Friday, 5 May 2017

The Ironman Journey

So here I am, at the end of a long journey, a great but tough journey and until the middle of last year I enjoyed every minute of it. The big training weeks, the long blocks and the tough race days, I loved all of it. I travelled to some fantastic places, and met some amazing and inspiring people. I learned a lot about health & fitness along the way, and I learned a lot about myself. Many of the lessons can be applied to other parts of life. The usual stuff you hear, never give up, the ability to achieve things you previously thought impossible. If you do want to achieve something, even if you don’t think you’re up to it, get on and try it, you might surprise yourself. Ignore anyone who tells you otherwise, drop the negative friends and the naysayers. There are too many good people out there, and life is too short.  
The end of the road

Like any challenge in life, if your heart is not in it, the task becomes hugely more difficult. I wanted to start moving away from my extreme approach. I wanted to get back some time in my schedule, I could keep doing it forever, but I wanted to try some other things with Sarah, and there are many things to aim for in life, in and out of sport. I was also starting to suffer from recovery issues. It may have been related to nutrition/stomach issues, but I was working very hard, and not seeing improvements. Ironman Roth in July 2016 was when I decided Kona would be my last Ironman. My CTL was 175 (#if you don’t use Training peaks – this just means I was extremely fit – usually only pros get above the 170 mark) but I felt ordinary in that race. There may have been some illness going on, but regardless, I didn’t enjoy the race. In Kona in October, I crashed heavily and that became a really miserable day as well. Kona itself is a great event, but it was becoming a bit repetitive for me. The hardship was becoming less rewarding.
Ironman is a great sport, a great activity for body and mind, and it’s a good way to spend money. The Ironman brand are extremely capitalist, but I guess no different from many other industries, so if you’re going to spend money on something it might as well be something that at least improves your wellbeing. Now on that subject of wellbeing, I think it’s obvious that triathlon is good for you, especially if done in moderation. My problem was (and is) just that, moderation… Going to extreme measures, it’s why I had some decent results, but I’m sure it’s also the reason I got injured, and sick along the way. Alan always erred on the safe side, I was always pushing the crazy end, and we usually met in the middle J

For me now doing 12hrs/week exercise feels easy, but as I’m always fresh (low ATL, high TSB) I feel good. To be fair it took me a good few months to deal with not being an athlete anymore, which was part of the identity that I left behind in the sport. I’m glad, and lucky that I have a challenging job to fall back on. I don’t want to get too carried away and turn it in to another Ironman, but taken in moderation, there is enough learning and development out there to satisfy some elements of the Ironman mind-set that I am leaving behind.

 Career Highlights

Apart from getting a decent fitness and health boost, this is partly a reminder for me of some of the things I went through. I started the sport to help myself through some dark times, and I enjoyed it, but it is good to look back and remind yourself that you achieved some things along the way.
·         14 * Ironmans (plus Challenge Roth)
·         7 * Kona (best time 9:19, best run 2:58, best position 7th)
·         3 * sub-9 finishes (Austria, Copenhagen, Roth)
·         Best time 8:49, this was the first Irish sub-9, and was the national record 2011-2013.
·         Best run split 2:49

