Otillo Scilly Isles Sprint, 2017

scilly2017-sprintstart.jpgSHORT REPORT
2:34:56 – 6th overall, 4th mixed pair
(3.2k swim, 11.6k run)

We gathered in the start pen for my second outing of the weekend. The massively misnamed sprint event will be over 2hrs of racing for even the fastest. It always seems to be pitched as an intro to swim run but this course was worthy of being viewed a full race. It had one more swim and one more run than the full distance which meant loads of short runs and swims. I was really quite excited about it. At the briefing the race directors had said if you’re racing go to the front of the pen if you’re just looking to have a go move towards the back. There was only one pair one pair at the front which we recognised as the 2nd mixed team from the previous day. The announcer proudly told us they’d decided to enter last minute and were planning on ‘smashing it’ – my thoughts that Rachel and I might squeeze on the podium evaporated and it felt like a pressure off.

Since no one else was going forward I told Rachel we may as well be on the front line. The gun went and we raced on the shoulders of the 2nd placed mixed team from yesterday holding that position for all of about 100m before deciding we’d had our fun and we better back off a little.

Scilly2017-Sprint32As we climbed the hill we had to back off further. Rachel seemed willing but I felt it was way too fast. Unlike yesterday which had a swim dominated start this was the opposite. Of the 11.6k of running virtually half was in the first two runs (of nine). I knew we’d be relatively strong swimmers so would move through the field on each of the swims.

The first run was round the southern part of St Mary’s, which we’d not seen the previous day. It was really nice, we’d tried to make sure we looked around and were passed by loads of people entering the water in 20th position. The first swim was “L” shaped round a buoy – we at least half a dozen teams. I wasn’t really paying attention not really concerned about position. I’d decided to put on my really big paddles (XL TYR Catalyst I) and found halfway through the swim my shoulder was hurting and I was shifting the paddle of my left hand to relieve the pressure in the push phase. I was concerned the big paddles were a mistake. Luckily as I warmed up I was able to swim properly.

The next run went by the end of the runway and had a big sign and light giving instructions on stopping if it was flashing as a plane was coming. The course continued like this with runs of under 2k and swims of 200-400m. Lots of transitions, some clambering down rocks, some slippy entries and exits and a little more swell adding to the difficulty. It was great fun and the transitions were certainly a lot trickier than the long distance. In the first half it was good fun as we kept going and froing with two other mixed pairs – a local pair who were real chatty and a french who seemed really competitive and pushy. There was a tricky section where we excited the swim on rocky terrain onto a small island then ran across for another short swim. We’d entered the swim to the island with them and noticed they got in either side of me. Rachel told me later they cut her up. As we exited it was clear they’d managed to draft us. The lady pretty much shouldered me out of the way as we climbed up to the top of the island. They were faster runners than us but I knew a long swim was coming after the next short run. We got well ahead and we decided to push hard on that run to ensure we entered the water well ahead of them at the next swim. We didn’t see them again till after the finish.

The other fantastic thing about this race is that our friends who raced the previous day and were still in a state to run put their running shoes on and were able to run around and see us at pretty much every entry and exit to the swims as well as many places on the course. It gave Andy great opportunity to hurl “banter” at me and encouragement at Rachel. Also lots of photos – thanks Pat.

Scilly2017-Sprint33The coastal path was lovely and in places very narrow. We continued to pass people on the swim and be passed on the run. It was clear we were passing more than were passing us so moving up the field. I also was aware that the final bit was a 1k swim followed by a 500m run so any teams passing us on the run in the latter half would certainly be caught in that swim.

We were in amongst the lead ladies pairs and could see there was quite a race. We passed two pairs in the second to last swim and the front pair were slowly catching us on a very narrow path through over-grown bracken. We stopped to let them by at a gate. Initially they were very polite and signalled for us to go first but we explained they were in a race.

Scilly2017-Sprint31As expect we passed them pretty soon on the 1k swim. Jenny had told us as we crossed the beach we were about 10th but the 3rd place mixed team was well ahead. This final swim was really good fun. We quickly passed the ladies team then just aimed to enjoy the lovely swim round the headland. Then I noticed a ladies and mens pair ahead. I decided to really push as I passed them aiming to make sure there was no question of them catching us in the final 100m.

As we exited I looked back and realised we had minutes of gap so could just enjoy the final 500m. Rachel and I have such great fun doing these events. Racing as a pair with a good friend is what makes it for me.

We crossed the line and found out we were 6th overall. I felt pretty impressed with ourselves.

ÖTILLÖ ISLES OF SCILLY - 2017. Foto: JakobEdholm.com

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Otillo Scilly Isles, Hugh Town 2017

Otillo Swimrun World Series 2017, Isles of Scilly.

(29.5km run, 8km run across 8 runs and 7 swims)

5:47:18 18th overall, 12th Male pair


It’s quite an adventure getting to the Scilly Isles. We’d not been able to get on the ferry from Penzance but chatting with people on our 15 minute flight from Lands End it was perhaps a lucky choice as the ferry is notorious for sea sickness on it’s 2:45 crossing due to a combination of it’s shallow draft for access to the Quay in Hugh Town and the rough water where various currents meet off Lands End. Before the briefing we chatted with a friend Matt who had sailed here. When asked how long it took him his reply of “3 days” produced a gasp of astonishment from all of us as it was an order of magnitude longer than we’d expected. They’d had headwinds the whole way which only exacerbate the fact that rather than a crew of four they had two due to one drop our and one with sea sickness. We were even more in awe when he explained they’d probably be leaving at 4am the day after the race as the wind was changing so they’d have a head wind back.

The 10 o’clock race start allowed for a full english breakfast the morning of the race. it was a glorious sunny day and was clearly going to be very hot running in a wetsuit. The first swim was 2.8k from the start with a reasonable climb before descending. Andy and I discussed whether to have wetsuits up or down for this and agreed on putting up with getting hot as the water was cold and it would mean we were looking forward to getting in.

35431456145_02e7fda8ab_oWe placed ourselves towards the front of the start pen but agree we would run conservatively and aim not to run any faster than we could maintain across the whole course. The first part of the course has 3.2k of swimming with only 3.8k of running so we knew by the end of that section everything would be sorted out and we’d almost certainly swum our way towards the front of the field.

48th through Timing 1 at 400m ! By the first swim we must have been further behind – Pat and Anna were 71st at this point but past us before the first swim. As we entered the first swim Rachel shouted “in your own time” reflecting our position towards the back of the field. She estimated only 20-25 teams behind placing us ~75th at this point.

34621531933_879b9dc84c_oNow for the first long swim of the day. 2k. We’d decided to tow this time so I had big paddles on and didn’t have to worry looking back to make sure Andy was there. We quickly started passing lots of people. At the other side there was only a short run (~1km) mostly on soft sand before heading back in for a 1.2k swim across to Bryher. Both these long swims were quite tricky sighting with only small OtillO buoys. Much trickier than any triathlon which would never have that distance straight let alone those distances between marker buoys. Judging by the trace on Andys Suunto I swam pretty straight.

34621672783_69fd3521b3_oWe passed Mel and Naomi as we approached the end of the 1.2k swim. I recognised them so swam across and close to them. They then re-passed us on Bryher. They were pushing hard. Naomi was towing Mel who could hardly talk and was clearly working hard. I don’t think I’d have finished if I’d been pushing that hard that early on. Andy and I continued our running at a steady “banter pace”. We also ran with the tow rope still attached and Andy giving me a pull. We had the length set to keep Andy in the draft for the swim which meant it was a bit short for the run and it wasn’t long before I decided to detach it.

