The London Duathlon or Cramp Fest

There are sometimes when you are doing events when you wonder why you do it, for me it’s normally when I am struggling along, but today it was different, it was during one of many bouts of cramp!

If you have never had cramp in your calf muscle or hamstring then you are lucky, if you have ever had them when you need to continue either cycling or running then you will appreciate the pain it gives.

The London Duathlon is apparently the biggest duathlon in the country and there were a lot of people, it also turns out to be one of the best organised as well. The marshals on course were great, often singing and dancing offering as much encouragement as they could, these event can’r run without them and so their efforts were much appreciated.

So what about the race I hear you ask, well the first 10k run went quite well, I ran a pace that was comfortable, ending up with just over 53 minutes, which whilst not close to my pb was decent I thought for this event.

Next onto the bike, I normally love the cycling leg and this is where I make up some time that I lose on the run, but not today! After about 1.5km I started to feel my calf tightening and this was the tell tale signs of impending cramp. I wondered how I could have cramp so early on, the short steep climb didn’t really help but I pushed on and hoped it would go away. On lap two disaster nearly struck, on one  of the tight right hand bends I approached it too fast and I was struggling to scrub speed off, I eventually stopped next to a straw bale, but then my calf went totally tight with cramp, after some emergency stretching I got it free and carried on. Luckily the last two laps went ahead without too much of note happening. The time was just over 1 hour 30 minutes which was disappointing but there was still a run to go and I thought I might be able to finish strongly.

It is amazing how wrong you can be about your own body, on the last run I cramped within the first km, which I stretched out and then going up the hill the hamstring cramped, this took a little walking, stretching and sheer bloody mindedness to get over. I eventually go going again and dragged myself round in 30 minutes, which is a horrible time

The upside was that even though I was no where near the time I wanted I did come in under 3 hours but I have to be honest and say I was disappointed how it went down really.

Will I do another duathlon of this distance, I don’t know, currently I hurt too much but there is unfinished business I think so I guess watch this space.

I would say if you get the chance then do have a go at this event, well organised you get a decent cycling jersey to justify the cost and Richmond Park is a beautiful place to go round, I even saw a load of deer which made me smile a t a tough point.

The most obvious outstanding question is why did I cramp so much, so far I don’t know my nutrition was as normal, I used the same calf guards and so the only possible thing I can think of is the massage I had on Tuesday at the spa where we were staying, perhaps I wasn’t over it? Who knows and frankly it probably doesn’t matter now but at least I have finally raced this year, and I did enjoy it and I think I might just put off retiring for a little bit!

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A Beautiful Brutality

The other day I was on the bike leg of a brick session, the sun was trying to break through, the wind was blowing straight into my face, there was snot running from my nose and I was probably dribbling ala Tony Martin (that is the only similarity between me and the Panzerwagen) my head was saying why are you doing this and frankly my legs were in agreement. For someone of my age and ability this is a perfectly sane question,

So what is it apart from stupidity and fear of Iron Mike that makes me carry on? Well it turns out the answer is simple, if you lift your head and look around the countryside is simply beautiful

As I struggled along I was looking for some help, and as performance enhancing drugs aren’t available on the road or legal!, I wondered what would work and then I lifted my head up, stopped concentrating on the road ahead and saw that I was going along a road with woodland on one side and open fields on the other and then I remembered why I go outdoors and not go to the gym, I love the countryside.

For some reason I had lost the ability to enjoy the countryside whilst pedalling hard, I don’t know why, I enjoy it whilst running but on hard bike sessions I seem to forget to enjoy my surroundings.

I went to a talk by Chrissie Wellington the other year and she said to her it is important to smile whilst racing as it helped her and kept her going. I try to remember this at hard moments but as I am miserable it is hard to smile at those times so I try to enjoy my surroundings and then use that to drive me on, perhaps smiling might help I will try it in the future.

I think that it is very important to enjoy the area you are training in not just train hard, if you don’t enjoy it then the question is what the point? The answer to that question can only be answered by each individual but for me I train outdoors as much as possible as I work indoors and I would rather be outside in the fresh air and as long as I remember to look around then the pain is reduced.

The Virtual Ride London

Today I did the Ride London 46 mile ride on Swift, so rather than having to go out in the rain and cold I got to ride round London from the “comfort” of my garage.

I am not new to Zwift and the group rides and races it provides but today felt slightly different as it was an event tied into a real ride, although it turned out the courses were completely different.

I didn’t start this ride alone, it was intended to ride with G, and we started off but unfortunately after a while it became clear to G that he wasn’t on a good day, and the first time up Boxhill really hit him hard, this is unusual as he is pretty strong normally. We agreed to go our separate ways after the first lap and so I was left to my own devices.