Endurance Corner and Alan Couzens

I started following Gordo Byrn and Endurance corner after hearing about them through a friend around 12years ago. The culture they project is that of long term health and fitness, not just shorter term performance. They have a huge resource of knowledge and methodology that helps people from all backgrounds and abilities, from beginners to top professionals. They have a non-aggressive, no-ego approach that was refreshing. Gordo writes in a selfless manner, tackling subjects inside and outside sport, including family and mental health issues which can affect athletes. He was an elite athlete himself, transitioned like many of us from overweight oblivion to fitness and wellbeing. His writing helped me as an athlete, and helped me deal with the transition from obsessed athlete to moderate person (work in progress :-).
While reading many of their articles I was always very impressed and motivated by the writings of their chief Scientist, a tall Aussie named Alan Couzens. A modest guy with the ability to break down complicated physiological and performance theory and make them accessible. I’m from a scientific background so I especially enjoyed his blog. His ability to write about complex subjects in a clear manner was very impressive.
Eventually I started becoming more serious about my own performance. The selfishness and single minded focus was kicking in, and after briefly working with a few other coaches, I contacted Alan and was delighted when he said he could take me on. He was no disappointment. If his blogs were good, his coaching was like an enhanced version, getting detailed analysis and accurate predictions for training and race performance. A true genius, he has this ability to analyse large amounts of output data and help you appreciate how/why they could be applied to your training input. Many times I was frustrated about a training session output or performance, and he would always have the answer, without fail. He takes his work seriously and is one of the best in the world at his craft.
I spent 6 seasons with him (see attached CTL chart), I learned so much and he helped me achieve more than I had ever planned. For that I’ll always be thankful. One of the hardest parts of ending my Ironman career was stopping working with Alan, but I will always follow his writings.

To Alan, Gordo, Justin and all at Endurance corner, I’ll always be thankful, and you have a life follower here.

I had many kind sponsors over the years, some longer term and some for single seasons. I’m thankful to all, but for those that were with for the longer ride, I want to say a special thanks. Champion System kept me in the best up to date race and training gear, staying with me when I was injured and going through rough patches. My friend and sports therapist Kinga (Bornemisza) has done more to keep me injury free over the years than I can thank her for. Brilliant at what she does, and modest, I will miss working with her too!
I want to thank my family and especially Sarah for her patience as I followed my little selfish dream for a few years. I’m glad it was a self-improvement program or the guilt may have overcome me sooner J

What next?

Hopefully nothing extreme. I’ll always be a fan of the sport. I could watch an Ironman from start to finish, especially if I know someone racing, and I know a lot of people racing! I always loved watching IM, but since having suffered through a few of them, it is a lot more interesting knowing what those folks are going through. After 7 years racing Kona, I am looking forward to watching it again this year.

I have never ran a marathon, I’d like to experience that, and see how it feels to start one on fresh legs. I’ll keep my blog open, so that if I find myself on an adventure worth writing about, I have somewhere to put it down. Thanks to all my competitors over the years, and I hope to see you out there at some kind of event in the future!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Ironman Hawaii 2016

My 7th and final Kona!

I came in to the race with an overloaded hamstring, but it really only affected running and I had still done some good work in the build on a Lanzarote camp. I experienced the usual race nerves but had a ½ decent swim, the course was accurate for a change. Out on the bike I felt ok, but 30mins in someone overtook me and pulled across quickly, I seen it too late and hit the road at about 40kph. I lost a fair bit of skin but my hip took most of the impact and it didn’t want to move after that. It clicked and made it difficult to focus on the race. I was bleeding a lot on the arm/elbow and it was sticking to the tribar, I struggled mentally and it became a very tough day. 
I pushed on as much as the body would let me but I lost a lot of time. At the start of the run the hip was very stiff and it became a slow process, but I tried to keep positive and aim for staying under 10hrs. I thought I was moving ok until I seen other people passing me :-) I made it to the finish line but missed 10hrs by 1 minute, the first time I’ve slipped over 10! but still I was happy that I finished when many times during the day I thought I couldn’t. Kona never fails to challenge! :-)

Swim: 1:02
Bike: 5:25
Run: 3:25
Total: 10:01

Challenge Roth 2016

High fitness heading in to this race, but I felt a bit flat in the water and on the bike. Bashed in the swim, had Garmin smashed. Never felt strong on the bike, lost the pack 50k in while slowing down to pee, so had to work hard against wind alone. Took a while for hr to drop on run, found rhythm after 5k but had to dig last 10k to stay under 3hrs, and subsequently 9hrs. Didn’t feel it was a reflection of fitness but could have been worse. Was hoping to be faster on the day, but still a nice race and great support. 

