me: the whole idea of a fixie is its elegant simplicity - put another cog in there and the friction increases and there are more parts that can wear out, just as with a regular bike. I wish I had had a fixie in Cambridge, where I grew up. I only ever used two gears of the 10 that I had on my racer: the lowest one to get started and the highest one to belt around town. In fact, when I started looking to buy a bike a year and a half ago, I rang round asking for fixies and the shop attendants told me that they had never sold one before. Now I have ridden around Madrid a fair bit, I can see why. Also, the gear mechanisms are so much better than they used to be: I was blown away by the concept of indexed gears (you used to have to fiddle about with the gear lever - which was mounted on the frame - to get the precise position - although, if you only ever used the highest and lowest gears like me, that wasn't a problem). Even though they are much improved, they are still not perfect and I would love to have one of those retro styled fixie bikes for zipping around town on. The annoying thing is, that they are now so fashionable that they are about ten times more expensive than they were "back in the day". I recently saw a beautiful model with leather seat and titanium(!) frame and all in Asturias of all places (its even more mountainous than Madrid!). This one from the Spanish bike manufacturers, BH, would do me just fine thank you very much...