Are The Times A Changin?

To borrow a title from Bob Dylan is brave on my part as there is no way my writing stacks up against Bob’s and I am unlikely to write anything that is remembered and celebrated like him, but irrespective of this I will continue to share my exploits.

Back to the main reason for writing, as anyone who has read these before will know over the years I have had some challenges with a certain sport, and that sport is one third of a triathlon and has led me to not have carried on with the challenge of triathlon for the last few years.

For anyone who hasn’t guessed so far, the sport in question is swimming, a sport that those who do it don’t understand anyone who can’t and those who can’t or struggle wonder how anyone can possibly enjoy it.

I am firmly in the camp of how can anyone enjoy it, it takes place in artificially lit plastic boxes with cold chemical filled water, which as if to make it harder gets deeper at one end.

For those of us that struggle with swimming the act of getting from the shallow end to the deep end gets more fraught as you go on as once you get past a certain point you can’t stand up and so the chance of drowning becomes a realistic possibility. The return journey is not as bad as the water gets shallower but I get more tired so drowning remains possible as you can drown in a few inches of water!

Now, it turns out swimming has two major components firstly technique, very important and secondly the mental side which is probably more important as if you can’t relax in the water than swimming is almost impossilbe.

I have struggled with both of these components and frankly thought the idea of ever swimming in a relaxed enjoyable way was not for me, it was something other people did.

Recently I have been thinking about future challenges and triathlon kept coming to mind as I obviously felt I had unfinished business and so it became a simple question of either of overcoming the struggle of swimming or forget triathlon for good, and find other areas to go at.

Unfortunately there is never an easy way to overcome a struggle, and so my approach was simple, go to the pool and try swimming again with no pressure and then find some lessons to sort out the technical side and hopefully the mental one as well.

The few times I went to the pool, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, I did some lengths and tried hard to be as relaxed as possible, it seemed that perhaps there was a chance swimming was possible. The outcome of these trips was that I decided to search out some lessons

Finding appropriate swim lessons is tricky, you need to find someone who you can trust, someone who is able to help you and break the technique down into chunks you can understand. Luckily for me via social media I saw an advert for a course run by someone I met years ago when trying triathlon who I knew was a good swimmer and was now coaching full time.

The lessons were over a 5 week period, and to summarise the course it basically broke the technique down and each week a different element was worked on, culminating in the last week of reassembling it and swimming!

I quite enjoyed the course and whilst it certainly wasn’t easy I did learn a lot and had my first experience of swimming where it felt I was on top of the water rather than dragging myself through it.

Since the course I have been swimming at an open air pool, which is heated and is so much more enjoyable than the normal leisure centre one, it also has the advantage of being open on my way home from work.

This week I had the new experience of a whole swimming session feeling “easy” or rather moving through water and the amount of speed reflecting the amount of effort rather than the effort out weighing the movement.

Perhaps the most important part of this is that I have been enjoying swimming, and actually looking forward going which is making it easier mentally.

The final part of the puzzle is that I have decided to enter a sprint triathlon in July and that is going to be the acid test, where this will take me in the end is unknown but this is a start, and a good one at that.

If you want some swim lessons then look up Bex Tri Fit there are various courses and I am sure you will learn.

Who knew that I would finally find swimming enjoyable and believe that I could again try triathlon.

A Good Day At The Office

The last of the F3 Events Windsor Duathlon series races has been and gone for me now, and it was a good day for me.

Let’s get it out there now, I set a pb and I was pretty happy with it. Yes I know that is very self congratulatory but if I don’t mention it nobody else will!

Following on from my last post I did wear my calf guards and yes I think they helped, but I can’t prove it with any quantitive measures.

The thing about them was that during the first run, whilst I did push the pace on I never felt any impact from wearing them, yes they do hold the calf muscle more stable but I can’t show whether that helps or not.

On the bike was where I did feel them, at a point on lap 3 I felt like I was getting a bit of cramp in one of my calves and whilst I didn’t slow down or stretch it I can only conclude that somehow the calf guard helped ward off the cramp, or it could simply have been a feeling and nothing more.

