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.

BrecaJersey2017

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:

BUILD SETS

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.

RACE PACE SETS ON SHORT REST

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.

INTERVALS ALTERNATED WITH PADDLES

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

SHORT REPORT

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

LONG 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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Ironman Weymouth Race Review

In my race preview I comment on my belief that I’ve spent many years over trained and that explains my massively fluctuating motivation. As I reflect on Weymouth I must reflect on this and how in the summer I decided to approach my training with a view on the long term and not on Weymouth. I decided not to prepare for Weymouth but instead to lay the foundations for racing well next summer and, more importantly, get back on an even keel so I can enjoy many years of sold training and racing.

Race Report here.

Weymouth is a very convenient location for me. It means I can spend most of my final preparation at home. It certainly helps to spend all but the last couple of nights in your own home environment. It also reduces the significance of the race in your mind.

Overall I was positive from the race. However, there was a pretty deep disappointment which really boiled down to lack of preparation. At the moment the net effect has been that I feel very motivated indeed to put this right. The HR cap has seemed to really helped me wake up wanting to train and further confirms in my mind that I’ve been suffering from overtraining for many years now. My next Ironman is Frankfurt in 39 weeks – thats plenty of time to do a proper HR cap based build.

So Weymouth…

SWIM

Swim sessions form the structure of my life and I love them. It means my swimming is always consistent. I could probably survive on a lot less swimming but I enjoy it, it provides aerobic fitness and it’s never at the expense of other sessions.  My swim at Weymouth was easy and I managed sub 53 minutes! Very pleased. I will continue with the same.

BIKE

With hindsight I should have ridden with power but not displayed it. It was fun to race on feel. I judged my efforts based on my breathing. I felt that my ride was pretty solid but looking at my AG bike splits I was a good 10 minutes off the pace. Given that in the past I’ve been one of the fastest bikers in my AG it would suggest I was a little off my best. It certainly comes down to preparations and perhaps reflects my backing off on my rides through summer due to my HR cap. I did this with a view to the long term so I can’t complain. I rode well to my fitness. In the run up to this race I hadn’t done the long rides I’d done in to Texas this year and in to all my best performances. To give an idea in the first 6 years of my Ironman racing I averaged 14.8k miles of riding a year and qualified every time I tried. In the second 6 years I averaged 9.8k miles of riding and qualified once in the first year of that period (ie at the end of the previous 6 years). I’m not saying that this is the way that will work for everyone but perhaps it is for me. I used to ride lots of miles at relatively low intensity and thats what I plan to try to go back to.

RUN

Wouldn’t be a review without a graph. What does this show ? Well… I fell apart at 30k. The two outliers at 20k and 32k are portaloo stops. The first for a pee – in my experience if you need a pee it’s always worth stopping for – I felt so much better after it and got a second  wind for about 8k. The second stop was due to upset tummy and I cramped massively in the portoloo – far from ideal.

When falling apart like that it’s often put down to bad nutrition or such like. It’s even been suggested to me that changing my footwear would solve it. If I didn’t wear Vibram Fivefingers I’m sure no one would suggest such a thing. It surprises me how much difference people think footwear will make. This just comes down to lack of fitness. I was not struggling aerobically, I didn’t lack energy just my legs were shot. After a big build to Texas I didn’t quite get back in to my running quickly enough and I certainly hadn’t done enough long runs.

Looking at the first six years of Ironman I average 2,000 miles per year and that period included my FHL surgery . In the last 6 years I’ve average 1,050 miles per year.

I think it’s finally sinking in. I’m not the athlete I was and it’s because I’ve not putting the training in. It’s interesting that you’d think given loads of flexibility and time that your performance would just improve. For me thats not been the case at all. My best training and performances were when I had a full time job. I look back now and think that perhaps it was because I wasn’t fully content with life. Now I am much happier, balanced. I enjoy time being quiet, doing nothing, thinking. I don’t have the need to be out training all the time I have available.

The question for me now is do I want good performances enough to put the work in. To put the hours in. As friends qualify for Kona 2017 and others are starting to post pictures from Kona and the most vivid and awesome memories of that place come back to me, I feel so motivated to train. The conundrum is how to maintain that feeling through all the times when it’s a struggle to get out.

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Ironman Weymouth 2016

SHORT REPORT
0:52:58 - Swim
0:06:05 - T1
5:43:59 - Bike
0:02:16 - T2
4:08:44 - Run
10:54:02 - 14th M45-49, 68th overall

Race Preview HERE

Race Review HERE

LONG REPORT

The usual pre night sleep was the worst I’ve experienced. Most of the night I was waking every 15 minutes, twice as often as normal. Whilst conscious I could calm myself down with loads of rationalisations but it seemed as soon as I drifted off loads of irrational thoughts woke me up. Once I’m lined up for the swim I have no nerves at all and I know that so it all seems utterly ridiculous and it was rather hacking me off. It was also made worse that I had a rather upset tummy which was sending me to the loo quite regularly. I kept remembering the fact I ate Neils salad as he didn’t eat it the night before a race as it was viewed as a little risky. Perhaps he was right.

Thanks to my friend Guy, I was in the hotel right next to the transition so I got there as soon as it opened loaded up the bike, checked my tyres and was back chilling in my room by 5:15am. Neil popped by and we hung out. I feel a lot more relaxed just sitting nattering with a  friend. Reminded me of IM South Africa last year where I sat with Neil and Roger relaxing before the start.