So off I went onto lap2 of 4, the course Swift were using was a mix of central London roads and a bit of Surrey including Boxhill. It wasn’t until afterwards I found out that this route and the actual Ride 46 route were very different, I guess I should have realised as they wouldn’t send riders up the hill 4 times!

It is interesting on these virtual rides as I am not sure if the turbo makes it easier or not. I use a Tacx Neo which reacts to the changes in gradient and also road surface but without the outside influence of wind etc it is easier to hold a sustained effort. Also when on these rides you have no idea what other riders are using, some could be using a normal turbo that Zwift doesn’t control so they are effectively riding on the flat all the time which you could view as cheating if you were that competitive!

Whilst out on my own I tried to ride at an even tempo and tried to work my way up through the field, I was about 220 when I started on my own and by the end was 143, I seemed to pick off riders mainly on the climb of Boxhill, and I certainly wasn’t posting blindingly fast times, just a constant speed all the way up. Every so often you catch a few riders and then stick together for a while until one of you goes a bit faster and breaks the tow of the other, but for me it was mostly 3 laps on my own!

Something that I often under estimate on longer turbo sessions is the feeding aspect, so today I started with 3 bottles and a couple of gels and one caffeine gel, I ended up getting through 2 gels and 2 and a bit bottles, but never felt hungry or thirsty so I guess I got that about right.

One outstanding question is would it have been better to have been able to ride the entire route with G and or others? Well as much as I enjoyed it on my own it would have been fun together as you get that little bit of banter, even if done via messaging and it often drives you on to give a little more.

Overall it was a fun event, does without getting rained on, although I was very sweaty afterwards and I think my kit was probably drier in the washing machine than when I took it off. If you haven’t tried Zwift I would say give it a go, it has changed turbo trainer sessions, there are good courses on there, the group rides are fun  and even the races whilst hard make for a proper session, also they have the cycling world championship course in Austria coming shortly for some added fun and the chance to spot some pros on the course!

 

Enjoying The Light

After the last post, which if you haven’t read is available here, things have been taking a more positive direction.

It is true that I as entered into a race which I didn’t do as I didn’t feel comfortable racing with others, and yes even doing ParkRuns have proved tricky as I seem to have lost the confidence in racing with others, it is almost like an anxious feeling. I have done a couple of ParkRuns but haven’t fully enjoyed the experience, but I will go back when I can get out of bed on time!

The biggest pleasure recently has come form cycling, going out on the singlespeed mountain bike is such fun, it takes away all the excuses of the gears weren’t adjusted properly, my suspension is too hard/soft etc. It is just about you and the bike so you get out what you put in. Funnily enough I have set my fastest Strava times on a couple of the climbs.

Running on the other hand seems more of a struggle, for whatever reason I am off the pace. I have been feeling good on trail runs and have set a couple of fastest times on routes when I have gone out to push, but when I get back on the roads I just seem to not be able to do it.  However, I am trying not to let it get to me to try an keep the mind in clean and in the right place.

The mental side of life is something that I am now more than ever aware of and I do find myself constantly monitoring myself and trying to asses how I am feeling. There have been a few times where I find myself slipping and my thoughts heading into the negative. At these times I try and do something to cheer myself up, be it a listen to a song if I’m at work, go outside if possible or ride the motorbike, bicycle or anything else that has two wheels. I am also far more open to talking about it when I start to feel a bit down and this certainly helps, it might be a cliche and it certainly isn’t easy but it is the best thing to do.

I am now working towards the London Duathlon in September and my main aim is to enjoy it and re-find the fun in racing rather than the stress and anxiety that it currently brings.

As a postscript, after the last blog post I did receive some really kind messages and offers of help and support which were very much appreciated and above all it reminded me that people really are good and can provide the inspiration to do almost anything.

 

 

Out From Within The Shadows

This post have been a while in the making and is frankly one which I hesitated in writing, but ultimately it is about something which needs to be discussed in a more open forum.

In the early part of this year I lost my motivation and confidence to pretty much do anything. To start with I found some real life reasons to hide behind and call them the reasons but when I was honest with myself, yes these are possibly contributing factors but they weren’t the cause.

I don’t know if I was properly depressed, yes I was down and started to show the signs of depression, but I don’t believe I ever fully reached into the partnership with the black dog, instead I felt like I was led to cliff, walked to the edge and told to look over, and down the other side was the darkness and I was left to work out how to get back to where I wanted to be.