Swim: 1:00
Bike: 4:52
Run: 2:58
Total: 8:56
Position 7th (34 OA) 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Ironman Cozumel 2015

Ironman Cozumel 29-11-15

Swim 57:04
Bike 05:12:50
Run 03:11:57
Overall 09:28:24
Position: 3rd M40, 26th OA

Swim was fine, rolling start meant less energy wasted. Bike felt strange from start, high hr, low power, similar to last year, heat/humidity issue. Was alone for the most of the bike, kept an eye on power in to headwind on north section. For 2nd and 3rd lap started to feel a little stiff, shoulders tired on 3rd lap, the flat course meant TT position for 5hrs. First 10mins of run felt uncomfortable, but then got going well for 10-15k. Had issues with stomach for 3 days before race, this now started to bug me from 15k in. 3 portaloo stops and a lot of discomfort meant I lost some time. Recovered with 7k to go and paced well to the line. Wanted to stop and walk often from 15k, just managed to avoid it, mentally one of the toughest races I've ever done.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Kona 2015

Ironman World Champs 10-10-15

Swim 01:06:06
Bike 05:02:10
Run 03:13:38
Overall 09:30:39
Position: 7th M40, 107th OA.

After a crash in April, got CTL back to a decent level, arrived in good form race day. Struggled in swim as usual, felt better on bike than previous years though heat was apparent from climb to Hawi. Struggled from start of run, slowed down and walked early aid stations for ice/energy, felt better from 1/2 way on Queen K. Very hot day!

Ironman South Africa 2015

Ironman South Africa - 29-3-15


Bike 05:34:57
Run 03:12:13
Overall 09:57:09

Position: 5th M40, 59th overall

Summary: felt ok race week but some stomach trouble race eve and race morning. Good start but possible zigzag on swim, stayed easy on bike, espec in hills. Felt good start of the run, got tired 30k in and tried to hold on til finish. CTL not great coming out of winter, enough to get through.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Ironman Cozumel and 2014

Ironman Cozumel 2014

So here I am having my best ever start to a race, pb swim, up there on the bike, and feeling good, then technical problems start. I thought, this can’t be happening.

nervous but feeling ready, with Geoff, race morning.
I’m not one for writing reports soon  after races, but this time I purposely decided to leave it a while and let some frustration pass. I was a bit down after the experience in Cozumel. The place itself is pleasant, the people are friendly, but it was the first time I DNF’d in an Ironman and it felt very strange. I thought I’d get back to London and back to work and let the negativity leave naturally. My friends Geoff and Caoimhe were out there and that helped me a lot before and after the race. Since I got back Sarah and I have been doing normal social stuff, having a few drinks and catching up with some people. It’s been a nice few weeks. 

 The race in Cozumel was going well. It’s a current assisted swim, so that helps, but I had been working hard at the CSCSC masters class, and had seen some good splits in the pool in recent months.
in form, with a pb swim split
This is the swim I felt I should have had in Kona. I found some good feet early on, after a lot of pushing and shoving to get the front right corner (the current was pushing us in to shore on our left, so I thought right side was safer). There can be a very strong current in Cozumel, and Alan had said swim draft is less effective with a strong tail current, so just to find some space and get a good start. But on race morning the wind and current had died, so I decided in these conditions drafting was back on.

The guy I chased was just slightly faster than me, and seemed to know where he was going, so I stayed on him like a magnet. A few times when we were passing earlier waves he surged to get around people, and I almost lost him, but I always managed to find him again when the bubbles cleared. When I seen 53:08 coming out of the water I thought I was on for a good day :-) 

fighting big headwinds on east side
At the start of the bike we were flying along, low power, and high speed though I was seeing a fairly high hr, maybe the heat was at work. Anyway I settled in and found a couple of similar pace guys for the head wind. They knew what they were about, and stayed legal, however I dropped my head a few times when we were going through some traffic, and lost concentration, next I knew the 2 guys were gone. I didn’t want to risk the higher watts yet to chase them down, so thought I’d let them go and find them on the 3rd lap.