All my recent swims have been in very rough seas including here on Friday when we arrived. The forecast for race day was bang on though. Zero wind, the sea was swimming pool flat and the sunrise over the Jurassic coast was awesome. The rolling start was set up very sensibly with gaps to allow you to slot in to the right spot without having to work your way through 2000+ competitors. They also restricted the start so only one or two people crossed the matt at once. It made for a very civilised start.

Once in the water my aim was to just cruise. I spent a lot of time waiting for the start pulling up my Blueseventy Helix. If was time well spent as when I started to swim I felt very little restriction around my shoulders. Focus on long strong strokes and not raising my HR too much. I have a little check I do which is to bilateral breath – if I can do this I’m going easy enough. I think I’d finished my first lap just as the last swimmers were entering the water which meant I had masses of people to pass not he second lap. I kept telling myself each one was one less to pass on the bike and it was far safer to pass the slower athletes in the ocean than on the road. It also made me realise how hard it made sighting. I’ve no idea why all these athletes were spread so wide – it’s a sure sign most don’t sight very well, if they did they’d all be a nice neat line (and easy to pass). Instead ahead there’s a mass of red and green hats which in the low light blend rather nicely with the orange and yellow buoys making sighting quite difficult.

I exited the water in about 53 minutes. Looking back it’s great to see such even splits for the two laps and that I was third out.

I set out on the bike feeling good and determined not to get too stressed about all the traffic. There was loads and I reckon it was borderline whether it was safe. Early on there are a few tight corners through a village which you enter at speed due to a descent. if you know it and have an open road you can whizz through it. Here though there were loads of athletes. I’d passed two relay riders and then had to slow otherwise I would have not only had to cross the centre line (a DQ) but would have had to do it on a blind corner. Those two relays riders just went straight round the outside on the other side of the road. I shouted at them that they’d get themselves injured. When I re-passed them I told them I’d slowed specifically not to cross the centre line.

A little later there’s an out and back where you have to stay right. Despite the detailed explanation of this at the briefing and the big sign at the start AND the fact it’s surely common sense I must have had to tell 50% of the people I passed to move over. Some argued you had to stay left !!

Then a little later still I just avoided being taken down by a rider that over-cooked a corner just ahead of me. Thanks to the spectators that quick as a flash were shouting to ensure we all managed to avoid the guy.

Having said that, it’s a lovely course with large parts of it fast and enough hills to keep it honest. All the traffic in the first half would make it hard for packs to establish. That said the whole first lap was effectively passing a continuous line of 70.3 riders. I’m sure it contributed to me getting through halfway in 2:42. I was looking forward to the second lap as it would be empty and I’d be more in control of my pacing.

The wind picked up and the second lap was certainly harder. In the end it took me just over 3 hours. This was a little disappointing but based on the riders around me it didn’t feel that I was fading too badly. For the whole ride I had the most consistent mood and energy I’ve had for as long as I can remember. My nutrition had been my own home made energy bars (about 250g cals per hour) plus two bottles of Ribena and a bottle of the energy drink from the aid station.

Coming in to Weymouth the view was awesome. I’d counted 3 M45-49 pass me and thought I was in 4th. For this race I’d decided to race in the same shoes I’d done all my training in so I stuck on a rather worn pair of Vibram Bikila LS.  I set off on the run thinking I was in a slot position and that to keep that I’d have to run at 3:3x pace.  This was a bit ahead of what I realistically thought I could do but I was pleased I was thinking about racing. I wanted to be chasing a spot. I felt great in the first 10k going through in just over 51 minutes – this was about 3:35 pace. My pace started to drop a bit and I need a pee. At 20k I decided I should stop and it was worth it. I felt a lot better but my pace had slowed and was closer to the 5:30-40 range. Still on course to do about 3:50 but probably not fast enough hold on to my position.

I was getting great support from Naomi who told me I was 7th off the bike and I’d been passed by Chris (a friend of Robs from Gibraltar ) so was in 8th. At 30k, surprise surprise, the wheels really fell off. It’s hard to describe – it’s clear it’s nothing to do with fuel, it’s clear my lungs and heart aren’t being challenged, it’s plain and simple my legs just don’t have it. The brain over-rides it for a while and I can push on. Then I find myself walking. I felt so disappointed, this was worse than Texas.  I pulled myself together and plodded along, the pain. I wonder how everyone else seems to be coping better then realise that I don’t know that they are. We’re all just getting through this as best we can. I take consolation in the fact that I tried, that I’m not going to look back and think I was so close as it’s pretty clear I’m not going to be ! At least it’s been a fun day.

I cross the finish line happy. I feel quite positive. I feel I have the motivation again to train and what I’ve done this summer has set me up. Though I appreciate it will take something special to qualify in Frankfurt. Having got my t-shirt my legs are in pieces. I can hardly walk. That perks me up.

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Ironman Weymouth Preview

BikeReadyForWeymouth2016I transferred my entry from Ironman UK to Ironman Weymouth and with hindsight I’m so glad I did. Following Ironman Texas I enjoyed a lovely walking holiday in The Lake District and then had great fun at Engadin Swim Run but it was clear that there’s no way I would have been in a good state to race Ironman UK.

I took to wearing a heart rate monitor on the bike as I returned to serious training in June. This was following reading some new books on the Maffetone method on the like. This takes me back to my early days of Triathlon. I read “The Maffetone Method” and started using a HR monitor in theory to cap my efforts but back then I found that I’d already been training at a relatively low intensity and it was actually quite hard work to run or bike at the HR cap. This time however, I found that the cap was forcing me to really back off on my efforts. I now wonder whether  a lot of my lack of motivation for quite a few years now has been to being over-trained. To riding too hard on the bike for a lot of the time. I made the decision to go back to formally following a cap and just letting Weymouth happen as it will. Instead the focus is on getting back in to shape for racing Frankfurt next year.