The way it manifested itself for me was firstly to not want to exercise, where as often exercise is a good way to improve mental health for me it was the opposite I found it a pressure and something I wanted to get away from. I pulled out of races and generally found reasons not to do anything. Yes I had days when I was able to get out, and in particular singlespeed mountain biking has helped as it was new and reintroduced me to the joys of mountain biking. Secondly I found I could have a public persona of everything is alright, I went to work did my job, and never told anyone how I felt.

How did I feel? Well basically, I just didn’t want to do anything, I felt like I couldn’t achieve, that failure was going to be the outcome no matter what I did.

To start with I thought it would pass, and then as time went on it got worse but I still felt it would pass, however, I didn’t do anything to and reverse the situation I just let it grow.

So what changed? Well I finally mentioned it to my wife, how I felt, and I know nothing revolutionary there, but just talking about it put it into some kind of perspective. The things I was hiding behind as excuses, work, deaths in the family and talking about it meant I was able to see that whilst these are things that do impact life they weren’t the actual causes.

In my life I am lucky, I have everything I need and more and so admitting that something is putting you into a depression is difficult because you can’t understand what it is. As I come to understand it doesn’t matter what you have, what you need depression can come to everyone, it seems simple to slip into it.

What have I learnt from this experience, well, that talking about it helps and there is nothing wrong with admitting that you need some help or that everything is not alright as unsurprisingly people will help you and the sooner the ask for help the sooner it can be given.

Now, I know I was lucky in that at worst I had a very mild or small level of depression but it certainly impacted my life, and having read of those who go very deep to the point of wanting to take their life it seems that if you don’t talk about it, it will escalate very quickly.

I am not sure I have managed to properly put into words my experience but just getting some down is enough as I now only want to look forward and not back at this, so if you are feeling down then talk to someone no matter how difficult it might be you have to start somewhere and once you take the first step in the right direction the rest will hopefully follow.

 

 

The Man With The Halo

This is a different post to those I would normally do, This is the story of a pro athlete who on the verge of possibly his best world championship performance nearly had everything taken away from him.

The film is around 25 minutes, but trust me it is worth the watch, if you feel you need some inspiration then this might just provide it or it might make you realise what you have

Enjoy it, share it

Click on this link to watch it The Man With The Halo

Can I Find The Right Direction?

This year I have really struggled to find the same level of motivation that I have had previous years for training. For much of this year I have pondered what the reason is for this, and I haven’t yet figured out.

When I consider what the causes could be, I have been able to eliminated certain things, firstly my training plan supplied by “Iron” Mike as he is tailoring it to the feedback I give him, and to be fair the sessions on paper are fine. Secondly, support from the wife, she is as ever very supportive and offering help whenever possible.

To compound things, we recently lost a family member and rather than making me realise ho lucky I am to be in a position to not only be alive but also fit enough to train etc it has had almost the opposite impact..

With the help, of Mike, I have been trying to find activities that rekindle the fire, I think that is why singlespeed mountain biking has helped, it’s something new, a challenge that doesn’t really make any sense. I have been doing some trail running which is easier on the mind than road running and that is helping, I think.

I was supposed to have raced a couple of time already this year, the first one I missed due to being simply too tired, and the second was postponed due to snow. The next one I doubt I will do as I just don’t feel mentally in the right place, physically I am not too far off.

The one overriding thing I have lost is the sense of fun, I am not a pro athlete, I do all this for fun, something to provide a level of challenge but ultimately because I enjoy it and so to be in this position of not really enjoying it is hard. I am not defined by my results, and as a person I am not defined by exercise and so perhaps I just need to find the fun again.

I do realise that I am in a good position in life, and that to some people the fact that I am not enjoying training is probably seen as a “so what”, but when you stop enjoying something  you have loved for years it is an issue to me.

The “what next” question is still there, but I think that if I keep on the mountain bike and throw in some trail running I will eventually find the right path.

Will I race again? I honestly don’t know at the moment, racing takes a lot out of you both physically and mentally and the thought of it currently is something that does not excite me.

I hope that something will provide the spark, it might just take a ParkRun with other people where I don’t worry about the time and just run and enjoy it, or perhaps a good bike ride, who knows. The one thing is though I really don’t want to quit and don’t intend to quit I just need to re-find the fun!

A New Experience

Today I did something that I thought I would never do, as it always seemed like making a tough situation even harder, I went singlespeed mountain biking. Yep that’s right one gear off road in the mud etc

The history behind this is all really down to an old friend of mine, Neil Dingle, yes I will name and shame!! He has been into this odd pursuit for years and keep extolling it’s virtues to the point where he is a successful racer in it. I often said yeah I would try it, never really meaning it, but then over christmas I was offered a very heavily discounted single speed frame, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to build another bike sI decided to go in,

The bike building has been fun, and I have built it using parts that if I decide the one cog stuff isn’t for me I can remove all the parts and put them onto a frame accepting of gears, I like to think that is almost like planning.