Otillo Swimrun World Series 2017, Isles of Scilly.We re-passed Mel and Naomi on the next swim back on to Tresco. This was about a 7k run section with a aid station a little under 2k in. We’d discussed the day before that we may want wetsuits down for this leg but for some reason didn’t immediately after the swim. We went through the aid station and through the Tresco Abbey Gardens before we really started to feel hot. Andy particularly so. He was over heating and we had to back off for the last couple of KMs to the next swim. Yet again Mel and Naomi passed just as we approached the end of the run. There followed a series of three swims split by short runs around Islands on the beaches. We re-passed them yet again on the middle swim which was another 1km swim ending with some quite tricky patches of seaweed. It was amazing stuff (I’m guessing it may have been kelp) coming up from the depths in magical forests that if you ended up swimming in got you snarled up and it was very hard work. We’d been warned in the briefing. As we approached the end of the middle swim I didn’t spot a patch of this and swam straight in to it. Got very caught up and had to swim sideways to get out. I worried that this would allow Mel and Naomi to come past again but when I looked back as we exited I could see they’d gone in to the same patch. Mel reported afterwards she’d had to stop to untangle herself. That was the last we saw of them during the race.

Otillo Swimrun World Series 2017, Isles of Scilly.These swims had definitely helped our overheating. The next loop around St Martins was the longest run so we pulled our wetsuit down. 7.7km and we were running pretty well. This was the only time we passed a team on the run ! Even without towing our swimming was relatively so much faster than our running. Now with towing it was even more so, passing on the run was a (very) rare delight. This was a lovely run along a rugged coast. The last swim loomed – 2.5km straight. Not something you get to do very often. We were given a swim tow buoy for this crossing.

As I looked across for sighting lines I thought it looks no where near 2.5km. I could see two sighting buoys with the second looking close to the far shore. How deceptive it was. By that second buoy I realised I was no where near halfway. It was a lot further than it look. I’m guessing it was about 2.5km as described not about 1k as it looked. It went on and on. My arms were now really feeling the effort towing and using big hand paddles (Large TYR Catalyst II). The expected ground rush just wouldn’t arrive. Finally I started to see kayakers and marshals on shore. It was a little confusing as I was heading for the marker flag on the shore ignoring the final sighting buoy which seemed the long way to go. A kayaker came close and explained the buoy was marking a channel through the seaweed. I moved across to it. Once in the channel you could see why – there was seaweed pretty much everywhere other than two narrow channels we swam down.

19399707_10101142175795212_4804664944049454682_nAt the exit Rachel was there giving us a cheer. Just a final 7.2k round the top of St Mary’s. One of the pleasures of these events is that after the initial sort out you spend a lot of time without any other runners around. This was the case for the final section – we could see we were in no mans land – not seeing anyone ahead or behind. It allowed is to really enjoy the final part of this fantastic race. The section finished with a little shimmy through the “jungle” and by the lifeboat station which meant the run ended with a nice few of the finish line.

What a great race. They said they’d hope this would become iconic. I think it will. Am absolutely awesome race which we fully intend to return to next year.

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London Marathon 2017


3:29:15 – 850th AG / 6140 overall !!


LondonMarathon2017I’d got a place for London marathon 2016 but deferred this to this year with the plan to give it a proper go and see if I could get under 3 hours again. Having entered Ironman South Africa, which was 3 weeks before, this all changed and I decided on no goals till post IMSA. Following that race I very quickly got back in to training and felt I wanted to focus on Ironman Germany. I decided that the marathon had to just be my long run for that week. To this end I made sure I ran normally in the week up to it with the aim being I wouldn’t be fresh enough to run it too hard and I wouldn’t need any recovery after. In the three days leading in to the race I ran 20k, 22k and 11k. I decided that this race would be a good reality check on running 3:30 marathon in an Ironman. The plan was to run 5 min /k until I was in the final 10k and then run a bit quicker to come in under 3:30.

It’s nice doing a race without any nerves. I slept well the night before, I got to the start not too early and got in to the pen just 10 minutes before the start.

I managed not to get drawn along when the gun went and went through the first KM in 5:06 – a little slow but I felt a lot better than too fast. Then I spotted Fletch. He was a couple of people ahead but I couldn’t run through to him so I shouted “Fletch” and he turned. We started chatting but the pace felt a little strong and I felt I’d have to say goodbye shortly. Then I explained my pacing plans and he said that would be great for him so we ran together. We were still going too fast so I said a couple of times we should slow. Then he admitted he’d be pleased with sub 4 to which I replied we’d definitely better slow down.

LondonMarathon2017-SplitsWhen I look at my watch splits verses the official you can see how the GPS can be a little out. I knew this as it was beeping ahead of the markers so I was keeping a mental note of how far off my Garmin appeared to be. First 5k in 24:17… too fast. We managed to back off the next two to 25:04 and 25:11 – perfect. As I passed each 5k timing mat I thought of Rachel checking my splits and how her life would be less stressful if she could see I was doing exactly what I planned.

At about 17k, Mark decided to drop off the pace. I hit the next 5k in 25:02 and was very much on pace going through the halfway point in 1:45:02. I saw Rachel, Marc and Robin just on the far side of Tower Bridge which helped moral.

Following the halfway point I could feel I need a pee. I know from my Ironman racing that it’s typically well worth the stop. `The 5 min Ks had now started to need a little bit of focus to hit but following the loo stop they seemed easy again. This 5k was in 25:51 (it was 24:50 run time per my Garmin).

Now we’re in to docklands and I remember this as having fewer supporters but 10 years on and it’s incredible the support; it’s pretty much continuous. Round here though it’s noticeable the difference of running at this pace verses sub 3hr pace in most of my previous attempts. At 3:30 pace there are lots of runners around the whole time. It means that moving forward past people is always tricky and also on corners or when the road narrows (which I never noticed before) it gets congested and the pace slows. I was now having to keep a little look at my pace between KMs to make sure I kept on it. KM 30 was bizarre, I didn’t slow relative to those around, the effort felt the same but suddenly it was showing 20s slower ! At this point my Garmin got in line in distance with the markers and I guess that explains the anomalous KM split. I went through this 5k in 24:47.

At this point the legs felt sore. I concluded no matter what pace you run they’ll feel sore due to all the impacts. I held it together through to 35k (in 25:09) before pushing the pace. I started seeing 4:4x splits and knowing Rachel and Marc would be around the 37k point I pushed on wanting to look like I was flying; this resulted in a 4:31 KM, not exactly flying but I enjoyed seeing it.

I went through this 5k in 23:23 and then tried to back off a little in the final 2k seeing no point in trashing my legs any further.

I finished in 3:29:15 and felt happy. My legs felt very sore indeed on finishing and walking to meet Rachel. It made me wonder whether I’d over done it.

The following day though I had no DOMs and went for an 11k run. I felt tired for a few K then OK. Tuesday I felt great running so I think I judged it right.

This was a very enjoyable run. I had a negative split of about 1 minute despite having 1 minute loo break in the second half. This is definitely the way for a most enjoyable marathon but not convinced it’s the way to get my fastest. I feel I need to commit and hang on. I think it’s harder to push that extra pace at the end than it is to hold on following a stronger initial pace. The tricky bit is judging how hard early on so as not to blow up. It turns out I passed 1,029 people in the final 7.2k whilst only 3 passed me. Thats certainly a recipe for enjoying the final KM of a marathon.

I’m so glad I raced as I feel excited about my running. Am already planning to enter the ballot again and wondering how quick I go next year if I get a good years running under my belt.

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Ironman South Africa 2017 Review

MedalIMSA17Race Preview
Race Report

That was my 34th Ironman finish and it feels that I know less about being well prepared for an Ironman than I did back in my early days. Even things like race nutrition are more back up in the air than they were when i started. I wonder whether I now over think things. Back then I didn’t know anyone else doing Ironman, didn’t read anything about training. I just did what felt right. I didn’t periodise, didn’t particularly taper I just did pretty much as much training as I could day in day out, week in week out. I was also younger.

I touched on it in my preview but I still suffer from remembering how I was then and probably approaching the race and race execution with my former self in mind rather than the preparation I’ve done in mind. I’ve come to the conclusion that I actually spent a good 5 years early on digging myself in to a big hole and then have spent the time since about 2010 suffering from fatigue which I’ve noticed as lacking motivation but never (until now ?) considered the lack of motivation is probably a symptom not the cause. This period coincided with post my foot surgery and I felt thats blinded me to the true cause.