I never would see them again, because 10k in to the 2nd lap (of 3), the gears started playing up. I hit a pothole in the road, and the back derailleur froze. This is protection mode where the rear dr separates the solenoid to avoid damage. Problem was I couldn’t see the control unit light while moving, I didn’t want to stop so I was trying to adjust it and reset it at 25mph.
At one point I got it to reset, but it went through the gears and stopped in 1st, the lightest gear. Now, on a mountain climb this would not have been a problem, but IM Cozumel is pancake flat (the highest point on the island is 14m!!), and I would soon be getting a big tail wind. So I stopped several times to try get the gears shifting again. No luck. I tried myself for quite a while, before stopping with aid station mechanics. We spent about 30mins trying all combinations to kick it back in to life. Nothing.

It was a strange experience withdrawing from the race, but really I had no choice. The last 110k in 1st gear on a flat course didn’t make any sense, so I handed in my notice and got a ride with the police back to town. The cop looked at me funny when I told him I wanted a ride to town, he asked me a lot of questions first: name, country, race number etc, I assume just in case I was trying to set a very fast 20k split and rejoin the race from town :-)

I then when to a restaurant for some ‘normal’ food. Sitting there was quite difficult, it was a bit surreal, hearing the race commentary, and here I was sitting in a restaurant out of the race. It felt like a bad dream. Some people seeing me in race gear realised I had withdrawn, they were kind with words but I was in a different place, my head was in the clouds. Some other people looked at me funny, I assume they thought I had finished already, I don’t speak Spanish but I think they were saying ‘look at the head on this show off eejit’.

I spent a week’s holiday and a fair chunk of cash to get out there, and it means I have to reschedule my race options for 2015. Not that I assumed qualification, but looking at the results, it should have been fairly straight forward to get the slot.

Watching the race was an experience in itself, it was hot and I seen from the outside just how long and crazy our sport is. A lot of very fast people looking not very fast as they suffered on the latter stages of the event.

On reflection I could have done some things different, but it’s done and I have to move on. The negatives are obvious; but at least one positive is that I swam well. So considering I ran well in Kona, I just need to sort out a good bike performance and we’ll be there :-) 

As Alan says the fitness built over the past few seasons, and even with breaks here and there, a good bulk of that fitness (and ability to get fit) carry’s over. That means I am certainly not starting from scratch, I will take a short break before hitting it again. At the moment South Africa is a strong candidate, as I still want to do Roth, but Alan may not be so keen on that, we have been fighting over that one for 5 years :-)

Reflection on 2014

2014 was a funny year for me, I started out well in January but then bust my Achilles in Spain. I managed to hold enough fitness to qualify in Melbourne in March, and then started a long build to Kona. I had to fight along the way with food intolerances after a stomach bug in February. That battle still goes on, but now I know much more about it, and have learned how to work with it. With Alan and Kinga keeping me right, I got to Kona with my highest ever fitness figures wrt CTL and Vo2. Kona itself was an akward day, apart from a crash and puncture, I felt sluggish in the swim and bike sections. Alan’s calculations say I only reached 80% of my back home power on race day due to heat and time zone acclimation. If I make it back there, I’ll be going 2 weeks ahead this time.

With 2015 training starting soon through the possibility of South Africa, I’m hoping to have a better start to the season than last year. My motivation is still very good, I’m not totally sure why, but I assume it won’t last forever so in the meantime I’ll be busting myself the best I can for another year.

I hope everyone is enjoying their winter break and recharging for another good year. If you’re not sure what to do differently this winter, here are a few ideas from the boss:
I have a few things to fix myself, I’m enjoying the break, but the work starts again soon.

Thanks as always to my great sponsors Kinga, ChampionsSystem, Vita Coco. Good luck to all for 2015!