So, how was the one gear experience? Well it was interesting, I am currently running a 32 x 18 set up, which might be slightly over geared for thick mud, but I reckon will be ok in the dry, dusty summer months, however, it was different to what I expected.

I had really thought it was going to be purgatory as I was never going to be in the correct gear, and whilst that it true, what you discover is that if you try and smooth out your peddling style you can actually make reasonable progress.

I did a couple of hills, not super steep, but ones that I know I normally have to change down the gears on, and got up them, I did some descending, which with a fully rigid set up was just like riding the cross bike but with a bit more give in the tyres.

The downsides, well I had two punctures, it might be time to go to the tubeless set up as I’m sure those little thorn punctures would have been avoided, but punctures are not the fault of the bike, and so other than that it was actually ok.

Now, I am a realist and so one ride doesn’t make me an expert or a convert, but it means I have the door slightly ajar into a new world, and one which I understand is populated by a variety of characters who are all slightly barmy (well I might have made the last bit up but it wouldn’t surprise me)

Will I do it again, oh yes, will this become my offroaf bike of choice, not sure as I love riding my cross bike, but I did find something very satisfying in plodding around never having to change gear even if I did try to change them a few times.

So, thank you to Nev for introducing me to this world and offering me a lot of good advice and I will be back for me, I might even write about it.

It’s been a slow start to 2018

As the title suggests, it has been a very slow start to 2018, and the cause of that is entirely down to my own stupidity.

What did I do then? Well I broke a toe on my right foot. Ok so now you are starting to feel some sympathy for me, I can sense it, well if I was you I would surpress that feeling and prepare to laugh and think why!

Picture the scene, it’s almost like an Attenborough documentary, the young male (Sam) is challenging the alpha male (me) by means of mock boxing, all flat of the hand stuff. The young male is not doing well and is on the back foot, so he decides that boxing is too old school and the MMA is the way forward. As he moves in the experienced male, steps to the side grabs hold of him and prepares a perfect hip throw to down the young one. At this point the plan is perfect, however, it fails when I don’t move my foot out of the way, life him and as go for the throw he lands heal first with all his weight straight on my second from last toe. There is no pain, and I go for the throw again, this time succeeding and pinning him to the floor, at which point he submits. Triumph for the older, alpha male! I can hear Sir Richard speaking those words!!!

Later in the day I was out for a walk and could feel my toe becoming very hot in my boot, and when I got home and removed my sock, it looked horrible, swollen, bruised (various colours) and it started to hurt.

The pain lasted for a few days meaning certainly no running, and it was a while before I could get my foot into a cycling shoe to get on the turbo.

There you have it, my own fault, why do I feel the need to show I am still stronger than a 6 foot 21 year old? Well, it’s because I am stupid and can’t resist a challenge!

Luckily for me I am now able to run and can get on with training and ready for the coming race season. However,  when he challenges me again I certainly won’t be backing down I’m not that old and past it just yet!

That Wasn’t So Bad

It is the time of year when you sit down and write your review of the previous 12 months and then look to the next year with hope and skip in your step!

When I started to think about the year, my initial thoughts were it was a failure, the one thing I wanted to do in the year I didn’t achieve, so a failure.

However, the reality is somewhat different. Whilst it is certainly true I didn’t achieve the triathlon I set my mind on, after getting back into swimming on further reflection the earlier and later parts of the year were actually quite successful.

The early part of the year, was once again dominated by duathlons and I beat my pb twice this year, certainly a decent feat as they never seem to get any easier.

After that I beat my fastest park run times a few times, for anyone who ever does park runs you will know how that going faster is never that easy as for some reason your performance can vary a reasonable amount week on week, well mine does!

Then in the last part of the year, I did better in the cyclocross races I completed, I finished further up the field and also did more laps, again another success.

So, whilst my initial thoughts were that 2017 wasn’t great, it was intact a good year, I achieved more in reflection than I thought.

Finally a couple of thank you’s for those that have helped this year, firstly “Iron” Mike Shaw for the coaching, somehow he keeps the session interesting and also doesn’t mind, well at least doesn’t say anything to me!, when I change my mind about what my focus for the year is! Secondly, as ever to my wife, who not only puts up with me training etc but always comes and watch and supports me at races, as we all know there isn’t anything better than having a friendly face whilst you are suffering!

Farewell to 2017, and lets hope 2018 is at least as good if not better.