This has made me positive though as my excellent motivation the past 6 months fits with this hypothesis. It fits with my body finally being recovered and ready to train. If this is true my motivation will continue and given how excited I am about Ironman Frankfurt I’m hopeful this is right. It also means, though, I’ve got to be realistic. Kona qualifying fitness doesn’t just arrive in a season, it’s multi season hard work. Was my fitness 6 months ago when motivation returned better than when I started doing Ironman in the first place. No way of knowing for sure but I would suggest it’s not as high.

Back to this race. I am disappointed with the race but with a few days to think about it I’m positive and wonder whether my disappointed is based on unrealistic assessment of where I am. I’ll be honest, my preview was reserved. I seriously thought I was in excellent shape. I had to hold myself back in race week. I felt rested and very fit. I felt I could ride hard and run at least a 3:40 off it. I felt for sure I could go under 10 hours. I was way off that mark.

I feel that it’s rare in a Ironman you don’t get pretty much the result thats reflective of your training. With this in mind I’m also in this review going to try and address why my result was so far off where I felt it should be.



I’m going to use these graphs for each discipline. They each show my weekly volume for my whole triathlon career (except the first year when I didn’t keep a training diary). The blue columns are each weeks volume (distance – KM for swim, miles for bike and run). The red line is a rolling six month average weekly volume and the yellow vertical lines show the dates where I qualified for Kona.

My swimming has been fairly constant throughout my triathlon career. Only occasionally does the average drop below 10k. The peak in late 2009 was a combination of not running much post foot surgery and being in Christchurch with superb pool and squad facilities. This consistency really pays off as my swimming is consistently good and slowly improving year on year.

At this race I persuaded myself to be relaxed at the start and not push to the front. I started 5:30 after the very first people and it was a very wise choice. In a race with a similar set up I would in future start even further back to try and ensure I had people to pass on the bike. In fact, I can imagine with time the competitive athletes will start “gaming” the system like this as they realise it’s to their advantage not to start at the front.

I said, “similar set up”, because here they were very structured – setting 7 people off every 7 seconds. The outcome of this I think was

  1. Packs to swim in didn’t really form. The chances of you starting with others your speed are slim and with 7s gaps the chances of groups of similar speed coming together are slim
  2. Swimmers are very spread out so swimming through was no issue whatsoever
  3. Starting later meant I would get at least some draft.

The net effect was a swim somewhere between easy and moderate in effort, where I swam consistently, never got out of breath and got a half decent time (for me).



This looks a little different from the swim one. We can see that since the start of 2016 it’s only by last summer where my 6m average got anywhere near 300 miles. During the period where I was qualifying pretty much whenever I tried the 6m average stayed above 300 miles for long periods and occasionally peaked above 400 miles. In fact, since my last qualification I’ve only hit that 300 barrier twice.

To me it now appears clear that I am still setting expectations based on how I was not how I am. I guess a lot of my friends still view me as the high volume guy but that is because they don’t know what I’m doing. My volume is way down. It wasn’t like I was doing anything fancy in training I was just riding a lot. If I felt good I rode hard, if I didn’t I just rode. That was when I could ride an IM bike leg holding between 240-260 watts. The 225 I rode on Sunday is probably a fair reflection of where I’m at now. The low 5hrs or quicker bike split required to be competitive probably requires me to go back to riding those sort of volumes. Not for just some build period of a few months but consistently year in year out.

On the day I felt I went out a little too hard. Looking at my actual ride data shows it wasn’t as bad as I’d initially thought.


The graph shows my normalised power for each 5k together with a moving average for each 20k. The red line shows net altitude gain. The first 5k was a bit full beans but after that it settled. After 90k my normalised power was 229k and luckily for me on the day I understood that the way I felt meant more than the power range of 230-250 I had in my head. I felt I was over cooking it and decided to focus the next 45k on backing off the effort and eating. This paid dividends in the final 45k where I felt good pushing some of the best watts of the race and my morale went through the roof as I was passing so many people.

I finished with a bike time at the bottom end of what I thought was needed to be in with a shot of a Kona slot going on to the run.

Could I have paced this better ? I am certain I can. I was perplexed during the race and after that having rested up I at no point felt anywhere near how I felt several times during my time on Lanza longer in to a ride in the middle of days of consecutive riding. I wonder now that starting out hard is a very bad idea. None of my training rides kick off at full beans. Instead I almost always build in to them. This wouldn’t have dramatically changed the time but I feel fairly certain I would have managed a little quicker with a much more conservative approach.



This further illustrates what I identified in my race preview – my lack of appropriate run volume for quite a few years now. The period of no running in early 2009 is my FHL Foot surgery and marks a step change in my run volume. Pre that period I had numerous extended periods of averaging over 50 miles a week for 6 months.Post that I’ve come no where near. In fact for the majority of the period post that I’ve been below 25 miles per week average. It’s just no where near enough. The two qualifications post surgery have been a bit of a conundrum as they were done on lower run volume. I think this just shows that the run fitness carried over for a period: in both races I was in the 3:30s for the marathon – which is slow compared to previously but still fast enough. It also shows how the amount swim and bike training I was doing set me up – in Lanzarote I was starting the run with 6:20 on the clock and at Busselton only 5:44 on the clock.

Following the last time I did this race I struggled with plantar fasciitis and by the summer decided to just stop running completely and give it a chance. This introduce a bigger gap in running that following my surgery! With hindsight this was a sensible thing to do. At the time it just felt like the right thing to do. Through 2016 I was able to run but was constantly managing the issue. I was confident though as it was improving. This year it got so minor that I stopped noticing it that often and couldn’t even pin point the time when it completely disappeared. This allow an increase in my run. Since November 2016 I’d averaged over 40 miles a week and we can see the rolling average is tending towards where it needs to be. I have to be realistic that I could need a year or more of this sort of volume to feel confident about performing well on the marathon.

I still am a little perplexed about the run as it just did not reflect how I’d felt during long brick runs off long bikes. I’d run better in training and during big training block off harder bikes. I ran better at Texas in worse heat.

I’ve thought a lot about the impact on not having a watch. I’d done all my training with a pace watch and got used to just seeing my splits at a KM. I remember times when I’d feel I wasn’t running well, it was hard work then see my split and realise it was because I was running fast. I also get motivated chasing averages. I also realise that when I was mentally rehearsing the run seeing splits and working towards a pace were key in it. Never considered what I would do without a watch. In future I will do runs without looking at pace, I’ll carry another watch – even having time of day would have allowed me to see my KM splits were.

Luckily as another great part of this race they had loads of run timing mats. They were also relatively evenly paced (all 2.5 or 2.7k apart) and they gave a split at end of each lap.


I stopped for a pee in a portoloo – I’m guessing about two minutes by the time I’d found it etc. This means my first lap which was just under 55 minutes (for 10.5k and thus 3:40 pace) was actually running ~5:00 pace and in fact when you exclude the first couple of KM which for me are always slow you see I was running at ~ 4:53 per KM pace from 2.6k in the end of the first lap (so for 8k). This was also in the hottest weather and it was effectively on for about a 3:27 marathon – i.e. faster than I felt I could do. Without any feedback I felt was just running relaxed. I didn’t feel I was running fast. As I started the next lap I started to suffer. In my head I remember thinking shit, you’ve not run that well for the first lap and you’re already suffering. I mentally started to break and by halfway there was detonation as can be seen above – once I’m above 6 mins per k I’m doing a reasonable amount of walking.

Would it have been different with splits ? I’m sure it would have been different. I would have known at the end of the first lap I was running well. The feeling of starting to suffer would have been considered to be expected. I would have slowed but tried to maintain a more realistic pace. This is not an excuse it’s an attempt at explanation. It actually confirms what I thought in the race I didn’t have it mentally for the run. The lack of pace data allowed me to assume the worst rather than the best.

As the race progressed having Mark slowly chasing me down helped a lot. It would have been nice for him to have a better run but if he had it would have been the nail in my coffin. As it was he was only slowly catching me and on that third lap where my pace dropped I was waiting for him to run by. I was planning to asking for some pace info ! He didn’t catch me, so he must have been suffering a similar amount. I then decided to try and get something out of this and see if I could mentally push. I forced myself to run and, in hindsight, was running well (sub 5 min Ks). I remember when it felt like hard work I’d push again. It was fun, it felt great. It lasted 5k was actually better than the above looks in terms of running as my shoe lace came undone. I stopped to fasten it and noticed the timing chip was cutting into my ankle so took the safety pin out and adjusted it over my sock. I estimate I ran those 5k in 25 minutes. To me it rather confirmed that a big part of my running in Ironman is now mental. Post race I had a WhatsApp conversation with Jo and she (kindly) was brutally honest. She was equally perplexed by my run as she was well aware how much better I was running. When I suggested I didn’t have the mental toughness for this she agreed commenting “those other guys are just willing to hurt themselves a lot more”.