Over the past few years I’ve come close to qualifying on several occasions. It’s always boiled down to not running quick enough – I think (without checking) on all those occasions of coming close I’ve run over 4 hours. Really not a performance of a Kona qualifier.  I feel that it’s very rare in Ironman that you don’t get a result that reflects your training. You hear many an excuse which boils down to “having a bad day” but I personally don’t feel that happens that often (a mechanical being the only one I can recall for myself). My performances have definitely reflected my training, I may be disappointed but on reflection it’s disappointment in not having trained enough. Intellectually I’ve recognised my massive lack of run truing but it’s not translated in to anything thats motivated me to run more. Thats been until this year. I don’t want to jinx it but my enjoyment in running is returning. I took a look at the running I’ve done over the years and how that’s reflected in Kona qualification:

runningmiles

In my early years when I qualified every time I tried I was averaging over 40 miles per week with at least one 20+k run each week and about one 30+k run every other week.  2009 was when I snapped my FHL and in a rush of enthusiasm in the year after I managed to qualify twice again probably drawing on the run fitness that was still around from the years before. Since then it’s been dismal culminating in 2014/15 where I only managed in two years the mileage I covered in 6 months in 2005. So far 2016 is on track to be better than 2010 which shows a glimmer of hope for running well on Sunday but it’s important to look at the years preceding and I’m not convinced my run form is anything like that.

So… I’m going in to the race in good shape, excited to race but don’t feel I’m in Kona qualifying shape.

Predictions

SWIM

Early September is not the best time for my swimming as my squad has it’s break in August. That said I’ve been doing the odd swim run session with Rachel – we’re tethered and it’s proving to be a about the best open water training I’ve done. Also, the years I’ve had Graham working on maintaining my stroke length feel like they’re paying off now. This morning I was cruising 1:18s off 1:40 and 1:14s off 1:55 holding 14/15 stroke count (25m pool). I feel i can swim pretty conservative and be around 55 mins.

So …

Swim – 55 mins

BIKE

New course this year so looking at last years times doesn’t help much. Jo reckons it’s a harder course and certainly looks like more climbing. I’ve decided that I’m going to ride without power for this race and almost certainly without my HRM. I just want to go out and ride on feel.

So …. finger in the air stuff

Bike – 5:35

RUN

I’ve certainly seen my pace at my HR cap (135) increase – in late June I could hardly run uphill and be running in the high 5 mins per KM. Now I typically am running between 5:15 and 5:30 KMs but have had the odd run where I’ve been under 5 mins per KM.

So…

Run – 3:45

Putting it all together:

0:55 - Swim
0:04 - T1
5:35 - Bike
0:03 - T2
3:45 - Run
10:22 - TOTAL
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Engadin Swim Run

engadin_2016-17:41:04 – 22nd Male team, 29th overall (~47k running, 6k swimming)

Set in the beautiful Engadin valley in Switzerland this is a awesome area for multi sport: pristine lakes, running and biking trails and mountains just asking to be run up.

A big part of these races is racing as a pair. It’s fun to have to worry about what is best for the pair and having banter, someone to motivate you makes the race itself more fun. It’s got me thinking about racing a mountain marathon again. Andy and I have the same priority to these. It’s a holiday and we want to have fun. For both of us it’s more fun if we’re doing reasonably well but ultimately we’re not that bothered about our position. I certainly felt in better shape than when we raced Otillo together. I’d recently done some very good swimming and I’d certainly done a lot more running.

This whole approach meant I didn’t feel any nerves the night before and I managed to sleep right through. We met Pat and Naomi for breakfast before heading for the bus up the valley to the start. Our hotel was at about 1800m and we could definitely feel the altitude effects particularly when climbing  stairs. When we’d done a run the day before it didn’t feel that bad which I think is because you expect to out of breath then anyway. The bus climbs further so the race starts at above 2000m with the first swim at 2,500m – I was quite excited to see what it was like swimming at that height.

We’d been warned that the first big ascent was quite narrow after the first 1km so we lined up nice and close to the front. In fact we’d have been ideally placed if we hadn’t let the favourite mixed pair to get out in front of us – they did go on to win the whole thing so it was definitely the right decision.

Nadja Odenhage

The gun went and we gunned it. I never start training runs fast but we cranked out the first KM in just over 4 minutes and got to that first climb near the front. Then I made a navigational error (it didn’t nearly cost us our lives though) – not cutting a hairpin. 10s down and 4 places. Disaster! not really but it made for some good banter and as we headed up the 350m ascent at an effort level far higher than we knew was sensible. My heart rate monitor beeping constantly at me. We were enjoying it. We were also getting very hot, no idea how those that ran up with there wetsuits done up coped with it.

The field thinned out and we got to our own pace. Then headed down the only technical descent on the course down to the first swim. Andy could have pegged it down there but I had to ask him to “hold his horses” as I’m no where near as good a descender on that sort of terrain.