The final run was possibly where they helped, as ever my legs feel a little tight after getting off the bike but they seemed to come back to me sooner than normal and this helped as it meant I could run normally more quickly. I can’t prove the calf guards helped here but in my mind they did and sometimes something that works in your brain is better than anything.

I have done 3 duathlons in this season and I have set 2 pub’s which I think is a very successful season, and this is in no small part due to the coaching provided by Iron Mike, he seems to be able to enable me to produce great results with a training plan that allows me to have a life as well.

I am still planning on what to do next, I have a fairly good idea but am not going to say just yet, for anyone that has read these for a while what I am planning might come as a little surprise!

 

Is It In The Mind?

Whilst racing my last duathlon I noticed that many of the fastest racers were all wearing compression calf guards whilst racing, now I own and use calf guards but only generally for recovery not in races. I consulted “Iron” Mike on this and he said he had raced with them and it was certainly worth a go to try them.

Initially I used them on a couple of training runs, and the only thing I noticed was that the muscles had that “warmed up” feeling from really early on, much sooner than even after a period of warm up. There was no evidence I was going faster or that the muscles weren’t tiring as fast, but that was mainly down to the types of sessions I was doing.

I decided to used them on the usual ParkRun to see what happened. Incidentally, there are quite a few runners wearing either guard or long compression socks each week. The result was that I set a new pb by 10 seconds or so, could this be down to the calf guards?

The following week I used the guards again whilst training, this time on a harder intervals session I was struggling to maintain a set pace, it was a pace I can hold but just couldn’t. This led me to wonder if perhaps the guards just were having a placebo effect.

Come the ParkRun, whilst I didn’t run another pb I was only 2 seconds off my previous weeks time, so I was back to thinking is there really something in this?

I know if you look on the companies who make compression clothing websites they will show you studies that suggest better performance etc but in real terms, terms of non-elite athletes do these things really work?

If I am honest I really don’t know, my race times suggest they might, my training times offer no real help, I have another duathlon coming up so will wear them on that to see if they help me there or not.

The only conclusion I have been able to draw is that they don’t seem to make things worse.

For the record I am wearing a pair of calf guards made by Compressport and so I haven’t tried any other makes, as these ones I have found help with recovery post event. IF anyone knows any manufactures who would like me to test theirs then I would be happy to oblige if they wish to send me some!

 

Side Project – The Energy Bar Test Results

After months of careful testing, well eating bars when training or racing, the results of the energy bar study are finally ready.

As I have stated many times there is no science to this testing, and so it is purely subjective based on how much I liked the taste and whether I thought it worked or not.

The overall results are as follows,

  1. Power Bar Ride Energy Bar – Peanut Caramel Flavour
  2. High 5 Energy Bar – Berry Flavour
  3. Power Bar Ride Energy Bar – Chocolate Caramel Flavour
  4. Power Bar Energize – Mango & Passionfruit Flavour
  5. PowerBar Energize Bar – Chocolate Flavour
  6. High 5 Energy Bar – Banana Flavour

If I am honest there really isn’t too much between the top 4 bars and I would happily chomp my way through any of them in the course of a race or training. They all have decent flavours, textures I liked and wrappers that I could open easily, perhaps a point often forgotten but it’s no good having a bar you can’t get into easily.

For the bottom two I simply didn’t like the flavours and so wouldn’t buy them again, that is not to say they are bad bars or didn’t work, but for me I didn’t really like them.

It would perhaps have been a better test had I worked out some quantifiable tests to see if the bars really do work, but in the absence of them this subjective test will have to do!

It was good to try some different bars, and I think I will probably mix up my bar buying more than I have done previously,

For the next test I am wondering about testing cake to see if it has any benefit to athletic performance, the results of this I don’t care about but it would be a great excuse to eat a lot of cake!