With hindsight I certainly think I had a sub 4 hour marathon in me possible sub 3:50 but I just allowed a few mishaps give me an excuse to fall apart. It’s actually quite positive.



For completeness I’ve included my overall hours. It shows just what volume I was doing back when I was qualifying. Went for years with the 6m rolling average not dropping below 20 hours and spending huge periods above 30 hours. Thats long term consistency. When you look at the dips they coincided with end of year. In the past few years it’s rarely got above 20 hours. I wonder whether this is a big part of why I struggle to work out how best to taper for Ironman. I’m remembering the days of high volume and back then I didn’t really taper. Take one of my best races Lanza 2007 – the two weeks ahead of race week I trained 47 hours then 24 hours. With that level of fitness I think there’s a decent race in you almost at any point and thus the details of the final week or so become not so important. Trying to perform well on less hours I think requires a more specific approach to freshening up. This race I thought I’d got i right but my performance suggests otherwise.

During the race I had moments where I’d decided to give up doing Ironman races. it’s amazing how now I feel more motivated than ever. more positive. It’s the first time in a long that that post Ironman I’m desperate to get out training so soon after.

Thoughts for going forwardL

  1. Swimming – keep as is
  2. Biking – consistent volume
  3. Run – continue what I’m doing. Trust it will just take time to build robustness. Plan to train straight through London marathon and focus on Ironman Germany
  4. Start further back in swim
  5. start bike very conservative. Aim to build in thirds
  6. Spare watch in T2 bag !
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Ironman South Africa, Port Elizabeth 2017

0:53:12 - Swim
0:03:53 - T1
5:18:47 - Bike
0:03:46 - T2
4:12:28 - Run
10:32:96 - TOTAL - 36th M45-49, 287th Overall

Race Preview
Race Review


I was feeling excited about this race and pretty calm. Despite this I still had my usual fitful nights sleep where I seem to manage to wake myself every 15 minutes. In fact, i had a record the night before this race. I nodded off having looked at my watch “xx:47” and woke thinking “great I’ve slept for ages. I wonder what time it is?” – “xx:52” – 5 minutes later ! By 2am this is getting frustrating as I feel really tired but I just keep waking up.

So 4am I’m in the breakfast buffet. 2 years ago they had the full buffet (i.e. sausage, egg, bacon) and this year they put a kind note in the room saying there was a full english buffet from 4am. So I was pretty disappointed when I found that there wasn’t any of the hot items – had to make do with hard boiled eggs and cold meats.

I wandered down to the transition – bike was all ok. So left transition to go to the loo. First time ever – wasn’t a single queue for the loos. I hung out with Tara before wandering to the start.

With these new rolling starts my nerves are completely gone. It was always the stress of making sure I was on the front line that got my nerves up. This time I knew that it wasn’t in my interests to start early. So I hung at the back of the sub 1hr pen and wondered at the number of people in the pen. Clearly a lot more than normally manage sub hour. After the Pros had started it was amazing how pushy people were to get in first. By the time I’d got to the front it was 5.5 minutes after the start.

swim-imsa17.jpgIt was a really choppy swim – I got through the surf and just focussed on swimming easy and maintaining my stroke length. Sighting every stroke most of the time to make sure i was going straight – with choppy seas it’s easy to get knocked off course. I was constantly swimming through people who were clearly no where near sub hour pace. In fact towards the end of the swim I was passing people that were no where near that pace who must have started right at the front. This year the buoys were much easier to sight but all around me people were going at 45 deg to my line and changing direction regularly. Many must have ended up swimming so much further.

I really enjoyed the swim, swam through to close to the front with a 53:12 split. I was very pleased with that, faster than the effort felt.

Transition was amazing – think I had four ladies helping me. One stripped my wetsuit whilst another put my cycle jersey on for me! Before I knew it was off and mounting my bike. Had my shoes on the bike – I’m impressed with Bont shoes other than the fact that after riding with feet flat on the top they are very hard to get your foot in to the shoe. I was close to stopping to sort it out but finally managed it. I then got on it and I think was a little enthusiastic early on which wasn’t helped by not being able to see my power numbers with my sunglasses on! As the sun rose higher in the sky I started to be able to see them.

Out to the far turnaround we had a tailwind and it was pretty fast getting there in just over 1:15. The hard work started on the way back. I must say this ride was the fairest I’ve ever been a part of. I didn’t see one thing thing I thought questionable and there were loads of refs. I think there must have been nearly a dozen occasions that I had a ref cruise by me. There was one point where a guy came by and dropped in front of me, sat up and stopped pedalling. I shouted something along the lines “sitting up and freewheeling, now thats helpful” – he started pedalling again so at least I didn’t have to hit my brakes. Seconds laters a ref cruises by me goes up to him and gives him a card.  The guy is clearly irate and argues and I see the ref demonstrating that he’d blocked me. Not long after this I was making the biggest descent down to the coast – as I hit my brakes ready for the turn I hear a “thop thop thop” on my front wheel. Gave me a bit of a shock until I spotted the big bit of gaffer taper thats stuck to my front tyre. I had to stop to remove it.

bike_imsa17The scenery on the course is superb, looking out at this lovely coastline. It’s certainly an improvement on the course 2 years ago. However, it’s deceptively tough. The road service is very rough (my mind had clearly blanked the memory) and it rolls a lot but there are only two climbs on each lap that really require you to come out of aero. This means it’s quite unrelenting.

As I came back to town in to the headwind I felt like I’d over-cooked it a bit. My normalised power at that point was 229 which is OK, low compared to when I’ve done my best bike splits but based on how I was feeling I decided I needed to back off going out with the tailwind so that I had something left for the return. I made the turn in 2:37 and my mood was very low. Luckily I kept my brain switched on and figured the low mood was probably due to one or both of a couple of reasons – low energy and going to hard. I spent the next 45k trying to correct this – I got energy from the aid stations, ate my energy bars and backed off the effort.

By the turn point of the second lap my normalised power was down to 221. It had felt harder than expected and when I turned I realised why. The wind had changed direction so it was now a tailwind home. I realised that some of the quicker guys may have timed it to perfection and got a tailwind both ways !! I started pushing the pace. I was holding 240-250w and felt so much better. It was also helped by not just passing a lot of guys but absolutely blowing by them. On the way back I got stung on my upper left arm. Not sure what it was but even now as I write this two days later theres what looks like an inch long scar that’s still red and sore.

In the final 10k we seemed to get a headwind again which was a little demoralising but I still managed a 5:18 split which was at the bottom end of what I’d hoped for but it was so much better than I’d thought I’d manage 45k before. My normalised power was back up to 225w which was still below what I’d hoped I could hold but it was clear that my hopes had probably been unrealistic.

Given how much more run training I’ve been doing the past 6 months I was quite excited to get out on the run. As I sat getting my Vibram Seeyas on I went to switch my Garmin 235 to run mode. Completely blank screen. Tried to power it up. Nothing. I thought it had run out of battery, no idea how. (turns out it’s crashed completely. Stopped working. Caput.) It crossed my mind to go grab my bike computer as now I had absolutely no way of getting splits – no time of day, no stop watch.

run-imsa17I set off having to run on feel and I’ll be honest the first few KMs I felt terrible. I knew from my many brick runs they often started like this. I was right after 2k I started to feel ok and focussed on running relaxed as I had no idea of what pace I was doing. I felt AOK and was quite enjoying it but boy oh boy did it feel hot. The forecast had said 26-27c but it felt so much hotter (the following day I found out at the start of the run it was 37!!). I needed to pee so at about 7k I was hunting the portoloos – it was like they were hidden about 20 feet behind an aid station behind a truck ! It was only after I’d been I started spotting the big signs saying “Toilets” ! I felt so much better after and through the first lap I was running well.