First swim, the cold one, the one the race organizers dodged the question about the temperature of.  The one that was almost certainly below 10c ! It was cold. Luckily my core was super warm after the uphill route but there was still some hyperventilation as we started. I kept my head up initially. The water was so clear it was gorgeous. My core was warm enough but my face, hands and arms progressively numbed up. As I swam I made a point of looking around. Gorgeous. Only 270m and it was over before you could get really cold. Neither of us had much balance as we exited and warned each other to be very careful for a little steep 6 foot scramble up tree routes on to a forest road. It had been so cold I’d not even noticed if the altitude had impacted my breathing. As we started the descent my legs didn’t feel great and I wondered about the speed of our first few KMs.

Now started the process for the day. Heat up on run then a quick bit of cold water shock. Unlike Otillo this meant taking my wetsuit down straight after each swim and doing them up as close to the next swim as possible. It quickly became quite a slick process.

During the third swim Andy slowed down quite substantially. I had to do catch up to keep him on. As we exited we saw a friend of Andys, Marcus, with two medical staff. He looked like he was shivering uncontrollably. We found out later he had sun stroke. As we ran on Andy said he wasn’t feeling great and had really struggled. I’d nearly cramped in my calf during that swim and it turned out he was getting a lot of cramp. Spirits were still high as we joked that I would have to do catch up on the next swim and focus on not doing the push phase of my stroke

WINNER MIXED

We swam better on the next crossing but were passed on a swim the only time in the whole race. it turned out it was the winning female pair who edged slowly by. We chatted to them at the awards and it turns out they’re water polo players from Sweden. We passed some teams up the next big climb then descended towards the biggest swim on the course but had to hold back on our pace so Andy could keep on top of his cramp. The big swim was fun as it required some navigation, judging when best to turn towards the exit. With hindsight I felt I turned a little late but it still seemed better than any others around us.

On exiting it was clear Andy was very cold indeed. His wetsuit was flushing in water at the arms resulting in a lot more cooling than I was experiencing. (it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re cutting down a wetsuit for this sort of event. Andy’s had different material on the shoulders for flexibility which is quite lose. When cut it meant the arms weren’t tight to his skin). The wind had picked up a lot. He was shivering close to uncontrollably. Wasn’t able to run that well but had to to warm up. He kept his wetsuit done up but was still shivering 10 minutes later. This was concerning. We kept chatting, he was clearly warming up but there wasn’t long before the next swim which was also over 1km. He needed to warm up by then. At the next aid station he took on a lot of fuel and we headed on. I got in the water at the next swim and looked round to see Andy. He didn’t look keen. I asked “Are you OK to do this?” He said he was but didn’t look convinced. We joked later in the day I should have asked in a more positive manner. I felt we just had to get this done, after this there were just two short swims (under 400m) the first of which was meant to be the only warm water. We set off. I focussed on not dropping him, looking over my shoulder nearly every stroke. I tried to swim close to shore hoping the water would be warmer as it was a beautiful sunny day. The swim dragged with numerous false summits. Finally over, now only two short swims left.

Andy was shivering really bad, even after 10 minutes up hill in his wetsuit. Around us people were sunbathing, going for a bit of a dip in the lake and Andy was shivering in full wetsuit. I was certainly concerned but as we approach the penultimate swim the banter had returned and the shivering stopped. It wasn’t quite the bath water we’d hoped for more like slightly chilled tea. There was a “lets get this over with” look to Andy and we got going. It was short and though Andy clearly cooled down he was OK and with 8km till the final swim we were going to be fine.

Still managing cramp we walked the uphills and jogged the flats. I raced down the downhills, thinking I was cranking it but Andy felt it was just cruising – no matter how tired he can still descend better than me. The final swim was cold again. We started hard, I was swimming solid and Andy was still there but about two thirds across he really started to suffer. During the final run he illustrated what his stroke had fallen two – it made me think of his T-rex t-shirt and what a T-rexs arm strokes would be like.

Only 2.5k to go and cramp management for Andy, including the cramp “in a muscle I didn’t even knew existed”. Crossing the line felt so good. We’d managed what 25% of the field hadn’t…  finished.

Thanks to Primal Lifestyle for my Vibram Fivefinger Trek Ascent. A great off road shoe providing enough protection for rough trails and little drag when swimming.  Thanks to Blueseventy for my great Helix wetsuit which is still going strong since Otillo.

engadinfinish-2engadinfinish-1

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Ironman Texas, Woodlands 2016

SHORT REPORT
nb: bike was only 152k
0:55:11 - Swim
0:03:51 - T1
4:11:58 - Bike
0:05:27 - T2
3:58:09 - Run
9:14:36 - 15th M45-49, 181st overall

Race Preview HERE

IMTexas16_Finish-3LONG REPORT

Up to two weeks before the race there seemed to be a strong possibility that this race wouldn’t happen. So it almost felt like a bonus to be out in Texas with a race to race even though the bike was shortened. Six of us travelled over and rented a massive house a little south of the race venue. In the days leading up to the race we rode part of the course and despite the last minute change it didn’t seem too bad and certainly appeared to still be very fast. We were also very kindly invited along to the Magnolia masters swim sessions each morning run by Tim Floyd. It’s fantastic for me to swim every day right up to the race and was even better when the session was put on specifically for people doing the Ironman. Training with a load of the Pros that would be racing was rather cool, there was a real feeling of tension in the air.

Two days before the race they tested the water quality and had to alter the swim route. This required a change of transition meaning rather than T1 and T2 being the same they were now separate. It also added a mile to the route. Funny how my gut reaction was “oh my god, an extra mile” even though the course had been shortened so adding an extra mile still left it nearly 30km short.

I started getting nervous two nights before the race and in a new record for me I woke pretty much every 15 minutes the night before. I took this as a good sign as I feel I get most nervous when I feel I should go well.

