Never Too Old To Learn A Lesson

Today was meant to mark my first cycle cross race of the season. The sun was shining, the bike was prep’d and the rider was ready, well probably not full race fit but looking forward to it!

I arrived at the venue, signed on, watched a bit of the race that was on at the time and was looking forward to getting gout in a bit to warm up and then race.

Back to the car, pinned on the race number, timing chip on the shoe and all seemed ready to go.

Walking back to the course with the bike chatting to my wife, I suddenly realised I didn’t have my helmet on, and then it struck me like a truck, I hadn’t bought it with me! What an idiot!

We carried on to the start area, as sometimes they have stands selling kit and so my last hope was that there would be one, and I could get a helmet of some sort. However, on this occasion there wasn’t one.

That was that, no helmet no race. The walk back to the car was punctuated with me asking how I could be so stupid, well words to that effect anyhow.

I packed up the car, went back to registration and crossed m name off the start list. The day was done.

In all the years I have raced this is the first time I have ever forgotten anything fundamental to race, the question is how did I forget it?

Well, I think the only answer is I packed my kit bag differently to normal. For a cross race I normally put both my pairs of shoes in the bottom of my bag, clothing on top and finally the helmet on top of that. This time I left my shoes out of my back in their shoe bags and for whatever reason I just never picked up my helmet, I can’t blame anyone but myself and I know that next week I will be writing a kit list and ticking off the items as they go into my bag.

I appreciate this is a first world problem and certainly when put in context isn’t really a big deal, but, when you are looking forward to a race and then not be able to take part due to your own stupidity it is disappointing to say the least. As a punishment I did a long turbo session, that will teach me!

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One Foot in the stirrup

There is a saying about getting back on the horse when you have fallen off, this is often applied to accidents or unfortunate incidents or just when something doesn’t go to plan.

For me, I am not back on the horse but have taken my first step towards it, I am about to take a leg up!

This week I did my first longish run for a long time, a decent 8 miles plus backed this up with a a faster, shorter run in the week plus a couple of weekend runs.

More importantly I went climbing, putting the shoulder under some stress, I didn’t push the climbing and certainly was not climbing near my limits but just doing it and getting the feel again was great, during the climb the shoulder felt ok, not 100% but ok.

My long run did throw up an interesting scenario though, I experienced some stomach issues to the point where for the last 20 minutes I thought I was going mohave to do a Paula Radcliffe, and if not use the street my shorts were certainly under threat. This really did hamper the tail end of the run and meant knocking the pace down but the positive was everything stayed in my stomach!

The other interesting thing from the week was at ParkRun on Saturday I went for a more steady run rather than the usual go for broke, and this meant that I ran a steady pace at a fraction over 5 minutes per km but at no point did I ever feel I was pushing and at the end I still felt fresh. My reasoning for this was simply I didn’t feel as sharp as I have previously so decided to run steady and just enjoy the run.

Back to the shoulder, and this morning it did feel slightly sore, not a surprise after a climb plus running. However, after the run today it wasn’t too bad but as I type it is stiff but hopefully nothing more than the after effects of all the above and some gardening!

I am looking forward to keep on moving forward and hopefully getting back in the saddle, the acid test is likely to come with a return to the pool but that is in the future and when that happens the result will be what it will be.

Coming Along Slowly

After injuring my should I have been recovering slowly. The shoulder has been responding to exercises and is feeling better, still not 100% but the movement is back if not with out some discomfort

One of the things I have noticed is that whilst the shoulder provides some discomfort when training it doesn’t make training impossible and funnily enough on the bike I have beaten a few Strava pr’s without really trying and certainly not going out to intentionally do so.

Running has been coming along too, whilst not as sharp as before certainly I haven’t lost all my fitness and this week I would have been able to test it but for Watford’s home game being moved for tv meaning I couldn’t get to do a ParkRun, which I am currently using as a measure.

Regardless of this I feel I am coming along ok, I know I need to do some more speed work and some longer distances but they will come in time but until then I will continue to enjoy the training and have a go at an easy climbing session this week to test the shoulder.

 

Bits Keep Falling Off!

The last few weeks have really turned into a time of frustration, I seem to be slowly coming apart at the seems.

It started with the shoulder problem, now this at the time seemed like a small set back as I was pretty sure it would be easy to get it back to normal with some simple exercises and not doing anything to really antagonise it. The reality on the other hand has been a little different.

I started on the exercises, and initially it felt like it was progressing, then for what appears to be no reason it regressed, and currently it feels worse than when I started feeling the issue.

Add to that, this week I developed a problem in one of my hips, it simply felt like it was locked up and left me limping around like old man who was in need of a hip replacement.

Once more I have no idea what caused this problem, the only good side is that as I type this it has finally relented and isn’t giving any pain, although it doesn’t feel quite as flexible as the other one.

As you can imagine this has left me feeling somewhat hacked off, I just don’t seem to be able to get fully back to fitness,

When you get in these scenarios it leads to start thinking, “is it time to stop?” or “do I need to focus on one sport only?” and to be honest I have considered both questions but don’t feel able to answer them. I know there are still things I want to do and that they involve multi-sport, yes I could just go back to cycling and I would certainly enjoy it, but the multi-sport part adds some interest to the racing and variety to the training as well as additional load on the body.

I am sure this is just a phase and in a few weeks all will be back to normal and I will wonder why I bothered about it, but on the other hand if it doesn’t what then?

Is It Not Meant To Be?

Last weekend should have marked my return to triathlon, instead I was left thinking about what might have been.

Unfortunately for me I suffered a shoulder injury that meant I could not get my arm through the recovery part of the swim stroke without a lot of pain, and even just normal arm movements were providing some level of discomfort.

How I actually managed to injure myself is a little bit of a mystery, I think it is simply an over use injury as I have been swimming a lot and also climbing hard routes and so both of these activities seem to have combined to provide the pain.

I am hopeful that a week or so of not stressing the shoulder combined with some gentle exercises will be enough to heal it, if not then a trip to the physio will be required.

I am beginning to wonder if me and triathlon are just not meant to be, first of all I struggled to get to terms with the swimming, then I get on terms with it and even start to enjoy it and then I injure myself, perhaps this is an omen?

Anyhow, I still intend to move forward and if I don’t manage a triathlon this year then I can start the next season early and take it from there.

Simply put it is a case of onwards and upwards, as long as the shoulder holds up to the running, cycling and swimming with some climbing thrown in for good measure!!!

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.