Starting the 2nd lap I suddenly didn’t feel so great. It wasn’t so comfortable running. I felt disappointment since I felt with the running I’d done I could at least get through to halfway before feeling it was such hard work. Some time around this point I over-heard a spectator telling this athlete he was in 18th and when he passed me I saw he was in my age group – so clearly I was way off the slots. I knew off the bike I must have had about 6:20 on the clock (couldn’t confirm as my garmin had crashed) … so I felt a 3:40 ish marathon would get me around 10hrs and a good shout for a slot. After the race I found that there were some really quick guys out there and quite a bit under 9:50 was what was required.

I found myself walking. So disappointing, not even sure why. Big negative thoughts. Concluding that I just don’t have it mentally anymore for Ironman. As I write this I’m still not sure whether I’m right or wrong about that. I’d pick landmarks to walk to and then start walking. I’d then say to myself I’ll run as soon as the next little kid high 5s me ! This always seemed to make them smile and there were so many on the course it didn’t take long to find one to get me running again. At one point I saw this guy ahead start to cramp massively in both carbs to the point he was going to fall over. No one was helping him so I stopped and gave him a hand to a barrier so he could stretch it. My timing chip was cutting in to my ankle so I stopped to sort. My shoe lace came undone – another stop. All excuses.

I’d spotted both Mark and Tara out on the course. Tara was running strong and I thought ” if you walk too much she’ll chase you down”. Mark was slowly closing in on me and we had a side bet of beer (s?) on who was fastest. Given my starting after 5 minutes I thought there was a chance he’d started before me. He was closing slowly and by the middle of the third lap (of four) I was sure he would pass me within KM. The turnaround towards the end of each lap is a drag uphill and then back down. Nothing massive but enough that you notice it. He’d still not caught me and as I came back down I saw him about a minute back at the same time that two guys ran by me. I decided to try and run properly down the hill. It crossed my mind that I might have self inflicted this poor running by never forcing myself in to a proper running form and I also thought it would be funny to give Mark a real surprise and the next turn around when I was miles ahead.

At this point I was just doing anything to keep going and this seemed like a bit of a ‘laugh’. I also thought I should see if I could force myself to run. For the next 5k I was running properly. at the time no idea of the splits (with hindsight I was sub 5 min ks) – it felt great and I was so much faster than any runners around me. Each time it crossed my mind to slow down I actually increased my effort. As I came back from the turnaround early in the last lap I was looking for Mark. I’d decided to try and look like I was suffering and as soon as we’d passed hit it again. I’d made it all the way back to the the aid station by the time I saw Mark and I thought he may even miss me (he didn’t) and I knew I must have put 6-7 minutes in to him in 5k. It made me smile and made me try to hit it again. This is when the all over cramps started. My quads, my hamstrings felt on the verge of cramp but worst were my forearms and triceps. I had to shake out my arms. I was certainly paying for my efforts and I had to periodically walk to sort myself out. I was knocking back gels to try and get some salt. I knew that if I was just cramping in the working muscle it was probably due to fatigue but this was alsorts of different muscles cramping so much more likely lack of salts.

finish-imsa17By the final turnaround Mark had closed back up a fair bit. I tried to hit it hard for the final few k. I managed a small increase in pace and crossed the line ahead of Mark. I waited for him and we had a laugh about the little game I’d played. Turned out he’d started 10 minutes after the start so had beaten me by 4 minutes ! We hung around for Tara who had had a great race finishing 2nd F25-29 in her first Ironman. She was actually only 2 minutes slower than me as though she’d stood with me in the pen she’d let loads of people go ahead of her so had started 15-20 mins after the start.

I felt pretty disappointed about my race but I had on the whole enjoyed it. It certainly helped to meet up with new friends so soon after the finish and share our races. Mark was so upbeat about us both detonating on the run and yet still having our little race that I couldn’t help but feel happier. Tara was completely stoked and buzzing.

This is a great race. I would do it again… just wish flights were cheaper.

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Ironman South Africa Preview

Race Report

Race Review

It’s been a while since I’ve felt this excited leading in to a race. Trying to be careful though as two years a go I was feeling pretty confident and I had probably my most disappointing Ironman race ever.

Whats different this time ?

Two years a go, with hindsight, I feel I was fairly fit but very tired. Also, looking back, I don’t believe it was very deep fitness. I’d had a couple of bouts of illness that year which meant I went  in to our camp in Lanzarote unfit and chasing my fitness. This also meant that following camp I did a decent amount of aerobic training every day of the following week. The week post camp (i.e. the week before race week) I did 26 hours of training ! Then in race week I ran 12k on the Monday then didn’t run again and biked a lap of the course on the Wednesday.

This year the timings were the same – i.e. the race was two weeks post camp. For this to work I felt I had to do two things differently:

  1. Arrive at camp (three weeks this year) fit. My thinking being this would mean I wasn’t chasing fitness and I wouldn’t dig myself in to a big hole
  2. Really rest post camp.

Note I didn’t feel I should change approach to camp. You can’t blag Ironman, work needs to be done and 3 weeks of nothing to focus on but training is a privelege and if I want to do well I don’t feel I can waste it. Here is how this years camp (21 days in Lanza) compare to the one two years ago (18 days):


On the other two fronts I feel I have done rather better than two years ago. I set up in my training diary a comparison to two years ago. So each day I could see how I was doing. So as I arrived at camp my hours so far that year were 153 vs 125 2 years before. I’d swum 112k v 116k, biked 1160 miles vs 1139 and run 389 miles vs 147. The run miles stand out and are key (more on this later) – the bike miles don’t tell the whole story – this time round most were on the turbo and I feel far more valuable.

It was better than this though as the end of the previous year I had been training much more consistently so entered the year fitter than I had 2 years ago.

As for rest post camp I must thank Jo. I asked her what approach she would do to taper and decided I’d just follow something similar. This meant last week (week before race week) I did 15.1 hours BUT 6hrs of those were the Monday which was the final day in Lanzarote. I then had 3 easy days (7k run one day, 90 min swims the next two) before an aerobic day – 4.3k swim, 43k bike, 11k run, then rest day then aerobic day. This week ahead of the race I’ve done just over 6hrs following a much more ‘usual’ taper.

It does mean that I feel in good shape AND rested this time. I get periods of real optimism but my brain clicks in and tries to keep me realistic given what happened last time.

So lets have a look at each discipline


My swim training has been excellent for a good long while now. Definitely since the start of this ‘season’ (7th Nov per my training diary) I have trained consistently and my getting up for 5:45am swim sessions is a definite barometer for my general level of motivation. I cannot think of a swim session I was able to make that I didn’t. I can’t think of once my alarm going off and there even been an inkling of doubt about getting up. This takes me back many many years and gives me confidence that I’m back in a better place when it comes to training. It means I’ve average so far this season 12.9k per week and in that I managed a 4:47 400 (admittedly with paddles) which was a real confidence booster. My swimming continue to get a little better each year. This is very satisfying and great fun.

For this course though it’s an interesting one to predict. 1:25s (~54 min split) is proper cruising, 1:20s (~51 split) is pushing. The results state the distance as 3.9km and it’s typically been choppy. Last year times were very slow.

So… lets go with 55 minutes.


I decided this winter to use the turbo far more. My motivation was superb and it felt like it was down to not feeling like I had to go out in the shit weather. Prior to camp I did 3 out door rides this year. One was a short local ride, the other were back to back 100+ milers for a beer ride. Other than that it was regular turbos. Each week a pretty much did a big gear session and two other turbos. Session were never less than 1:30 and maxed out at just over 2:30. Every other saturday morning I did a 2.5hr turbo into a 16+k brick run. Over the years I’ve regularly started a turbo session where I warm up and then see how high I can get my average power by the time I’ve been going an hour (including warm up). For some reason it seems to motivate me. My goal had been to get to 300w but never managed it. This year I did it – managing 302w. I also did the same for 2 hours and managed 272w. All very encouraging. I certainly felt fit on camp and got some good long rides done.