Marc had an inspired idea and we left a car in town and got a cab to the start. This removed the stress of parking and the one mile walk to T1. Checked my bike and found the others and with an hour to go we were sat right by the start to ensure we’d be one of the first in to the water. Already there was a an older athlete (probably early 60s) sat in a deck chair. Now thats prepared. I’m wondering what sort of swimmer he must be so I strike up a conversation. I quickly establish he’s hoping to swim 1:10 !! Once I’m ready to go my nerves disappear and it was great to chat to people around us. I bumped in to Charlesy and Shannon and had a catch up. I got my Blueseventy swim skin zipped up early to allow it to settle in to a comfortable fit.

The rolling starts make for very calm starts. Walk in to the water and start at a steady rate. Within a 100m or so I had clear water and started focussing on long strokes, not going so hard as to get out of breath and focussing on sighting every stroke and swimming a good line. This was key as we only had to keep the buoys to our left and it was clear you shouldn’t go right close to each buoy. I sighted on the farthest buoy I could see. I like to think of a piece of string wrapped around the course and then pulled tight. It would touch some buoys and not others. The buoys it touches are the ones you sight for and skirt round close. The others you ignore.

As I swam it surprised me just how many of the swimmers around me sighted buoy to buoy. On the way back this took you on a massive arc which you could just cut straight across. I did this and got thumbs up from two of the kayakers that this route took me past. I looked over my shoulder as I breathed occasionally and didn’t see anyone else doing it. Even shouted thank you as I breathed to a some of the kayakers I passed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this swim. It felt so cruisy. It was what I call “almost catch-up”. Swimming in the Blueseventy swim skin felt great, like it was helping maintain body tension. I felt I took a good line and 55 minutes was a great time for me. I exited the swim with a big smile on my face and really up for the race. Turns out I was first out of the swim in my age group by over 4 minutes.

IMTexas16_Swim

My nutrition plan was changed for this race. I was going back closer to how I raced in my early days of racing. This meant I put on a cycle jersey in T1. Jo had ordered some new skin tight cycle jerseys, though they’d not arrived yet the sample that came was a ladies medium and it fit really well so she kindly let me use it. I got a volunteer to unload two bags of dolly mixture and some marzipan in to the middle pocket, I had three nine bars in the other pockets and 4 gels mixed with water in a 750 ml bottle. I’d also decided to ride in a road helmet. Having tested both earlier in the week I felt there was a noticeable difference in comfort with the standard helmet.  I also decided, for the first time ever, to remove my contact lens and put on normal glasses. I even decided to put socks on as the run through T2 was likely to be on very hot dark concrete. Even with all this I was out in sub 4 minutes.

For the first time in ages I was looking forward to running. This helped me keep my conservative head on the bike. Even so through some of the early corners I saw 400+ watts out of the corners. I gave myself a good talking to  over this. My goal was to keep my watts in the 230-250 range whilst erring towards an average at the lower end of this. The first part of the course was incredible fast and soon my average was 36km/h (5hr bike split on full course, 4:15 on this course). This was my predicted split but it was so fast in the early part I realised I should keep on my power and RPE targets as it may just be a very quick year and I didn’t want to miss out. I had the temperature on my garmin as I’d noticed during my greenhouse sessions how much harder things got when the temperature hit 30c. My goal was to try to minimise my over heating prior to the run. Early on the temperature was in the low 20s and my average power was up close to 250w. As the temperature rose I backed off and my power came down a little. By the end of the bike my power was down to 227w and I was just under my target time.

IMTexas16_Bike

I really rather liked the bike course in a bizarre way. Many of the roads you’d never ride on normally. There were bizarre little turns, out and backs, sections along closed bits of freeway, down feeder roads, u-turns under flyovers. There were long sections on the bars, then the odd corner that really tested your cornering. I was glad I was up the field and largely riding on my own. I only saw one incidence of blatant drafting when a group of six riders came by me with about a metre between wheels. I could see them slowly pull ahead and not split. I of course shouted they were a bit close, then as they all came by and expressed my opinion that they were all cheats. I think it’s quite telling that not one complained, not one was even willing to look at me. It pains me to think that in all probability at least one of the people that got a slot in my age group was in that group.

As I approached the end of the bike I start to get some cramping in my right inside quad. I reflected it was good I started what I thought was “conservative” because at this point it didn’t appear it was so if I’d set off aggressive I could have really paid for it. I’d managed to get through – 2 nine bars, all my gels, all my dolly mixture / marzipan and a bottle of gatorade. This would be approximately 1600 cals which is more than I’d typically manage in that time with gels alone.

In T2 I changed in to a long sleeve white coolmax top which i’d last used in Kona 2011 – it helped a positive frame of mind. The aim was to keep wetting it at each aid  station as it’s very cooling when wet. I also put on my Vibram Seeya LS – I love these shoes, lightweight and very comfortable. I started running just aiming to be relaxed and not worry about pace (unless it was way too fast). The first couple of KMs were 4:55s – I’d described that as my optimistic or future pace ! Meaning that at the moment it’s the absolute fastest pace I could imagine running. By future pace, it’s what I feel should become bog standard!  Whatever way I described it I definitely shouldn’t be going any quicker. I relaxed a bit more and started to get splits of just under 5:10 – more like it. Running by T1 there were people handing out this salt tubes – you poured it on your thumb and licked it. I took one. Liked it and ended up getting through one a lap. My view is salt isn’t going to do harm and it will hopefully guard against hyponatremia. My routine at each aid station became: lick salt, water over each arm, swig everything that was on offer – pretty much that meant cup gatorade, cup red bull, cup coke, cup gaterade, then finished the aid station with water/ sponges over my arms, legs core and then ice down my shorts and held in my hands. I was very pleased I was taking all this in and getting no gut issues whatsoever.