Side Project – PowerBar Energize Bar – Chocolate Flavour

I have finally reached and finished the last bar, I have no idea why it took so long to finish the last bar but at least I have now done it.

I have to say this was not my favourite bar, I didn’t mind the texture but the chocolate flavour just tasted a little odd to me.

The wrapper was easy to open, as it seems are all the PowerBar bars and the initial taste is ok but the flavour soon becomes a little sickly for me. If I had been asked before I started I would have said that a caramel flavour would have been worse, but it turned out to be the humble chocolate one.

Did it work, now that is the real question, well I have to say it did. In the absence of any scientific testing, I ate this bar before a run having not eaten anything else since breakfast having missed lunch due to a combination of reasons, and I never felt hungry during the run or a lack of energy, it was only a 45 minute trail run but  it had some hills to test the legs.

As I said initially this was not my favourite bar and that is because of the flavour, I simply didn’t enjoy it, it had a cheap easter egg sort of chocolate flavour, not something I enjoy.

In conclusion, this bar did seem to work but I didn’t like the flavour so probably won’t buy it again in the future.

Charting Progress

As we go through training into races it is very easy to forget to think about how you are progressing not just about individual race performances. Progress is really the important factor as if you are progressing it is a key to keeping motivation high and that desire to keep training and to try and race harder.

For me I have been looking at my duathlon times from last year and this, and thanks to the excellent data provided to F3 Events by Stuweb their timing partners I am able to compare my performances to the field averages for my race.

I know that at this point some yawning will be going on as looking a data is not everyone’s idea of fun but it does give you a way of seeing how you are doing.

The chart below shows me against the field averages for each race:

me_v_fieldavg_duathlon

From the chart the obvious things that stand out are that I am well under the field average for the bike leg and that I am slower than average for  the runs, apart from in one race where there must have been some slower runners to push the averages out.

Now the averages are very much dependant on who turns up to race but they do provide a handy indicator of progress, which in my case shows that I need to improve on run 2 significantly and on run 1 by a bit less.

If you are not sure how you are progressing then spend some time either putting your data in Excel or try and use the inbuilt reports available in the various sites used for training metrics and see if you can see an obvious pattern which you can use to direct your training to so you can progress further.

It looks like some running improvement is required so I can look forward to that!

 

The Pain Only Racing Gives

Today was my first race of the year, a duathlon at Dorney Lake (a sprint of 5km run, 20km bike and a final 5km run), and as usual I had forgotten just how much racing hurts.

When you are training you get the odd session which is hard but the pain these give is not the same as racing. Racing is an all out assault, the gun goes and it is a case of going as hard as possible till the finish or for as long as possible and then hang on to the finish, there is none of this I will leave a bit in reserve for tomorrow!

For me I sometimes think I like the idea of racing much more than actually takin part as when you are thinking about it there is no pain and whilst you sort of remember how it feels for some reason you can never quite recall exactly what it is like, perhaps it is like teething and the brain won’t allow you to remember!

Unusually for a race in February today it was not raining or freezing cold or even blowing a gale, although the usual Dorney head wind was there and so whilst it was fresh the conditions were good and so the prospect of a good time was there. Having done several duathlons here before I am used to the course and so have a decent idea what to expect.

For today the run course was two 2.5km loops using the service road and the road that runs alongside the rowing lake, for some reason this is a faster course than when the run is just out and back loops on the service road. The bike course goes out around the back of the venue and up between the two lakes into the now legendary head wind.

Down to the action then, the first run went off and as I hit the end of the first km I looked at my watch and thought oops that was a bit fast but I thought if I try and relax a bit I will try and hold the pace, as it was it did drop a little but still gave me an opening run of 23:44. Out on to the bike and it was full on from the start, 4 laps seems to soon go past and I always enjoy this part, probably because I pass many more people here!

The final run or as I like to refer to it, the final torture in hell, started and my legs had that just off the bike feel, it is hard to describe how they feel but it is enough to say they don’t feel like my legs, however, fortunately the longer I ran and the harder I tried the better they became, although not really good enough to stop a slightly disappointing 25:01 time, they just didn’t come back to me early enough.