Still compared to when I was consistently racing well my bike mileage is low. Last year I rode just over 9,000 miles (nothing compared to when I was regularly doing 12,000+ per year). This season I’ve average 150 miles per week but as you can see this has been heavily loaded to a 3 week block with the others been more focussed interval work. So there is still a little doubt in my mind about just how strong my biking is at the moment.

The course has changed since I last raced it – it looks a lot quicker to me but talking to people that have raced both courses they seem to suggesting it’s only about 15 minutes quicker. This makes me consider that I’m under-estimating the course. So my prediction is a combination of been conservative and judging what I need to be in with a shout of Kona.

So… lets go with ~ 35 km/h i.e.  5:08


Over the past year there’s been a penny dropping moment. Looking at a graph of my annual run miles over the years shows the elephant in the room of my recent Ironman marathons:


My goals for Ironman marathons I think have been based on remembering how I used to be rather than a fair reflection of where I am now with my running. For a long while now I’ve been trying to regain the pleasure in running. Speed is not important at the moment as I will get big improvements by merely running the whole marathon. I have really started enjoying my running and am running more. I typically just run on feel. I let the pace come rather than chase some pace I belief I should be running. After years of not doing the work last year I finally did a decent years running (averaging just over 30 miles a week), this year my average is 47 miles and with that comes starting to feel like a runner. There were a few runs in Lanzarote where I got quite emotional as I ran how I remember running used to be.

The graph below shows my monthly running mileage and the average pace. I’ve not shown above 6 min / k as in the early years that would reflect months with a large volume of fell running. In later years it reflects slow pace. In the final few months you can see that I’ve had decent volume and my average pace has been getting quicker.


I’ve been trying to increase my overall volume, get long runs in and increase the length of what I view as a standard run. Below are my bucketed run workouts – each column represents how many runs I’ve done in each 3 miles bucket (0-3 miles, 3-6, etc…)


You can see that in 2015 virtually all my runs were 3-6 miles. In 2016 my most popular bucket was 6-9 miles and this year it’s 9-12 miles. I have a 17k loop which it became almost autopilot to run (at least) that. The number of long runs this year already out shines the previous years but it also hides my double runs. I’ve had three occasions this year where I’ve run marathon distance or more in a day across two runs (42k, 43k and 46k).

For the first time in a long time I feel like I should be able to run the marathon.

So… lets go with ~5:15/k pace – so 3:40.


I’ll allow a little quicker than last time in T2 as I did walk through and sit to eat my mars bar.

So T1 – 3:30, T2 5:30

Totalling up:

0:55:00 - Swim
0:03:30 - T1
5:08:00 - Bike
0:05:30 - T2
3:40:00 - Run
9:52:00 - TOTAL 

That rather surprised me. Faster than I’d thought. Hope it’s right as that should get me a slot.

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Energy Bar

I’ve started making my own low carb energy bar which I use for snacks and have started to do the bike leg of an Ironman with it. I’m still messing around with the mix so this is the latest version. Whats nice is you can tweak this easily to adjust the macro ingredient proportions.

The basic idea is from Phil Maffetone’s “Phil Bar”. I had to adjust this to remove the powdered egg white. I’ve then adjusted the nuts etc…


energybarThe percentages don’t add up – the numbers are based on whats on the packet – I reckon the discrepancy is fibre but I’ve not had the time to reconcile it. The numbers are close enough – this is high fat low carb.






Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blast them till all nicely blended. Then add add a small amount of warm water to get the mix to combine. It shouldn’t be too moist just enough to form bars.

I then do one of two things:

  1. Press the mix in a tray and leave for the water to evaporate a bit then stick in the fridge. After an hour or so cut in to bars
  2. Roll the mix in to balls that are about two bite size. I then roll them in ground almonds which stops them being too sticky. Also makes them look a bit fancy.

Hope you enjoy them.


  • I intend to start adding salt to them
  • will experiment with more peanut butter for taste. I will probably remove the butter which I’d added to give better consistency and add fat
  • will experiment with more coconut as thats a cheap ingredient.
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Key Swim Sessions Each Week

Based on a talk given at Giant / Blueseventy Event In London on 2nd Feb 2017

Video of talk can be found here.


Before getting into any specific sessions we should start with the fundamentals  – whatever level of swimmer you are, whatever you goals, THE most important aspect of any swim session is… Turning up! No matter how good the session is if you don’t turn up and swim they are no use. This means the coach/self-coached athletes’ priority is to make swimming enjoyable enough that you actually want to show up to the pool. This might mean arranging to swim with a friend, or even better join a squad. If using toys gets you swimming then use them. Put on the core shorts, the pull buoy, paddles, snorkel. No matter what the best swim coaches might be saying about the use of swim aids this season;  Swimming with these is better than not swimming.

Typically people swim better and work harder when training in a group. This means it’s probably better to swim in a group and compromise the specific session that might be have been set just for you, and do what the group is doing. Specificity is good, yes – but variety is also and keeping things fresh and interesting could be crucial.

Group or squad swims are  even better if there is a coach poolside. Technique improves over the long haul, with regular reminders  of the things you’re trying to address in your technique. Technical issues are  not typically resolved in an occasional one-to-one session, instead it’s those few second comment’s made a few times each session, several times each week for weeks and months and years.

so – swim regularly, keep the sessions interesting and enjoyable, swim in a coached session. These are great starters for making improvements in you swimming.

I still don’t want to discuss specific sessions, as there are some ground rules that you should apply to every session to get the most out of it.

  • Engage the coach. In a pool of 30 swimmers the coach will not be able to give feedback on everyone all the time. Also some coaches feel less able to repeatedly tell adults the same thing (which is normally what is required) in the way that they do when coaching children. So at the start of the session speak to the coach and let him know you’re keen for any feedback he can give you
  • Work. All sessions include some work. I don’t believe in “technique only” sessions as a regular feature of a training programme. At certain times of year this may be appropriate and then it is best done with a coach in attendance. I suspect at times it’s even used as an excuse for an easy session. Technique needs to be put under pressure so following some technique work do some harder swimming trying to practise what the technique has taught you.
  • Concentrate. When you are cycling and running for a lot of your training you can let you mind wander, put the world to rights or gossip with your pals, and you’ll still get good results. This is not the case with swimming. You need to be engaged and focussed, thinking about every stroke. This is the only way you will improve. I think about every stroke I make in the water. So at the start of each length have something in mind to focus on during that particular length. Have a fall back thing that you will focus on if your coach hasn’t highlighted anything specific. I have two I use –  “finger press at start of the catch” and “really shove the water to my feet”. This focus on what you are doing should mean you don’t lose count during a set!
  • Pace Clock. Learn to use the pace clock. Triathletes love spending their time pressing the buttons on Garmins and generally not focussing on swimming. If you have use for the data (normally it’s purely for posting on Strava) then wear the watch but just leave it be. Once you’re used to the pace clock it’s far quicker getting your splits from that and  it can help you count – e.g. 12 x 50 on 1:05 is just once round the clock. (see the bottom for explanation of splits) Secondly the pace clock can be a great tool to practise sighting. Depending on where the pace clock is you can take a look at it when it’s at the far end of the pool. So off the turn you take a look at it using “crocodile eyes” on your third stroke without breaking your stroke rhythm.  This also allows you to get your splits. With practise you’ll be able to get 100 splits on a 400 using only the pace clock.
  • Minimise dead time. This is particularly important where you have a fixed time in the pool (e.g. in a squad). Try and turn up on time and swim until you have to get out. If others are in the lane chatting just get on with it. An extra 100m each session in a week of three sessions adds up to 15k of swimming in the year. In 10 years of triathlon thats 150k of swimming. Just imagine what your swimming would be like right now if you’d already banked an extra 150k of swimming.
  • Count Strokes. Get into the habit of counting strokes (per length). Count strokes regularly. This is not specifically to endlessly try to reduce it. It’s much more important so you can spot when your stroke mechanics are deteriorating so it can prompt you to focus. You will develop a sense of what your stroke is and then as you tire can notice when it goes up. This is when you need to focus and get back on it maintaining stroke length. This is how you build muscular endurance.