IMTexas16_RunAidStationThis process was easy on the first lap with hardly anyone on the course. By the last laps it required walking which by then was helpful as I was struggling. My plan was to run relaxed on the first lap, focus on maintaining pace on second then try and push on in third. First lap at 5:05 km pace ( thats 3:33 marathon pace) – this was bang on. Game on I thought, feeling good and sub 3:40 marathon had to get me to Kona.

Second lap. What happened ? I was focussing on maintaining pace but it just dropped 30s per KM. It was hot and I knew there was no point forcing myself to the higher pace as I felt that was a route to over heating. I continued trying to relax, run relaxed. Remember in training it felt impossible to run slower that 5:50kms. Hit halfway and suddenly 6 mins plus seemed all too possible. I had two distinct moments where I dropped to a shuffle between aid stations. The internal discussion about starting to walking fired up in my mind. Unlike for the past several races I had a part of my brain that told it to take a hike and I picked up the pace. I kept running, kept moving. Now trusting / hoping that the conditions were really tough and everyone was suffering. I was starting to almost cramp in calves and hamstring. The last 10k was a balance of trying to push on and managing to avoid cramping.

IMTexas16_FinishShootThe weather was clearly closing in. Dark clouds were amassing. With about 3km to go the rain started. It was refreshing, it was cooling, it made a difference. Then the rain got heavier, then the thunder started. At times I jumped out of my skin. It was amazing. I’d see lightning out of the corner of my right eye and it’s reflection in a high rise out of my left. The rain  was biblical as was the wind. The final turnaround I approached into a massive headwind, I turned and the wind increased and changed in to my face – I could hardly make progress, luckily it only lasted 10s or so. The rain was like the best power shower you can imagine. The sidewalk a river. As I approached the finish I was ushered through a gap in all barriers that had largely blown over, down a curb – very un-course like. In hindsight I find that they made me skip the finish shoot out and back. I don’t know why but probably a combination of most of the barriers were blown over so it would have been an obstacle course and they just wanted to get me out of the storm. In fact, later I find that the race had actually been halted by that point but I was beyond the last safe haven on the course so was allowed to run through to the finish.

Coming down the deserted finish shoot was surreal. A catcher immediately grabbed me and said; “we’re gonna get you to safety cowboy” (ok I added the cowboy).

I was pleased with my race. I’d felt I’d done enough to have a shot for a slot. Certainly from looking at previous years my time was good enough. Later I found I was actually way off the slots. If I’d run my predicated 3:45 I would have the last roll down from my reckoning. I’m disappointed but unlike other disappointments I’m quite happy with it as I don’t feel I could have gone much faster. It’s been a very positive race. I now believe I can get back to sub 3:30 marathons. It’ll just take a little more time.

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Ironman Texas 2016 Preview

I’ve been in two minds about writing this. I’ve been enjoying my training this year and intentionally just been keeping what I’m doing pretty much to myself not wanting the pressure that can come from being too open on social media about what you’re doing.

At the end of 2015 I was only just getting back to running and it was not clear at all whether the problems with my foot had cleared up. The second half of 2015 saw the least training I’ve done in well over 10 years and thus my fitness has dropped to it’s lowest point. I wonder whether it was actually lower than it was post FHL surgery.

I decided to not do too much ahead of our camp in Lanzarote. I knew I would get fit at camp and it was more important to arrive there with great motivation than super fit. The three weeks out there has been the best training I’ve done for absolutely ages.  I was like my old self. In three weeks I swam 13.1k, biked 2,328km and ran 219k for a total of 117 hours of training. I drank less than normal on these trips, slept more and though I had a great final night of camp I managed to train the fully the following days.

I was very aware of how last year I arrived very fit to Ironman South Africa but was also very tired. After returning from there I started to feel great in training. With this in mind I backed off for two weeks post camp with the intention of hitting if hard through April.

April went really well ranking as a pretty big month even by my standards from years ago. My training diary has my training back to the start of 2004 – 150 months worth. April ranked 20th in hours (150), 40th in swim distance (55k), 19th in bike distance (2,645km) and 30th in run (328km). I know it’s not just about the volume but (and certainly for me) for a race as long as Ironman there is a strong correlation between hours put in and performance. This certainly makes me feel more confident than I’ve been for a long while.

My running is where the biggest change has been seen. I’ve finally started to really enjoy my running. I progressed from not being able to run at all from Aug through end of November last year pretty much. Through december I ran every other day and then from the new year I gently progressed my running. I initially looked to increase volume through frequency rather than length of longest run with quite a few triple run days. There were a few milestones that I hit which were big confidence boosters:

  1. First month over 200 miles since my foot surgery (so thats in 7 years!)
  2. First time I’ve increased my run weekly Eddington number since my foot surgery
  3. Did a 48k run day – across three runs
  4. First time I’ve ever run over distance in training for an Ironman. I did a 43k long run 3.5 weeks out from the race getting through the marathon in 3:45 with a negative split run.

I actually believe I can run the whole marathon tomorrow. This is the first time I’ve felt that in… I really can’t remember the last time I felt like that.