Overall I did a 1 hour 23 minutes 14 seconds which was a pb by 5 seconds, and I was surprised by this based on the final run. Perhaps there is a little more to come if I can improve that last run, although getting a pb as I get older is enough for me.

The down side of racing is how my legs feel now, they ache and I feel sleepy but what else do yogurt from going all in?

Rest day tomorrow and then back on it and looking at perhaps racing in April again with the chance of another pb?

 

To Do Or Not To Do

The question of whether to do something for not is one that we all face every single day in some form or another, be it shall I have cake with my coffee or buy that new pair of wheels.

In my world I am currently trying to work out what is my sporting targets for this year, in the past I have usually found something easily but for whatever reason this year I just can’t find something that really inspires me.

I will do some duathlons again, as I enjoy them but as they are done by the end of spring it does leave a large hole in my summer schedule.

I have tried to ask myself a few questions to try and help, and whilst these have helped to the point where I know they have to involve bikes and also running is welcome. I could do some long off road mountain biking events or try some time trialling but whilst these appeal they just don’t fill the gap.

For anyone who has read my ramblings before will know there is an elephant in the room, and that is swimming, if I added swimming to cycling and running then i would have the chance to do more triathlons. Now, I have done a couple of these in the past but I have issues with swimming and that I find it stressful, and thats not just on the race day it includes the training as well. I did think about going to the pool to try to and see how swimming was, but the mere thought of it just meant I couldn’t bring myself to go and do it.

Could there be a “cure” for my issues with swimming, well I am sure there is but I am not sure if I really want to go through the struggle of trying to overcome it, as it is not the physical side but the mental side, perhaps I am just too weak.

So, currently I am in a bit of a state of flux regarding what to do and I will continue to look for something and hopefully inspiration will strike.

Side Project – High 5 Energy Bar – Berry Flavour

Another energy bar and once again one I enjoyed. This bar is a flapjack style bar which gives a really good texture and also makes it chewy so it feels like real food as opposed to some sort of sticky mess.

I really liked the berry flavour, it is a strong taste and certainly to me tasted like it was supposed to.

I used the bar whilst out on a very muddy mountain bike ride, and ate it whilst fixing a puncture! The packaging was easy to open with gloves on and the initial bite was actually very satisfying. At the tim I ate it was was just starting to think about food I hadn’t reached the point of being hungry and I found eating this bar removed that feeling.

I did find that I didn’t need to eat anything else for the rest of the ride, approx about another hour and a quarter and didn’t feel hungry again so I would have to say that in terms of does it work that it did.

As I said above I enjoyed both the flavour and the texture of the bar and as it is like a flapjack it was visually pleasing to.

I am now getting down to the last couple of bars and so shortly I should have some sort of conclusion although I doubt it will be earth shattering!

Side Project – Power Bar Ride Energy Bar – Peanut Caramel Flavour

Another Power Bar and another one that scores highly in terms of both texture and flavour.

Like one of the earlier bars this is again a chewy bar and one that leaves you feeling that you have just eaten something solid.

I used one these bars before a cyclo cross race and found it stopped me feeling hungry mid-race which has happened in the past, it’s hard to say if it gave any extra energy but as the course was super muddy and I kept going it might have.

The second of the bars was eaten mid mountain bike ride and again it was satisfying to eat and certainly filled a hole at that time.

The flavour is as advertised and I really like the taste, as I said before these bars are chewy with a solid feel to them and so you do have to be careful not to take too big a bite ealse it can be tricky to chew and cycle!

I think that so far the Power Bar ride bars have bene my favourites as they have really good flavours, are solid and have a texture that I really like.

The only downside is that if you are are in the cold then the bars can become a bit hard if you keep them in your bag and when hard become like the old fashioned Texan bar which has been kept in the fridge, i.e. very hard!

All in all another good bar which I liked.