So… now, finally on to some session specifics:

When designing swim session for triathletes, it’s important to remember the nature of the race we’re doing. In our case, the swim is at the start of a much longer event and is normally in open water – where you’re only sense of pace will be by perceived effort level. To this end we’re looking to build ‘sub max’ swim pace and a good sense of pacing. We’re also looking for efficiency so that we can swim the distance without expending too much energy. It’s also the only of our 3 race disciplines  where it’s realistic to swim race distance virtually every session. Doing this will help no-end with your race performance.

Here are three types of sets that I incorporate in to the sessions I give:


These are sets of repeats where you build the pace in subsequent efforts. It’s typical for even experienced swimmers to go too fast at the start. It’s a great way to get a feel for how easy you have to feel your going when you’re fresh to be swimming at the right pace. Examples of this sort of set are:

12 x 100 build each 3 – this means you do 100 easy / steady, then the 2nd one a bit faster and the 3rd one faster still. Repeat that cycle 4 times to get 12 reps.

Another example is:

4 x 25 build 1-4

4 x 50 build 1-4

4 x 100 build 1-4

This gives a nice progression from build pace over a single length which is typically easier to achieve and then increasing the distance. As your pace judgement improves you should be able to do a series of 400s with each getting a little faster.


These give you a great sense of the pace you plan to swim at. They are done with short rest – only 5-10s. The rest isn’t really for recovery (you shouldn’t need it for your race pace) but more so you can check your pacing. So say your target is 30 minutes for 1.5k (i.e. 2 mins per 100) here are a couple of sessions

15 x 100 on 2:10 holding 2:00 per 100.

A progression from this which puts you under a little more pressure is

15 x 100 done cycling through (2 on 2:10 and 1 on 2:05)

8 x 50 on 1:10 holding 1:00 per 50

4 x 100 on 2:10 holding 2:00 per 100

2 x 200 on 4:10 holding 4:00 per 100

400 aiming for 8 mins

This progression uses the shorter reps to get you dialled in to the pace and then you try and hit a final 400 at the pace.


I love these sessions as they build strength and muscular endurance which will translate in to efficiency. The idea is to do some fun harder intervals interspersed with paddle work. The paddle work is focussed on maintaining stroke length.

A couple of examples are [using 30 min 1.5k swimmer as an example of repeat times]:

3 x [ 4 x 100 build 1-4 on 2:15, 200 pull with paddles on 5:00]

3 x [4 x 50 FAST on 1:30, 400 pull with paddles on 9:00]

** Explanation of swim sets. 8 x 50 on 1:10 means that each 50 starts 1:10 after the previous one. So if you swim a 50 in 55s you will get 15s rest before starting the next one. If you take 1:05 you’ll only get 5s rest.

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Lakes In A Day 2016


50 miles, 4000m ascent in 16:04:05

LakesInDayDayFinish2016LONG REPORT

It’s four days after the event and I’ve still got severe DOMs. Bad enough that I’m still not able to descend stairs properly. It’s one tough event which I certainly did not give enough respect to just assuming the training I was doing for Ironman would be enough.

I’m enjoying doing events other than Ironman. I think this is because I don’t feel competitive about them. It’s all about having fun. This is why I’d agreed to run this event with Mel. It would be far more fun committed to run it together. I slept well the night before and we got up just before 5am for a quick breakfast before heading in to Cartmell to catch the bus north to Caldbeck for the 8am start.

LakesInADayEven though at the start of such long events you know almost everyone starts too fast you get drawn in. It wasn’t like we were going that fast but we were certainly running up a hill we knew that before long there’s no way we’d run up a hill that steep. As we hit the open fell after a couple of KMs everything settled down as the vast majority started to walk knowing the best approach to this day was to walk anything but the shallowest uphills. It’s a friendly event and we each got chatting to various people. This the closest I got to losing Mel as I took my cap off, she looked up couldn’t see me and stopped to look back. Luckily someone had a word with me and I gave Mel a shout.

LakesInADay-1This first section from the north to Blencathra is the trickiest navigation with no real tracks however we had near perfect conditions so you could see all the tops and with people not that dispersed there was no way you could go wrong. It’s a fairly gentle climb over High Pike and then some running on the tops before a long descent across burnt bracken to a river crossing and then on to the long long slog up the back of Blencathra.

From the top was the trickiest descent of the day down Halls Fell. It’s nothing too technical just a fairly sharp ridge with lots of sections requiring use of hands and finishing with a steep descent down the open hill side. The photographer knew where to place himself. I stopped by him to keep an eye on Mel coming down the tricky section. She was engaging various parts to gain friction so I commented “Remember to always have five points of contact” to which the photographer gave me the “you shouldn’t have said that” look. I joked with him that this was the money shot. We got down this and continued down the descent at the bottom of which, a mere 18k in to the race, you could feel the legs aching already.

LakesInADay2In Threlkeld was the first feed station. We’d agreed we wouldn’t dilly dally in the aid stations instead just stay as long as require to get a hot drink and some food. We stuck to this plan. It meant a pattern established in the day whereby we passed faster people in the feed stations and then they re-passed us later. It was nice to see the same people several times.

Next up was the slog up Clough head and on to the Dodds ridge. A ridge I’ve had the opportunity to run and walk on a few occasions over the years and it’s always been fun. The weather was awesome so I was really looking forward to this section. The climb up Clough Head was tough – very steep but I find that these steep sections are probably my best terrain. I think it’s because it’s a similar muscle action to climbing out of the saddle on a bike so I was probably best conditioned for these sections.

We manage to run a lot of the tops from Clough Head across the Dodds past Sticks Pass and on to Helvellyn. This was largely without incident other than the great views, the rising temperature and the increasing thirst. The descent on prepared path (stone steps) from Dollywagon to Grisedale Tarn though quick further trashed the legs. The water from the stream at the bottom tasted so good. Like hunger is the best sauce thirst is the best cordial. The final major climb awaited us up on to Fairfield before the long descent down the long ridge of High Pike and Low Pike to Ambleside. Rachel and I had descended this in June in thick mist and pouring rain. Today was beautifully clear. Not sure this made it any better as it seemed never ending. Mel declared a “sense of humour failure” – it wasn’t what she’d expected / hoped. Some of it was runnable but it was broken by tricky sections to get down which were now getting even more tricky as we were quite tired.

LakesInADay3In the Ambleside feed station Mel had a low point though at the time I didn’t realise it. When I’d looked at the route I’d thought to myself how great it was as far as Ambleside and how it didn’t look so interesting afterwards. I’d said to Rachel how it would be more fun to just do the route to Ambleside. This meant I was focussed on just getting out of there to resist temptation. It was also late (just after 5) and I was keen to get as much as possible done in daylight as this final section was going to have most navigation.

We managed to keep running across the first 5-10km of this section which I was pleased with as we were over 50k in. The navigation wasn’t a problem at all as they’d marked all turns with arrows. We’d got in our heads that this section was only 18k. We should have checked as it was more like 21k and as it got dark we slowed down and it got very disconcerting how long it was taking. We came down beside Lake Windermere and it was very tricky running in torch light. I stubbed my left little toe a few times which produced ever increasingly loud shouts of “You f***er!!!”. For some reason shouting at the top of your voice helps. Mel took the sensible approach of just leaving me to it. I progressively dropped in to an ever deeper hole with my mood getting worse and worse. We slowed down on the tricky sections as I didn’t want to stub my toe more and possible do serious damage. Then I’m telling Mel “this is like self torture. It’s dark we can’t see anything the only reason to do this is because of some arbitrary distance of 50 miles to cover” then stuff like “this would be lovely in daylight” , “people who enjoy ultras must be just wired differently” and “if we’d pulled out at Ambleside we’d have had a great day in the fells, it would have been tough, fun and now we’d be showered changed and in the pub having tea”. There was more but yes I was a real motivator at that point. It was strange, I could hear myself saying these things and could observe myself being very low but couldn’t do anything about it. The other thing that was getting me down was  it was more comfortable to run than walk but in doing so I ran the risk of further bashing my little toe. It dragged on but eventually we got to the feed station and only 12k to go.