Now the night before the race I’m trying to remember all the work I’ve put in as doubts are entering my mind. I’ve certainly strung together three solid months of training. However, prior to that I had 6 months of close to nothing and certainly my past good performances have had a longer period of consistency. My motivation has been awesome. I’ve been very good with my diet meaning I’m the lightest I’ve been since my foot surgery. I’ve also been fantastic with my sleep – I’ve now gone 56 days with my weekly average nightly sleep not dropping below 8 hours. I feel this has been key to maintaining my motivation.

I may as well do predictions:

0:55 – Swim – (it’s none wetsuit and I’m guessing with the last minute change in course it’ll be slightly short)

0:05 – T1

4:15 – Bike –  (this is 5hr pace since the course is only 153km)

0:05 – T2

3:45 – Run

9:05 – TOTAL (equivalent to 9:50 on the full distance course assuming same average bike speed).

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Kona Qualification

Two recent events have prompted me to record many thoughts I’ve had on allocating Kona slots:

  1. a recent Slowtwitch thread on the Ironman Louisville slot allocation which showed the WTCs algorithm to be even more flawed than I’d realised;
  2. the announcement that Ironman Weymouth would have a different allocation of it’s 30 slots “blending” the 55+ age groups.

In researching this it became quite apparent that the slot allocation is well and truly obfuscated. The allocation description is ambiguous and their implementation is not available. Some have retrofitted the algorithm (eg Russ Cox). Even finding a description of the process was difficult. This page “New Ironman World Championship Slot Allocation and Rolldown Process” does not describe the method other than in very vague terms and the link at the bottom doesn’t exist. You have to look on specific race sections where the description varies. Here’s from Vichy [link here]:

“At least one slot shall be allocated to each five-year age group category in which any age group athlete sends in an application, both male and female, per the age group categories listed above.

If there are no athletes entered in the race in a particular age group, then that slot will be moved to the largest populated age group in that same gender. For additional age group slots, slot allocation shall be representative of the actual number of age grouper applicants in each category in the race.

As an example, if 8% of the age-group applicants are females 40-44, then 8% of these slots would be allocated in the female 40-44 category.”

Slots will be allocated to be “representative” of the applicants. Though this is ambiguous the final paragraph suggests it’s done by %. As this is stated it would suggest first one is allocated to all age groups and then the remainder are multiplied by the % in that age group and allocated..

This would suggest that the aim is to only have the remainder, after one has been allocated to all age groups, reflect the actual proportion of participants. With more races, the remainder will get ever smaller and the Kona slots will ever more closely approach same numbers for every age group and increase the skew in Kona towards the smaller age groups (more on this below).

The approach WTC has implemented looks far from fair. For instance look at F55-59 at Louisville (see table below). You see it’s proportional allocation was 0.76 yet it got 2. How can any fair system end up with an age group having more than 1.0 greater than it’s precise proportional allocation ? Is there a better way ?

I’ve spent a little time thinking about it and have come up with, what I believe is, a better solution. I would suggest the following algorithm is clearer, fairer and simpler:

  1. first allocate slots to each age group by multiplying the total number of slots by the percentage in that age group and then round to the nearest whole number;
  2. this will result in either too many slots or too few having been allocated. Theoretically it could be exactly all the slots which would be perfect and need no further work;
  3. now we need to ensure that all age groups have at least one slot. Those with zero slots get allocated a slot first by using up unallocated slots and then by taking slots from other age groups with more than one slot [using method in point 5 below];
  4. once there are no zeros we check the total number. If it’s more than the total available we remove from age groups with more than one slot by repeating the method in point 5 until we have the correct number;
  5. take a slot from the age group who’s allocation is most above the exact allocation (views as slots not as a percentage. It would be worth testing the impact of using a percentage which may prove more equitable). If no age group has more than the exact allocation then take from age group that is closest (since all are now below the exact fair number).

raceslotalgorithmFor comparison to the right are the allocations for Copenhagen and Louisville using this method [“M1”] and those that actually were allocated [“Current”]. Having tried to clearly state the rules it’s made even more clear how difficult it is to write a unambiguous algorithm in prose. To test out an algorithm the WTC could produce a page that calculates slots using their algorithm and let people stress test it. I bet it wouldn’t be long before any bugs in it would be ironed out. Bit too transparent that though for the WTC.

It still has some anomalies. Look at M35-39 and M45-49 at Louisville. The latter has 4 more entrants (0.1% more) yet ends up with an additional slot under my M1 method. Clearly, some threshold has just been crossed. Unfortunately when you use fractions to produce integers we will introduce this sort of discontinuity. The bigger the population (number of slots) getting allocated the less noticeable it should be.

For Weymouth to address the problem of only having 30 slots they’ve pooled the 55+ age groups. This is rather harsh as I would suggest anyone over 65 has pretty much no chance against those just aging up in to M55. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they’re doing the grouping the wrong way round; they should group the younger age groups together:

  1. there’s much less differential between potential in those age groups;
  2. since these are typically bigger age groups, grouping them together will actually help solve the problem.

In my tables above method M2 pools 25-39 together and 40-49 and uses my M1 algorithm. I had my reasons to do this, but it doesn’t really matter to test the idea. It would be easy enough to try different methods and see what effect it has. Pooling in the qualifier doesn’t mean you need to pool in Kona. In the table there are % differences. The goal is to make the total difference from the participation % as small as possible. You can see my algorithm is close to halving the difference. The pooling together doesn’t really alter this though it would take some of the randomness out of the age groups that pooled whilst still giving older age groups a chance.

The bigger problem is that as the number of Ironman races increases the challenge of getting a globally fair allocation gets harder and harder. The issue is that with the more races there are, the fewer slots per race which makes it ever more random in a given age group. In the extreme case, if Ironman got to 87 races we’d be pretty much down to one per age group in every age group [this is based on the 2258 racers starting Kona this year and age groups through to 80 – just illustrating the point]. You could get to the point where at Kona there are 87 people in every single age group irrelevant of global participation levels. Qualifying would be largely down to luck or entering lots of races (this is already the situation for older age groups and most female age groups). With 35 qualifying races for 2015 this extreme scenario is way off and I would suggest the brand will never support that many races (flights will be too expensive by then!)

I would suggest that the WTC is trying to address this problem. In recent years they seemed to have settled on 50 slots per race with 75 for the regional championships. Looking forward to 2016 it seems it’s moving to 40 slots per race in general with 75 at the regional champs. Provided the increase in races doesn’t continue this may be how it will remain. However, with more races the non championship races will approach one slot per age group. This will continue to skew Kona slots in favour of smaller age groups making it harder to qualify in the larger age groups and increasing the significance of “luck” for more or less everyone.

In the table below I look at the percentage in each age group racing at Kona and compare it to the global participation [thanks to Russ Cox for pulling all this data together]. Note this is not unique participants (so someone racing 3 times will add 3 to the total). I think whether it should be based on unique participants or not can be argued both ways. For now, this is the only way to pull the data together:

  1. for the largest age groups the number racing at Kona is proportionally low. M40-44 has 17.9% of global participation but only 13.4% of the field. Thats over 100 slots less than they should have based on global participation. Thats about three per qualifier;
  2. the smallest age groups are proportionally higher at Kona. Take M65-69 which has 0.6% of the field at the qualifiers but 2.1% of the field at Kona. Thats 34 more slots than it would have based on global participation;
  3. interestingly M50-54 appears to be the sweet spot with 9.2% of the participation and 9.4% of the Kona field.

globalslotallocation.jpgWhen you look at the slot allocation you see it’s clear that these differences correlate with the large age groups and the small age groups. To be honest, it’s pretty obvious that it’s a direct result of the allocation of a minimum of 1 per age group. The effect of this, in the smaller age groups, is to increase the global odds of you qualifying (as shown by the disproportionate numbers at Kona) but making the qualification at a particular race more random. Thus, in these age groups, if you can race a lot this is in your favour but, if you can’t its advantageous to race in a larger age group where it’s easier to predict what is required. I’d personally take the latter. As the number of races increase, more and more age groups will be placed in this situation.

Alternatives

In order to remove some of the randomness you need to have at least some races with a decent number of slots for each age group. It may require having slots only allocated to some races.

Pool slots in to fewer races

Moving ever more slots to Regional Championships would help reduce the randomness from these races. However, if in all other races you allocate at least one per AG then the skew at Kona towards smaller age groups will be perpetuated as more qualifying races are added.

Allocate Globally

So rather than allocate on a per race basis the slots could be allocated globally based on previous 12 months finishers (just pick a date each year where a years slots are allocated). From that you would get some method for allocating these slots across the various races – Regional Championships and others. Where the total number available is low they may only go to regional champs.

The global participation table shows allocating the total slots (based on Kona start list) based on global participation and then rounding to the nearest whole number. Since this is global the rounding still keeps us close to the total slots (only 1 different). It then shows how many that is per race and what it would be with 50 races.

Using this method would have issues with most age groups having less than two slots per race and many having less than 1 (e.g. M65+ and F55+). This would bring us back to the minimum of 1 rule and the resultant skewing at Kona. Clearly, this is far worse with 50 races.

A better method would be to continue with the Regional Championship races. The final three columns show the following method of allocating the slots between championship races and others:

  1. allocate the slots to age groups based on global participation;
  2. work out the number of slots per race;
  3. for age groups where the slots per race are less than two then allocate all slots to the championship races. These age groups would have no slots outside of championships;
  4. for age groups where slots per race are two or more then allocate half the slots to championship races and the remainder to other races evenly;
  5. throughout round to the nearest whole number.

Clearly, there will be some winners and losers. It also ends up with 28 more slots needed (with the rounding this could go either way). The difference column shows the difference to the actual global distribution. This comes about from the rounding. The process could be refined (and made more complicated) to address this – with some allocation from those age groups with too many to those with too few. E.g. F40-44 could be given an extra 2 slots per championship race by taking those from M45-49. With a transparent process these final tweaks could easily be demonstrated to be fair.

To help ensure that Kona has the best athletes competing it’s important that entry to Championships is possible for competitive athletes. This is particularly important where thats the only race that have slots. Here’s one possibility:

those athletes achieving any of one the following criteria get early entry privilege to one Regional Championship race:

  1. qualified for Kona in previous 3 years;
  2. in age groups with only championship races – top 10 in age group in the previous year;
  3. in age groups with slots in all races – top 5 in age group in the previous year.

There are loads of ways to do this and certainly some stress testing would be required to ensure that it didn’t give so many people early entry that there weren’t enough entries. The current AWA (All World Athlete) rankings already does this allowing Gold members early access to one race. However, the rankings are a poor reflection of competitiveness as it favours those athletes competing in lots of races. Take me as an example: each time I’ve had gold (top 1% on points) I’ve not managed top 1% in any race I did. Hence, I choose not to use this method.

There is a better way – not necessarily this one. Whether WTC will bother to investigate is another matter…

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