I had two cups of Leek and Potato soup. It was good stuff as when we set off my mood was fantastic. This last section I really enjoyed, we managed to keep moving quite well and chatted keeping our morale up. We hit the final 2 miles which were on the road and managed to run really well. In fact, I was really quite chuffed with how hard we managed to run this last bit.  Crossing the line I was very pleased with myself. I’m trying to remember my old fell running days and whether anything I did then was as hard as this. I don’t think so. It makes me realised just how fell running fit I used to be. Eating my jacket potato in the finish area my attitude had changed from “never do this again” a few hours ago to “I’ll only do this again if I’m proper ‘fell running’ fit”.

LakesInADay4Mel and I had a goal of finishing before last orders. We weren’t far in to the day when we realised it was unlikely. Getting back to our hotel we did manage to get a bottle of local beer and a packet of crisps from the hotel bar. We know how to celebrate.

Many of the conversations during this run were about my footwear. It seems a good place to address many of the questions I had. I did the race in Vibram Fivefinger Trek Ascent. Currently these are the most appropriate shoe they have for this with decent plating on the sole and the most protection from sharp stones and rocks. The tread provides fantastic grip on most surfaces.

Are they comfortable ? The question most asked not only at this race but in day to day life. I have to take a second to not be sarcastic as would I wear something that wasn’t. Yes they are very comfortable. In fact since wearing them for races I almost never blister. The only reason for the almost is I have blistered and it’s when I’ve ignored some grit thats got in. Unlike mainstream running shoes there is no where for grit to manoeuvre out of the way so you must remove it. They fit like a glove, toes are separated and your foot doesn’t move relative to the shoe – hence no blisters, even if the shoes are soaking wet.

How can you run in them without cushioning ? No problem at all. This demonstrates how removed from their natural abilities people have become. can’t they pull up a mental image of running barefoot and how the foot works superbly to cushion your landing. It’s way more comfortable than running in anything else I’ve run in.

How is it on the rocks ? This is where it’s not clear cut. Unlike well cushioned shoes you really need to look where you’re putting your foot.  This adds to the enjoyment of running in them – you are more engaged. You can’t just willy nilly slam your foot down wherever. There is an optimally bad terrain for them and thats those man made paths with lots of stones of about golf ball size scattered across a mostly hard underlying surface. If this is down hill you need to slow as hitting one of those centre heel as it kisses the ground is painful. On grass these are a joy, on scree they work great, on technical terrain they give great feel and grip and in mud it’s like being a child again as you can dig your toes in. In my many years of fell running in Walshes I regularly sprained my ankles. In vibrams I’ve not once gone over on my ankle.

How is it running so long in them ? Well my feet start to ache during the run. These shoes mask very little, they give full feedback so I don’t feel you’d push on when you shouldn’t. At the start of the final section my feet ached a lot but it eased off and the day after my feet were the one thing that weren’t aching at all.

The only issue I had with them was mentioned above and thats catching your little toe. In boots or non toed shoes there’s a tendency for your foot to deflect off rocks or curbs you hit but with these the little toe just takes the brunt of it. Given it’s only my left foot this ever happens to I’m sure part of it is my own fault !

If you have any further questions about running in vibrams feel free to drop me a line.

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Breca Jersey SwimRun 2016

Breca2016-2.SHORT REPORT

3:07:00 – 1st Mixed Pair, 2nd Overall

Distances ~ 4k swimming, 13.5k running across 5 swims and 5 runs.

Slowtwitch report


We were awakened race morning to winds whistling past our window just below the castle where the race was to start. Quite a change from the previous day of mill pond seas. Looking out as we got ready for breakfast we could see the waters were pretty rough. Luckily all our practise swims had been in rough seas and we both quite enjoyed it.

BrecaJersey2016-2At the race start in the Gorey Castle Ben, the Race Director, warned us that with the current sea conditions the early swims would be tough and the first cut off would be tight. We all gathered for the pre race photo and I promised to remember to hit split on my watch so I could gauge how fast we swam together. We’d practised alot swimming with an elastic between us but never formally measured how much quicker we were.

No one seemed too keen to be at the front on the start so Rachel and I found ourselves second row. The gun went and we ran down the steps through the castle for the 1.5k run to the first swim. Quite a few people passed us but I wasn’t too worried as I didn’t feel we should be near the front for the first swim. This initial run was very easy on roads and then across a beach and in for the first swim. We set off and soon found ourselves passing lots of people. I tried to take a fairly wide line and not cut in as I knew there was a  cord between Rachel and I and I didn’t want to cut people up.

BrecaJersey2016-3-2.We must have passed 10 pairs on that swim and got out quite pleased with ourselves. Rachel undid the elastic between us but we agreed after that we’d leave it on unless it proved too technical to be attached. The next run was along by the coast on a rough path with lots of short steps and uneven ground. Lots of pairs re-passed us but it wasn’t long before we were back in the water and passing people again. I was pretty sure there were only 2 sets of white hats (sprint competitors) in front of us and one of those pairs were Andy and Mike who’d we met at the briefing the night before. We caught them on this swim and just as I passed Andy Mike veered off so I found myself swimming between the two of them and soon felt the resistance that meant Andy had got caught up on our rope (I apologised over a beer after the race). This swim was very rough indeed and finished going up the slip road on a massive St Catherines breakwater. As we approached the chop got huge as waves bounced back off the breakwater. It felt like we were making no progress but we were still passing people. Getting on to the slip was tricky and I eased up to try and judge a safe moment in the waves.

BrecaJersey2016-5From here the runs were mainly on the coast path. This meant lovely single track running for lots of it and undulating up and down that is typical of many coast paths. This particular section we’d been warned about as it ended with an off track decent to a rocky headland and the first tricky entry. We stayed tied together so I tried to be careful not to go too quickly. Soon we were back in to the beautiful water and a cool off for the swim to the first checkpoint. We were told we were second mixed pair (the first pair was in the full distance race).

Following this check point was the longest run – 5km. We left our wetsuits on and warmed up a lot. By the time we were too hot it didn’t seem worth stripping them down. Andy and Mike re-passed us on this section and I assumed they were off and we’d not see them again. This meant we were in 3rd. Rachel had told me the night before she was happy to be challenged (or was it pushed?) but with two big swims and another run I felt we should hold back. As we descended to the next swim Rachel told a supporter something about me “dragging” her around – referring to the elastic between us – though it didn’t sound quite as she meant.

BrecaJersey2016-4-2.The next swim was going to be the trickiest to navigate. I’d remembered from the course and briefing I thought it would be interesting as you had to swim around a headland and then in. We’d been told there would be no sighting buoys. I liked that about this race. It was an adventure and it would reward navigation skills in open water. A marshal had an aerial map of the course so I took a quick look and eyeballed the headland we’d have to go around. After passing one pair we were completely on our own. Couldn’t see another pair or any kayaks. It was great, cliffs to our left, ocean right. It felt adventurous. Once in the water everything starts to look different. I passed what I thought was the headland but soon realised it was the next one. I cut in looking for the exit. Couldn’t find it. Stopped briefly and Rachel spotted where we were heading. I’d mis-remembered how far it was but now we were on track. As we came to the exit two pairs suddenly appeared to our right. One was Andy and Mike and we found out later that they’d made the mistake of heading to the next headland and went quite a bit off course.

At this point we had 2.6k run and 1k swim left and I knew if we were within a few minutes of those two we’d pass them on the swim and come in second. Remembering Rachels words from yesterday I started to push the pace. No complaints from Rachel just some more laboured breathing and slightly more pull on the cord. On the uphills we would catch Andy and Mike then on the flats and downs we’d lose them. Eventually I decided to make the pass and committed the offence I complain about of getting someone else caught up in our elastic (sorry!). We managed to hit the final swim just ahead of them. From there we enjoyed the final swim in to Rozel to finish in 2nd place and 1st mixed pair.

BrecaJersey2016-5-2.I was chuffed to bits.

Jersey is a great place for these races and Ben put on a great, challenging, friendly race. As I write this they’ve announced the date for next year – 9th September. We’re keen to go back. It’s 2 days after the end of Cent Cols but we’re both keen to do it so I think we’re going to try and sort out the logistics. Details of the race here.

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